The consumer magazine set up mystery shopping exercises at a number of independent garages and franchised dealers. According to Which?, while13 out of 48 cars tested received ‘good’ or ‘very good’ service, 35 of the garages had underperformed.
Which? says: “Our investigation shows that the existing code of practise is widely flouted. Car owners are now at the mercy of cheats.”
Figures from the Department of Trade and Industry show that garage overcharging cost motorists around £100m a year, but Which? has set the estimate even higher at £170m. Malcolm Coles, Which? editor, says: “This is just the tip of the iceberg, as most people don’t even realise they’ve been ripped off and don’t bother complaining.”
Matthew Carrington, chief executive of the Retail Motor Industry Federation (RMI), commented on the survey today, saying: “Everyone that takes their car to a Retail Motor Industry Federation (RMI) member garage should be able to do so with total confidence, but when something goes wrong we want to know, and we will work to rectify the problem.”
According to Carrington, the Which? survey reinforces why the RMI initiated the now abandoned CarWise scheme: “This survey used similar mystery shopping methods to our own when we set up CarWise, and came to similar conclusions. Our own independently sourced results also showed that RMI members achieved an average audit compliance of around 80%.
“Although this figure met the requirements for compliance set by the OFT, to us there was still room for improvement. However, until the OFT codes scheme proves its worth we remain to be convinced that it is the right course for the retail motor industry.
“The reason we set up CarWise was because standards of service in the sector could be raised, and we are still moving towards fulfilling this need in consultation with other organisations, including Trading Standards.”
Which? is calling for an independent training scheme to ‘clamp down on mechanics and protect consumers’.