AM Online

The Big Picture: Do we need licensing?

Anyone can set up a car repair business in the UK – can that be right? Considering the complexity of cars, and the consequences if something goes wrong, surely there ought to be some mandatory training before someone can join the sector.

There is a groundswell of support for an accreditation, or licensing, programme from a broad cross-section of the industry, including the Institute of the Motor Industry, which favours technicians licensing, several car manufacturers, analysts like Brian Taylor, who despairs at the apparent apathy, and independent repairers like Nationwide Autocentres.

There are many who believe that we do not need a licensing system, several high profile franchised dealers among them. Some dismiss licensing because they believe the Government will not legislate for it, so it's not worth discussing. People had a similar 'it'll never happen' attitude towards putting a man on the moon, but the will and determination of others made it possible.

Franchised dealers already meet exacting standards under their franchising system, but licensing would ensure that all businesses meet similar standards. Several quality independents argue that a licensing system is essential to protect their investments in equipment, people and training against the low price, low quality repairers (who – for obvious reasons – are not in favour).

When asked, consumers also claims to want some form of licensing. A Consumers' Association survey in January of 1,090 people found that 93% would be concerned if a mechanic without suitable qualifications was servicing or repairing their car. It's ironic, of course, that it's the consumers themselves who create the market for low-rent garages by focusing on price, not quality. And it's for this reason that the voluntary RMI/OFT Carwise programme will struggle without a substantial amount of money allocated to educating the general public.

Consider the situation in the aviation industry – would you get on an aeroplane that had been servicing by ill-qualified mechanics? That's why no matter whether it's British Airways or a budget airline like EasyJet, all planes are maintained to the same exacting standards. Eventually repairers who do not invest in training and equipment will be forced out naturally due to the rising technology that is becoming standard on modern cars. But that still won't be for some years, and by then some quality repairers – who are already looking to downsize – might no longer be in business.

The upshot is: there are many quality franchised and independent repairers, but there are also poor quality businesses who are allowed to carry out botched and sometimes dangerous repairs – and that can't be allowed to continue.

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