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OFT scheme 'only good when things go wrong'

A new code of practise governing the treatment of car buyers has been criticised for failing to improve customers' car buying experience.

The Office of Fair Trading has today backed the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders' New Car Code of Practice. It sets out the standards that vehicle manufacturers have to comply with on new car sales; warranties on new cars and older cars where the manufacturer's warranty is still current; availability of replacement parts; advertising and complaints handling.

But the Retail Motor Industry Federation says that, while this is good new for the industry it does little for the consumer.

Matthew Carrington, chief executive of the RMI, says: "It is a great shame and exposes the shortcomings of the OFT's Code process that it has still not provided any tangible benefits for the consumer. The only real interaction between consumer and manufacturer is when problems occur during warranty, and even then it is via the franchised dealer, who is not covered by the SMMT Code.

"RMI members engage with the 25 million-strong motoring public, whereas the SMMT code only covers the relatively small number of complaints by new car buyers covered by the manufacturers warranty, and then only when such complaints can't be satisfactorily resolved through the franchised dealer."

OFT stalling was blamed for the recent failure of the RMI's attempts to introduce its own code of practise.

The CarWise Code, backed by the Department of Trade and Industry, was to be a code of practice for the retail motor sector, governing car sales, servicing and repair, including bodyshops. But after six months of wrangles with the OFT, the RMI decided to ditch the scheme.

"The CarWise Code offered real consumer protection, and despite the lack of co-operation by the OFT, we are working towards launching a scheme that will provide the customer with a strong sense of satisfaction and confidence in their garage and the service they receive, " says Carrington. "It is with the garage and not the manufacturer where the relationship exists - it is at the "front desk" that the consumer requires the confidence and assurance of quality standards and service, and this the RMI member will provide."

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