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The Big Picture: Media views are an unfair reflection

Hostilities from the Government and media are damaging the image of car retailers and repairers.

But how much of their reporting is accurate? The media thrives on sensationalist headlines and bad news stories – the latest survey from What Car? is a case in point.

It reflects on warranty advice from franchised dealers to consumers, singling out BMW for particular criticism. Seven of the 20 BMW dealers quizzed (35%) told the customer that getting their car serviced outside the network would invalidate the warranty.

OK, that’s still too high, but look at it another way – nine said you could take the car anywhere while four said it was risky and could invalidate the warranty.

Actually, it is risky and could invalidate the warranty, unless the independent garage services the car to manufacturer standards, using original parts. That puts the onus on the customer to get the proof.

Out of the 10 carmaker networks surveyed, 80% of dealers gave the correct information. Not perfect, but that’s the vast majority. And only one of the 20 Toyota dealers gave the wrong answer, which is outstanding.

What Car? accuses retailers of misleading motorists, but it’s more likely they are simply a little confused over warranty restrictions after recent changes under the SMMT’s New Car Code of Practice.

Elsewhere, it’s much the same story. Consumer magazine Which? constantly snipes about “garage cheats”, and while central government has better understanding of the issues, local government fails to appreciate the importance of the industry to employment: just look at Ken Livingstone siding with the ill-informed – though very well organised – anti-4x4 lobby. And the OFT seems to stick to its own agenda with its biannual rip-off allegations.

The industry has tended to either fight back or go into denial. But now many retailers just keep their head down and wait for the flak to end.

And that’s because many customers know a different truth: they might view the industry as a whole with a degree of suspicion, but they enjoy strong, trusted relationships with their dealer.

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