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Carmakers tackle warranties

Carmakers have starting issuing dealers with new instructions on their warranty terms following bad press in the national media.

BMW, which faced stinging criticism from What Car? (AM February 25), has sent out a reminder to retailers that cars can be serviced and repaired by any business without invalidating the warranty as long as the work is carried out to its standards. It is also holding a technical forum roadshow for aftersales and service managers in May to outline how warranty requirements affect consumers.

Citroen, another carmaker which fared poorly in the What Car? survey, has also notified dealers about its warranty terms, underlining the fact that work can be carried out by non-authorised repairers. Toyota, which came top, says it has two Q&A documents on its intranet site which address warranty stipulations. It also briefs all staff attending its aftersales warranty training programme.

Their action has been backed by the Independent Garage Association, part of the RMI, which conducted its own investigation last month. The IGA contacted customer service departments at 10 carmakers – Ford, Audi, Honda, Renault, Toyota, Nissan, Peugeot, Isuzu, Vauxhall and Hyundai (which issues a five-year warranty) – and found that the advice provided was correct.

“Vehicle manufacturers are complying with block exemption, and this has created huge potential for independent repairers, but they cannot rely on manufacturers or their networks to promote this choice,” says Mike Owen, head of aftermarket at the RMI. “Customers are not aware of this choice because it’s not being marketed to them. This is not the job of the manufacturer. To maximise this opportunity requires marketing in the independent sector.”

Not all carmakers are taking additional action. Ford sent out a briefing document in May 2004, followed by two months of training for dealers, which it believes is sufficient. It also puts a copy of its warranty terms in the service booklet issued with each new car.

Owen points to a loophole in the regulations concerning Databus code for cars’ electronic management systems. While carmakers are required to provide technical information, which is used for the repair process, and operational data, used to record the car’s ECU during a service, at the same terms to authorised and independent repairers (usually free of charge), independents must pay for Databus.

“Commissioners in Brussels have created a situation that needs clarifying so repairers and manufacturers can operate in harmony,” he says.

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