Halfords Autocentres has been censured by the Advertising Standards Authority for claims it made regarding franchised dealer service pricing.
A Halfords' ad that read 'Car service - save up to 50% on main dealer pricing' was judged to be misleading. But Halfords says it has "every right" to advise motorists on reducing costs.
The company has been ordered not to use the ad again and instructed to ensure that in future "if it made a comparative claim that was not on a like-for-like basis, it clearly communicated the significant differences between the products or services being compared and did not select the elements of the comparison to give themselves an unrepresentative advantage".
The complaint to the ASA was brought by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.
The ad appeared at www.halfordsautocentres.com/en-gb/Car-Servicing.
It said "Car Service - save up to 50% on main dealer pricing!! We are offering great discounts on our car servicing - you can save up to 50% on main dealer service prices, even though our services are the same, and in many cases even more thorough than that of a dealership. We encourage every one of our customers to see what's covered in our car services when comparing us to other garages to check you are getting the same level of service we offer".
The claims "even more thorough" and "what's covered" linked to the advertiser's servicing menu which explained what they offered.
The SMMT challenged whether the claim "save up to 50% on main dealer pricing" was misleading and could be substantiated, because it did not make clear the basis of the comparison or take into account the class of vehicle or regional pricing variations. It was also concerned whether the advertiser was comparing like for like services.
Halfords amended the ad to state "Car servicing - why pay up to 50% more at a main dealership? Main dealer pricing can be up to 50%* more expensive than the cost of our car servicing, even though in some cases we may cover more points on a service checklist than the dealer ... *Based on independent research of 190 dealerships carried out in May 2012".
Halfords said the research was carried out by a third party that arranged for a team of mystery callers, posing as potential customers, to contact 190 UK dealerships and obtain quotes for the price of a full service on a three-year-old vehicle.
Data was collected for six different segments of vehicle size: micro, mini, compact, medium, large, and sports utility vehicle.
Halfords said dealerships were randomly selected from a database but that a quota for each region (North, South, East and West) was fulfilled.
Each caller was given information regarding a specific vehicle including the model and registration, engine size, fuel and mileage, and were asked to collect data from the dealers including the price of a full service, the checks carried out as part of the service, the service elements provided (such as a courtesy car) and any promotions offered.
Halfords said the third party conducting the survey ensured that the vehicle make selected for each individual comparison matched each garage's franchisor.
Therefore, a Ford garage would only be asked to provide a quote for a full service on a specific Ford model. Once Halfords had this information, it then matched the results from the survey with its nearest autocentre by postcode to ensure like-for-like comparisons geographically.
Halfords also provided a table of the results they had collected. This table showed the date and time the call had taken place, the dealership's name, postcode and franchisor. It also showed the vehicle segment, the dealer's quoted price for a full service, Halfords' web price for a full service, the difference between these prices, and the name of the Halfords Autocentre geographically closest to the dealer in question.
The ASA said that, from the data provided, Halfords had compared their prices for a full service against 190 individual dealers' prices. Quotes were collected from dealers across the UK and were matched with the closest Halfords garage to account for regional pricing differences. The ASA also acknowledged that a variety of vehicle sizes were used and that a dealer was always asked to provide a quote for a car manufactured by their franchisor.
A spokesman said: "We understood that Halfords compared its web prices with the dealers' prices which had been quoted over the telephone. However, the terms and conditions listed on Halfords' website stated "if a booking is made directly with the autocentre, either by telephone or in person, prices may differ". We also understood that the prices for a Halfords full service, as stated in the comparison table supplied, included a £30 discount which was available only if a service was booked online and for a limited time only.
"Halfords was willing to amend the claim further, but considered that in its existing form, the comparison Halfords had made between its own time-limited, online prices and the non-promotional prices quoted by the car dealerships surveyed was not made on a like-for-like basis. We therefore concluded that the claim was misleading.
Paul Everitt, CEO of the SMMT said: “It is important consumers are presented with accurate information and competition is based on fair comparisons. I hope all advertisers will accurately reflect the products and services they offer and avoid claims which don’t stand up to scrutiny.
“Manufacturer main dealers offer a high value and expert service to their customers. The investment they make in skilled and trained technicians, the access to latest manufacturer information and the use of approved parts ensures motorists who want to put their vehicles through a service, MoT or repair get great value at surprisingly competitive prices.”
But Halfords Autocentres' chief executive Bill Duffy said: "Under Block Exemption regulations independent aftermarket service providers like us have every right to advise motorists of the potential savings to be made when they are comparing the price of servicing and repairing their cars – something which is of increased importance given the current financial climate.
"We are disappointed the SMMT resorted to using the ASA as a referee in a battle between the interests of franchised dealers and the quality independent aftermarket, a dispute that will result in only one real loser - the motorist.
"Our independent research identifies just how much more motorists are being charged by approved dealer franchises in a large proportion of cases.
"We also have evidence that shows a worrying trend towards drivers delaying essential car maintenance in order to save money – so clearly any opportunity to cut costs without cutting corners should be encouraged."
> A separate SMMT complaint about similar claims made by Servicing Stop Ltd, was resolved by the ASA via an informal resolution dated September 19, 2012 -