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Dealers come under pressure as ombudsman eyes electric vehicle complaints

Electric vehicle charging

One in three of the complaints received by The Motor Ombudsman from EV owners in 2021 related to point-of-sale issues or inadequate post-purchase customer service.

The remainder related to their electric car itself, the systems within it or malfunctions of key features, reported the ombudsman dedicated to the automotive sector.

For example, software glitches drove the second biggest cause of complaints in relation to an electric vehicle (13%), with updates and system errors sparking customer discontent.

Similarly, 12% of the difficulties highlighted by consumers in 2021 resulted from the car not charging to its full potential, with component-specific problems relating to the charging flap and socket also brought to the fore.

With owners who sought a monetary amount to resolve their electric vehicle complaint to a close, the average claim equated to £10,700.

The ombudsman noted that this is more than double the claim value seen across its four Codes of Practice during the first half of last year (average £4,085), which is likely due to the initial outlay for a zero emission vehicle often being higher than that for an equivalent petrol or diesel model.

Some complaints related to bodywork defects reported on delivery, inaccurate satellite navigation systems, and incorrect and missing cabin equipment.

Some 9% related to vehicle chassis area and propulsion, with stalling due to electric motor faults, and suspension and braking failures, amongst the more prominent issues.

Bill Fennell, chief ombudsman and managing director of The Motor Ombudsman, said: “Electric vehicles account for a relatively small proportion of the overall disputes that we see on an annual basis. Our latest data analysis for 2021 provides a snapshot of the principal issues affecting the customer’s EV purchase and ownership journey, and where complaints are arising.

"It’s interesting to note that many of the EV disputes being raised are around point of sale issues and the quality of service received, complaints which are equally seen with traditional internal combustion-engined vehicles.”

He added: “While EVs remain a small proportion of the total vehicle parc, vehicle registrations are increasing year-on-year.

"As such, it is likely that the volume of consumer complaints will rise in line with this trend. We will therefore continue to identify the key areas of consumer dissatisfaction to drive ongoing improvement across the sector.”  

In contrast to the high proportion of customer service and point of sale concerns, batteries and range drove the smallest proportion of EV complaints to The Motor Ombudsman last year at 7% and 6% respectively.

The principal concern with the range was the delivery of lower-than-advertised mileage on a full charge, a particular issue for EV owners residing in rural areas who rely on being able to drive a significant distance after plugging in.  

Unlike the 1,700 service and repair cases passed to the ombudsman in 2021 concerning internal combustion engined vehicles, aftersales concerns in relation to EVs were not seen as a prominent issue by consumers in 2021, which the ombudsman believesmay be explained by UK’s electric vehicle parc being relatively new, and there being fewer moving parts compared to a car powered by an internal combustion engine.

From the individuals who submitted a complaint in relation to an issue with their electric vehicle during 2021, a full refund for the price paid for their car was the most requested resolution to their dispute (22%), with a replacement vehicle, a free-of-charge repair, and an expansion of the terms to cover the cost of the rectification of a mechanical problem not covered by the existing warranty, each accounting for around 15% of the resolutions requested.

Less than 10% asked for compensation in light of the problems that had occurred, with an apology seen as the least favoured award out of those sought by motorists.

Car supply issues have been blamed recently for a dramatic rise in automotive sector complaints recorded by the Institute of Customer Service.

It found 14% of customers have had issues with their expected service levels in the last six months.

That came as there were warnings that workshops fear a shortage of technicians and MOT testers may cause customer service to continue to suffer.

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