Surge in consumer enquiries as the Service and Repair Code celebrates 15th anniversary

Forty-four percent increase in customer contacts in first quarter of 2023

Cast your mind back to 2008. Manchester United were crowned Premier League champions. Derby County were relegated from the top tier of English football with just 11 points. The Dark Knight was the highest grossing film; “Hallelujah”, performed by X Factor winner Alexandra Burke, was the top-selling single; and the Ford Focus was the UK’s best-selling car.

Twitter was about to hit the mainstream, Apple unveiled the iPhone 3G smartphone, and Motor Codes launched the Motor Industry Code of Practice for Service and Repair.

Fifteen years on, Motor Codes has evolved into The Motor Ombudsman and its scope has widened to include manufacturers (New Car Code), extended warranty sales (Vehicle Warranty Code) and new and used vehicles sold at garages and dealerships (Vehicle Sales Code).

To mark the 15th anniversary of the Service and Repair Code, The Motor Ombudsman has expanded its coverage to include mobile mechanics, tyre fitters and smart repairs. It means that consumers can now enjoy the same level of protection when using a mobile mechanic as if they had taken their vehicle to the premises of a repairer.

Bill Fennell, chief ombudsman and managing director, told Garage Wire the change had been coming. “We could see that mobile was a growth business, but the restrictions of the Code of Practice meant that we couldn’t do anything about it. By removing the need for a physical premises, the Service and Repair Code is open to more businesses, and more consumers will enjoy the benefits of accreditation.”

The Service and Repair Code is the longest-standing Code of its kind in the automotive sector and is approved by the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI). Today, some 7000 businesses have signed up for voluntary accreditation, which is available to independent garages/dealers, franchise dealer workshops (authorised repairers), body repair centres and mobile mechanics.

During the first quarter of 2023, The Motor Ombudsman received nearly 4000 customer contacts related to a service and repair, and accepted 600 cases for the relevant Code of Practice.

Not only is this a 44 percent increase on the same period in 2022, it’s also more than the total number of contacts and cases in 2008 and 2009 combined (3902 contacts/158 cases). Fennell says the growth is due to several factors, not least the rise in the number of accredited garages, and what he calls “the number of businesses willing to do the right thing”.

“We saw massive growth following the rebrand to The Motor Ombudsman in 2016,” he told us. Moving to an ombudsman model followed the introduction of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) regulations in October 2015.

Using evidence from both the accredited business and the consumer, The Motor Ombudsman’s primary role is to resolve disputes in a fair and impartial manner. Not every contact will result in a case, but the decision could go either way.

For example, a customer’s complaint about the use of incorrect differential oil resulted in The Motor Ombudsman ruling against the garage, which was “legally obligated to reimburse them [the customer] for the full cost of repair upon the receipt of a valid invoice”.

In another case, this time involving damage caused by rodents, The Motor Ombudsman concluded that “the business [had] acted in accordance with the Service and Repair Code”, and the customer’s complaint was not upheld in their favour.

An accredited garage has up to eight weeks to resolve a customer’s dispute through its own complaints process, and Bill Fennell says it is always better if the two parties can resolve a dispute before contacting The Motor Ombudsman. “We’ll advise a lot of consumers to simply speak to the business,” he advises.

“Once a business knows something has gone wrong, it’ll most likely be willing to help. If the garage knows it has done everything it can, it should refer the customer to us.”

We spoke to the owners of two independent garages, who told us they enjoy the reassurance of knowing The Motor Ombudsman is there to act on their behalf. Graham Clark of Anderson Clark said: “Things will go wrong from time to time; we’re human, so mistakes do happen.

“If a customer thinks we’ve done something wrong, but I’m adamant that we’re in the right, we’ll get The Motor Ombudsman involved. If the decision goes against us, we’ll stand by the decision.

“I like the reassurance that the customer will have an impartial third party if something goes wrong. It’s why we stick The Motor Ombudsman logo on everything, from invoices to posters on the wall.

”Too many garages see accreditation as a cost rather than a benefit, but the cost is negligible and far outweighed by the benefits.”

Clark’s views are echoed by Lyndsey Watson, who runs Crescent Motors with her husband Stuart. “We took on the business from my father in 2019 and I’ve worked for the company since 2008. Crescent Motors has been signed up to the Service and Repair Code since 2008.

“We’ve never had to use the Code, but it’s good to know that it’s there if we need it. There were two instances where we had to refer a customer to The Motor Ombudsman, but in both cases they never went any further.

“One of the cases involved a customer who hadn’t kept up the servicing on their low-mileage, 18-month-old car. The timing belt had snapped, and it wasn’t covered by the manufacturer’s warranty. The franchised dealer washed its hands of the customer, so I think we were targeted because it would be easier than taking on a manufacturer.”

Bill Fennell says The Motor Ombudsman is fielding more calls from customers who are simply looking for advice or guidance. He says: “Government support for Citizens Advice and Trading Standards has gone down, so it’s left to us to take up the slack.

“People contact us because they don’t know what to do. We could say we can’t help them, but we’ll always provide enough information for them to make a decision.

“Unfortunately, we’re seeing a small but significant increase in the number of abusive customers, especially since the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis. This can be a problem if the customer feels we’re not working to their satisfaction.”

More positively, Fennell says he expects The Motor Ombudsman workforce to increase to 42 by the summer, up from a team of eight in 2008. Awareness of the Service and Repair Code has never been stronger, and there’s a growing number of businesses placing customer service at the top of the list of priorities.

As Graham Clark notes: “You can be a great technician but a poor businessperson. Fixing the car is often the easy part; dealing with customers is the tricky bit!”

Fifteen years on from the launch of Motor Codes, Manchester City have been crowned Premier League champions, The Super Mario Bros. Movie is likely to be one of the highest-grossing films of 2023, and the Vauxhall Corsa is the best-selling car (year-to-date).

Some things change, but the Service and Repair Code is here to stay.

Auto Torque has partnered with Garage Wire to bring you all the latest aftermarket news.


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