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Garage Customer Experience

Volume 539: debated on Wednesday 1 February 2012

Maintaining vehicle road worthiness and servicing is one of the most important costs of running a car for most motorists. I am today announcing the Government’s intention to work with industry and motoring organisations to improve the motorists’ confidence and experience when they have to take their car, motorcycle or other private vehicle to a garage.

Motorists are generally not experts in the mechanics, electronics or component parts of their vehicles—what matters to them is that the vehicle is safe to be on the road, that they are paying a reasonable price and that what they are paying for is necessary work carried out to a good standard. Motorists want reliable servicing and MOTs from garages they trust and it is in the interests of reputable garages to deliver to a high quality.

Almost every motorist has to visit a garage or other authorised testing station at least once a year for their vehicle to undergo an MOT test—and for many people, that minimum statutory spot-check of a vehicle’s roadworthiness is either combined with an annual service or leads to repairs and further work. Each year in Great Britain some 35 million MOTs take place at some 21,000 authorised premises—the annual cost to motorists of the test alone is in the region of £1 .5 billion. The UK car service and repair sector is worth around £9 billion per year to the GB economy.

The garage sector is regulated in several ways. The sector has to comply with business laws and consumer protection legislation. The MOT scheme is regulated by the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) of the Department for Transport. Self-regulation has an important role to play also. For example, around 6,500 garages self-regulate their customer service through the Motor Codes Ltd Code on Service and Repair which has full approval status under the approved codes system (OFT). And nearly 1,000 garages have been accredited with the BSI Kitemark scheme for automotive services.

The package of measures I am announcing today does not duplicate these existing controls and arrangements. But they will add value for the motorist and enhance their experience when having to deal with garages whether for an MOT test or more generally.

I am taking two immediate steps today. First, having listened closely to the very many views put forward and considered the available evidence, I have decided that I am not going to carry out further work in relation to relaxing the first test date or the frequency of testing.

Secondly, I am publishing for the first time today information gathered by VOSA about the standards of MOT testing. VOSA’s MOT compliance survey 2010-11 showed that, despite large parts of the MOT test being subjective, 88% of testers were applying correct and consistent standards. There were 12% of testers who had their overall assessment of the vehicle’s roadworthiness challenged by VOSA, suggesting there is still room for improvement. Publication of these data represents a considerable increase in transparency on the accuracy of MOT tests.

VOSA already carries out targeted work to improve this figure. However, I want to go further and make it easier for consumers to take action if they have not received the service they need from MOT testers. Further short term steps I am therefore taking are to:

engage the key motoring organisations in surveying their members over the next few months to determine the most significant and frequent problems they encounter at garages, how transparent and consistent charging and service standards are and what examples of best practice customer service they have experienced—and to publish their results;

identify and work with organisations able to carry out mystery shopper exercises that could supplement those which VOSA already carry out as part of their targeted supervision of the scheme;

work with the Motorists’ Forum to establish a sub-group to bring together a broad range of relevant motoring and industry organisations, such as the MOT Trade Forum, to help deliver the package that follows.

Over the next six months my Department will carry out the following actions:

so that consumers can be confident that the garage they choose has signed up to deliver to the highest standards, we will work with the industry and stakeholders to encourage much wider adoption of existing codes (such as that provided through the SMMT and Motor Codes Ltd) and to develop those codes to include MOT testing services. Our ambition is that it should be the norm for garages to comply with such codes;

in order to make more information available to help motorists know how the scheme is supervised, which garages perform well and which less well, we will review the MOT data gathered by VOSA and—informed by the surveys above—further improve transparency;

we will also work with industry, motoring organisations and others to make it easier for consumers to give feedback on their experiences of garages in a transparent way that others can view, and to boost awareness of existing consumer feedback tools;

we will help motorists to spot clocked vehicles by arranging for MOT test certificates to show mileage information for the last three years, and encouraging car buyers to check the full MOT history of vehicles by accessing online the authoritative MOT database;

to help motorists know how long wear and tear items such as brakes and tyres are likely to last after an MOT test, we will work with the MOT trade initially to consider whether to adjust the MOT technical test standard.

The Government intend to develop with the Motorists’ Forum sub-group a robust means by which we can measure consumer confidence over time across all garage services.

I see the above package of measures as an important element in our overall road safety policy, alongside delivering increased confidence and value for money for motorists having their vehicles MOT tested or serviced. I expect more ideas and measures to develop once the Motorists’ Forum sub-group is established, and there will be opportunities for all interested parties to contribute to the debate.