Tag Archives: OFT

FOXY Lady Approved accident repair centres are the GOOD NEWS to celebrate

Last night Channel 4’s Dispatches programme broadcast a report about car insurance and what happens when you need it most, at claims time and following an accident.

During it the OFT described the industry as dysfunctional and Malcolm Tagg, the CEO of VBRA (the Vehicle Builders and Repairers Association), said that some insurer practices were immoral which gives you a clue about the tone of the programme.

We were looking at a purported culture that puts insurer profits ahead of doing the right thing in many cases and if some of the examples of cavalier management dismissing safety concerns are in any way typical, I’d be very very depressed indeed.

But they aren’t of course; they’re simply exceptions to do with the very small percentage of bad businesses (insurers and repairers alike) that are allowed to survive in their respective industries.

And we must now leave the Competition Commission to do its job re the all too common, short term and highly unsavoury mutual back scratching referral practices that are never in the long term best interests of the motorist – we who are expected to foot the bill for such folly.

Coincidentally this programme was aired on the same day as we launched our new FOXY Lady Approved© Accident Repair Centre network at the FOXY Choice website. Rest assured there are some fabulous and caring bodyshop and SMART repairer businesses out there who deserve more support on the basis of their investment in quality and processes to improve customer service.

We’re promoting them to women drivers and members of the Club of course via the FOXY Lady Drivers Club website as well. Accredited technicians, Kitemark licensees, manufacturer approval and those that operate to an OFT Approved Code are the standards we see as a cut above the rest.

We also welcome the sight of women in customer facing roles and, whilst quality is no guarantee of a genuinely female friendly business we’ve found, all FOXY Lady Approved© businesses have to sign a promise to ‘never overcharge, patronise or sell women services they don’t need’ before we’ll consider any application to join us.

Yes, I can hear some of you thinking… ‘none of this should be necessary’ but the problem is that the perception it will is there in the female mind. Too many women think the motor industry is out to get them by baffling them with jargon and ripping them off. A perception based on the scattergun promotion of industry complaints schemes we’re not used to seeing elsewhere perhaps but regularly topped up by real life negative (but well-intentioned) programmes like Dispatches…

Instead, I’d like to see more good news about the motor industry making it onto the public radar on occasion. How about some publicity about FOXY Choice giving motorists a female friendly choice so that all motorists, not just female ones, can rely on higher, more ethical and caring standards from tried and tested repairers after an accident that inevitably leaves them out of pocket, inconvenienced, considerably stressed and sometimes with very serious injuries and consequences to cope with afterwards.

Now that would be welcome news to hear for a change.


With or without the OFT?

The Office of Fair Trading’s future is uncertain and may affect Consumer Codes Approval Schemes.

A cost cutting proposal in a Government Green Paper is to suggest the merger of the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) and The Competition Commission. Consumer protection will pass to the busy local Trading Standards and Citizens Advice departments.

What will this mean to existing OFT Consumer Code Approval Schemes like the ones sponsored by Bosch Car Service and/or VBRA? Will they lose their relevance and quality teeth for women drivers if the OFT is not there to police them?

The CCAS website confirms this uncertainty re new schemes so perhaps the Motor Codes service and repair scheme may not now reach Stage Two to gain full approval?

Fortunately most of their subscribers are dealerships who can be expected to perform to higher standards than the undemanding ‘honest and fair services’ ‘open and transparent pricing’ and ‘work completed as agreed’ Motor Code standards.  I never really understood why the likes of Ford garages needed this when most are ATA employers already and they get rigorously inspected by the RAC. A waste of money even?

Either way, after c60 years of attempting to put its garages in order, the motor industry has done little of note because bad garages don’t join industry code schemes and still exist. And woman are most likely to be the ones overcharged, patronised and sold things we don’t need.

Despite Trading Standards efforts here (including a few Motor Trade Partnership schemes FOXY likes) these are regional not national bodies.

What is surely needed, with or without the OFT, is a fully regulated garage industry, to include independents, fastfits, bodyshops and franchised dealerships, because shoddy work can mean dangerous cars and compromise our road safety.

But garages’ll still need FOXY Choice’s marketing services to identify the genuinely female friendly businesses because even regulation won’t guarantee a business that understands what we women want!


Find out about FOXY Choice approved female friendly UK garages

The used car shopping game

Most women know there is a 50% chance of buying a bad car when they go shopping for a secondhand one even when it shines so appealingly on a dealership showroom forecourt.

But who of us has heard of Akerlof’s economic law? Very few I’d suggest yet it applies well in the Used Car Market. I first read about this in Tim Harford’s book ‘The Undercover Economist’ – it explains that when one party to a sale has inside information and the other does not – markets do not work as well as they should.

Hence the 72k used car complaints recorded by Consumer Direct last year I suppose, costing innocent customers an estimated £85m to put right.

Take for example the case where a car dealer buys his stock of used cars, knowing fairly well from experience whether they are good or bad individual buys. Price, mileage (genuine or otherwise), service history, type of mileage, colour, condition; that sort of thing dictates the price he’ll charge knowing what he can make it look like with a bit of elbow grease and tlc.

But the customer doesn’t have the same background insight when she walks into the showroom. If she makes a low offer and gets the car, perhaps it was a lemon because the inside knowledge the salesman relies on is telling him that’s all it’s worth so take it… whereas a good car is worth more, hence his holding out longer for the asking price.

Clearly Akerlof knew his used cars (this works in other markets too of course) and that this is a hit and miss game that buyers and sellers play.

In general, used cars tend to be cheap and poor quality borne out by complaint levels in this area. Sellers want as high a price as possible so they’ll hold out for a better price for a good car but they can’t prove it is a good car so often the good car will sit around for longer.

Whereas a buyer who doesn’t understand the game goes away with a bad car unwittingly, thinking she has got a good deal. She hasn’t of course because the serious bills will start to arrive just as soon as any promising warranty runs out. That’s called Murphy’s Law. Marketers describe the sickening customer realisation that they’ve been shafted as ‘customer dissonance’ and I imagine we’ve all felt that at some time of our lives and determined never to go back…

The reality is that savvy car buyers don’t play a rigged shopping game like this one but there are many unsuspecting customers who don’t know the rules of the used car market and do end up playing here. Sadly many of them are females who trust the dealer who tells her what he needs to, to get the car off his forecourt.

Akerlof’s point is a serious one because this isn’t just a market where shoppers get ripped off, it’s a market that isn’t working properly because buyers want proof of value and VERY often sellers can’t prove this.

Of course the sensible advice is to buy a used car with a HPI type of finance check and then get it inspected for its mechanical fitness (at a discounted rate c/o DEKRA if you are a member of FOXY Lady Drivers Club) within the 6 months when you may be able to get a dealer to take it back or put things right, based on proof.

A reassuring female factor is likely to be an Approved Car stamp by a franchised dealership but the reality is still that the dealer salesman knows a lot more about the car than the customer and they need to sell it for as much as possible because their commission income is involved.

Certainly the customer needs more ammunition on her side so she can wise up in these instances. Depending on the value of the car I’d definitely counsel investing in checking out the mechanical condition of any secondhand car c/o car inspection experts, Dekra, as soon as possible after purchase; only then will you know if it’s a plum not a lemon.


Please see OFT advice here and remember that if you are a member of FOXY Lady Drivers Club we’ll help you sort any used car complaints out – the last resort is that we’ll share really bad feedback within the Club so that other women don’t go there in future.

BBC Watchdog Kwik-Fit mauling good for garage future

Oh dear. Kwik-Fit took a mauling from BBC Watchdog last night. As Annie put it, for their dishonesty and negligence. After the disappointing Which? garage findings so recently isn’t it time that the bad businesses are named and shamed so that trusting motorists can favour the honourable ones and not be put at risk and overcharged in this way? Surely this is a ‘super complaint’ moment for the OFT to finally take regulatory action on behalf of consumers?

Admittedly the Kwik-Fit screened sample was small – 3 rip off instances at Kwik-Fit Reading, Southend and Hastings but with a further 10 branches which failed to service one car correctly between them.

Understandably Kwik-Fit’s response is robust and impressive; their nationwide garage business is under threat.

But the garage industry won’t sympathise with them because for years this is what Kwik-Fit has done and we all have our stories to tell. To this day they still owe FOXY for the manifold we sourced for them to fit to one of our members’ cars (needed as a result of their brute force to an exhaust repair). We dealt with HQ and their Area Manager; I haven’t forgotten how unprofessional they were and they didn’t pay us despite saying they would. Their card was marked indelibly as it is for many women when a business behaves as badly as this one.

But no surprises for the Kwik-Fit hierarchy surely because their staff are incentivised to sell motorists products and services (inevitably things they don’t always need, want to buy or get, as per Watchdog’s findings) to supplement modest income. What did the top jollies (and other national chains who also pay commission) expect was happening on the shop floor?

I must admit I was surprised to see Kwik-Fit staff completing ATA training requiring them to sign the IMI Code of Conduct – a commitment to the highest level of ethical behaviour. I was hopeful of a renaissance of course 😉 but ethical behaviour and tempting commission to prop up income aren’t natural bedfellows in my book. This may well be the case with Kwik-Fit Reading, listed as an ATA employer, who charged Joanne £650 for safety brake repairs for her Mitsubishi when none were necessary. And she nearly paid as many will do. Granted they sent her £250 in vouchers but would you want to go back to a dishonest business? I’d much rather spread the word via women drivers within FOXY Lady Drivers Club ;-).

After the Which? garage investigation this is yet another nail in the garage industry coffin of self regulation – it hasn’t worked for the last 60 years, once again it’s supported by the franchised dealers but not the garages that need it most… Why would a new service and repair code work now when it hasn’t previously? Ipso facto.

And the reason it doesn’t work? Because of what we saw last night – endemic dishonesty and shoddy workmanship in the motor industry. Tinkering at the edges of this industry isn’t enough – we need regulation so our cars are safer, we need to outlaw the cowboys to give the garage industry an ethical image to be proud of and then hopefully the mediocre businesses will either pull their socks up or pack up and go.

Let’s get real about garage services and sort it out for the trusting motorists who don’t read good garage guides or watch BBC Watchdog perhaps.  The time is surely now.


Which? garages vs car dealerships

The recent Which? undercover garage investigation turned up a few surprises for me, mainly to do with the cost of servicing cars.

Not the findings that some 90% of garages missed at least one of the potentially dangerous faults on the cars submitted, or that nearly 40% charged for something they didn’t provide – we talk to women and garages everyday and the stories we hear confirm this sort of thing is happening everyday.

But I was surprised to see the prices charged by the different categories of garages.

Most expensive in the performance league was OFT fully approved network Bosch Car Service whose average servicing price came in at £218.56.

Next came subscribers of the recent Motor Codes scheme (88% dealerships; yet to gain full OFT approval) where the average charge was £217.11.

Members of the Good Garage Scheme came in at £177.72 but no measurable signs of quality promoted here – the business simply pays £23.50 a month to be listed as a good garage ;-).

And least expensive of all were garages that aren’t members of any association and didn’t seem to have any notable attributes according to Which? – they charged £148.20.

So arguably you get what you pay for. A cheap price with no frills or safety guarantee, up to the Bosch garages and Motor Codes dealerships where you pay more but have the reassurance of varying stages of OFT approval.

But what I thought was interesting is the much publicised statistic that independent garages are some 30% (sometimes the percentage quoted is more) more expensive than dealerships. Not so in this case where the dealerships in the Motor Codes average were actually cheaper than the Bosch franchised garages.

Forget competing with garages that can’t demonstrate measurable quality like ATA technician accreditation, they will be cheaper because that’s their competitive advantage in the absence of quality. The point I am making is that measurably good garages like Bosch and measurably good dealerships like Motor Codes and ATA employers seem to be charging much the same for car servicing.

So how do some of the increasing number of garage brokers justify their sales claims that they work with qualified garages (they often say Bosch) and that their prices are c35% cheaper than dealers? I’d like to see the evidence.

But the dealerships need to be totally honest at all times and remember their ATA ethical Code of Conduct. In the Which? investigation 11 out of 17 Motor Codes subscribers (ie mostly dealerships) charged for screenwash when the wash bottle was full and didn’t need topping up.

Not a lot of money but it’s the principle that we women remember and dislike.  If they can do it to overcharge us a couple of quid, what else are they charging us for and not doing…

Mind you Bosch also charged 5 times out of 14, whereas members of the Good Garage Scheme and individual garages (only?) did it in 3 out of 13 cases.

None of this is good enough remember. It’s still a quality lottery for confused motorists to find a measurably good UK garage. The industry isn’t doing its bit to explain this to motorists and the whole thing is far too confusing.

To have safe cars on our roads we need ONE SCHEME CALLED REGULATION and all mechanics to be qualified to ATA standards. Never mind the bureaucracy the industry dreads, regulation could save lives.

That will fix it for once and for all. Nothing more and nothing less will do. Then the businesses can all compete for customer share on an equal footing by differentiating themselves by price and service levels.

In the meantime, I think it makes sense to choose an ATA employer whether an independent garage or dealership.