Looking the part: The key to customer transparency

The Motor Ombudsman, the automotive dispute resolution provider, examines the implications of customer requests to see defective or worn components that have been removed from their vehicle during servicing and repairs.


It is sometimes the case that repairs by a garage will be undertaken on a vehicle without the customer ever having a direct view of the work that has been carried out by the mechanic. As a result, vehicle owners rely heavily on what they are advised by staff to understand the condition of their car. Before any type of maintenance occurs, no matter how extensive, it is good industry practice for work to be agreed beforehand with the consumer, and to contact them to get authorisation to replace any parts that go beyond this initial agreement. However, what responsibilities does a garage have to their customers when worn or damaged parts are removed from their car in exchange for new ones?


A car is a customer’s property


Every part in a vehicle ultimately belongs to its owner, and therefore, they have the legal right to both view and have their old components back, regardless of their condition. This is echoed by clause 3.6 of The Motor Ombudsman’s Motor Industry Code of Practice for Service and Repair, which is approved by the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) and states: “Replaced parts will be made available for you [the customer] to view and examine until collection of the vehicle unless otherwise agreed. You should only ever remove these from the premises if you have the ability to dispose of them in an environmentally responsible manner.”


Of course, not all customers will be aware that they can ask for this, and neither is it commonplace for them to be given the option by the garage to see old components during or after repairs. There may also be cases where consumers don’t realise they need the part until sometime after the repair – for example, they’ve tried to reject their car with the seller and need the faulty component to prove their case. In addition, the customer might have asked the garage to retain the part for them when authorising the repair, but this wasn’t properly recorded, and the garage subsequently disposes of it. This then leads to situations, as The Motor Ombudsman’s adjudication team has seen, where the vehicle owner wants to see the part but the garage can’t provide it, due to it having already been discarded for the purposes of space and safety.


Breaking the deadlock


There may be times where the garage has done the right thing. For example, the Code of Practice for Service and Repair asks the business to retain the parts until the customer has collected the vehicle. Therefore, if the customer requests the part after this time, it is probably reasonable that the garage has disposed of it already. If, however, the business is in the wrong, what would be considered a suitable way of putting things right for the customer, considering that this is a breach of the Code?


As with any dispute, the aim is to put the customer in the position they would have been in had the issue not occurred, and finding an outcome that is fair, reasonable and proportionate for both parties. However, in practice, this can be quite difficult because, in the majority of cases, the garage isn’t going to be able to retrieve the replaced part and therefore needs to propose other forms of resolution.


Furthermore, if a part has been exchanged, and assuming that the new component conforms to the vehicle manufacturer’s specification and is of satisfactory quality, the consumer’s car would now be in an improved condition compared to when it went into the garage. On this basis, the customer has suffered a loss (i.e. their property has been removed without their knowledge), but has equally gained at the same time.


Every case is assessed on its respective facts. However, an example of a recommendation that would be made to the business by The Motor Ombudsman in this situation, to help conclude the complaint, would be to offer goodwill (i.e. a discount off the price of the new part). Or, in the case of wear-and-tear parts, like tyres, it could be a refund for the remaining life of the part. On this subject, The Motor Ombudsman saw a case where tyres were replaced because of a fault, rather than them being worn, but they were not returned to the customer. As there was around 40% of the tread left on the tyres, The Motor Ombudsman awarded the customer 40% of the value of the tyres.


Just as importantly, and in line with the Motor Industry Code of Practice for Service and Repair, the garage would be expected to review and refine their procedures. This is so that they make customers aware of the opportunity to view old parts and their respective condition when booking their car in for work, and make sure that, if vehicle owners ask for the component to be retained, garages will comply with this request.


Enhancing transparency and reducing disputes through technology


Thanks to significant technological advancements, the ability of garages to deliver a transparent repair process has been made even easier. To this end, some garages are now using guided video walk-throughs of a vehicle narrated by a mechanic to clearly show any defective parts that need to be replaced or to make customers aware of any significant wear or anything else that could render the car illegal to drive (e.g. low tyre tread). This subsequently lessens the opportunity for confrontation and disputes, as it keeps customers better informed during the entire repair process, and may even mean that the consumer doesn’t need to retain part, thanks to already having video footage of the fault.


For more information on the benefits of accreditation to The Motor Ombudsman, click here.