Industry watchdog sees complaints over service and repair rocket

By Staff
6 Min Read

The Motor Ombudsman has recorded the highest ever volume of service and repair cases brought by consumers to its dispute resolution service in a single quarter.

Between 1 January and 31 March this year, 1,604 new cases about routine and ad hoc maintenance conducted by repairers, were logged by motorists under The Motor Ombudsman’s Motor Industry Code of Practice for Service and Repair.

This equates to a 35% rise versus the opening three months of 2023 (1,189), and surpasses the previous high of 1,372 seen in the fourth quarter of last year.

Service and repair disputes have accounted for nearly a fifth of the total cases (9,183) opened by consumers under The Motor Ombudsman’s four Motor Industry Codes of Practice during the first quarter of 2024.

Similarly, 24,000 phone calls from consumers were received during the same period – an increase of 56% compared to January to March 2023.

The notable year-on-year jump in demand is most likely a reflection of the sustained financial pressures on consumers from the heightened cost of living, and the growing number of individuals turning to The Motor Ombudsman’s increasingly well-known, free-of-charge Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) service to help recoup losses after encountering an issue with their vehicle.

When looking at the source of service and repair complaints brought to The Motor Ombudsman since the beginning of 2024, just over a third (37%) related to the drivetrain area of a car, i.e. the engine or motor (in the case of an electric vehicle), transmission, fuel and exhaust systems.

Concerns were raised by vehicle owners about the standard of work carried out by repairers, such as fuel injectors not being calibrated correctly, and overtightened oil sump pan drain plugs stripping threads. In addition, complaints in this category stemmed from, amongst other factors, the premature and repeated failures of components, and gearboxes being reset without prior customer approval.

The standard of customer service delivered by businesses to consumers during a routine service or ad hoc remedial work accounted for the second highest proportion (27%) of service and repair disputes raised with The Motor Ombudsman in the first quarter of this year.

Reasons for dissatisfaction originated from component supply problems delaying repairs, workshops not having the necessary tools to complete the required work, and the use of non-genuine parts causing recurring faults.

Complaints pertaining to the chassis area of the vehicle, which encompasses the suspension, brakes, wheels, and steering, were responsible for just over a tenth (14%) of service and repair disputes logged with The Motor Ombudsman during the past three months.

Problems highlighted by consumers took in the likes of wheel alignments being carried out incorrectly, damaged tyre pressure sensors and brakes during work, and rear differential seal failures. Furthermore, electrical issues were responsible for 10% of consumer complaints in Q1, with vehicle owners highlighting problems, such as software updates leading to other errors, hybrid and EV battery failures, intermittent stop/start systems, and faulty wiring looms causing car alarms to activate.

In regards to the external fixtures of a vehicle (7%), bodywork defects were a cause for concern, with consumers reporting dissatisfaction about poor quality paint repairs, rattling bumpers, and condensation build-up in rear tail lamp units. Complaints concerning the interior of vehicles generated the smallest volume of disputes in the first quarter (5%), and spanned unresponsive infotainment screens to rear view mirror covers detaching.

During the third quarter of 2024, the three most requested resolutions stated by the majority of consumers to help bring their dispute to a close, were a free of charge repair (29%), followed by compensation (27%), and a full refund (18%).

Where a monetary value was applied by consumers to their preferred award to help bring their dispute to a close, the average figure given was £4,308, compared to the value of £3,060 seen in the first three months of 2023.

Diesel car owners submitted the largest proportion of service and repair complaints (accounting for 48% of disputes), followed by petrol models (41%), hybrids (6%), and electric vehicles (5%).

Commenting on the latest data, Bill Fennell, chief ombudsman and managing director of The Motor Ombudsman, said: “Routine and ad hoc maintenance is a vital part of running a car, and when something goes wrong, this can be a source of frustration and inconvenience for motorists, whilst they may also incur added expense if their vehicle is off the road for a prolonged period.

“Coupled with an economic backdrop where consumers are facing added strains on their finances, this has resulted in even greater demand by consumers for our-free-of-charge dispute resolution service to pursue remedies for the issues they have encountered.”

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