Block Exemption - Crescent Motors

Crescent Motoring Services

Today’s Blog is by Steve Tallett MD at Crescent Motors and focuses on a little known fact ….. with important financial implications for many drivers

Let’s start by dispelling a myth.

You can only protect your car and van warranty by service work in the warranty period carried out by a franchised dealer.

Sorry to disappoint some franchised dealers on the high street, business parks and elsewhere, but that is no longer the case; and hasn’t been so for a number of years.

It’s a topical story bearing in mind the current discussions and counter claims under the EU Referendum Debate.

Under European legislation and the somewhat oddly named EC Block Exemption Regulations (BER), (its full title is EC Block Exemption Regulation (EU) 461/2010 (MVBER), every motorist has greater freedom and flexibility in selecting where they can get their car or van serviced.

The Block in the legislation refers to European Union competition law that exists to prevent anti-competitive practices and abuse of companies' dominant market positions.

But like much-else in Europe, there was recognition of the unique technical complexity of the products of the motor industry. Fortunately for some, the automotive sector has enjoyed a so-called 'block exemption' from some aspects of competition law since 1995.

However, and of major immediate importance to motorists and car owners, there wasn't complete exemption and the BER included clauses protecting consumer rights regarding service.

But we need to rewind the tape because this freedom to take your vehicle to where you choose for its service and repair has been a hard-fought battle.

Initially, manufacturers fought tooth and nail, (and that was to be expected) to retain control.  The BER was updated at the end of 2002 with acceptance that technical data and repair instructions should be made available to the independent motor trade. This was introduced so that car owners were not obliged to take their car to a franchised dealer for service or repair.

After some protracted discussions and negotiations, the independent 'Right to Repair Campaign' eventually succeeded in having the Block Exemption Regulations renewed and further improved. This ensured that technical data and workshop procedures have remained available to independent garages and to the benefit of motorists.

In essence, the extended period of deliberation and development of the BER has resulted in the agreement that work can be carried out by an independent garage as long as that garage uses manufacturer approved parts and correctly follows the manufacturer's service schedule.

What makes this fact equally interesting is that at a time when fuel prices are again slowly rising from their lowest level for several years, when car performance, most notably miles per gallon (MPG) and pollution levels are high on many agendas, it is the costs of service and repair that appear to have been lost from drivers’ consciousness.

To leading motor industry groups, like Motor Codes,  and after sales and servicing organisations, , like Autocare UK, (part of the larger EuroGarage, with over 6,000 garages in 20 countries across two  continents), providing every driver with the ways and means of finding the best possible service and repair to their cherished vehicles remains a key priority.

Research carried out in 2015 suggests that, all else being equal, motorists tend to prefer independent garages. The authoritative study, by GForces, found that over half (50.4%) of the 2,000 drivers polled used independent garages. A far smaller number just over a third, (34.1%) used main dealers for aftermarket work.

In parallel to the ready access to technical information under the BER, the introduction of portable proprietary database systems containing all repair and service information for vehicles has played a key part.

Today, the independent garage network across the country is able to offer competitive and reliable work for the growing numbers of drivers who wish to have a choice in where they get their vehicle serviced. There are many who prefer to take the vehicles to the independent sector. Assisted by comparison websites offering immediate access to detailed information on garages, every driver is far better placed.

The Motor Codes website is a good example. Its up-to-date customer information supplied to the London-based, government-backed, self-regulatory body for the motor industry, by individual drivers provides detailed reviews and feedback. Used as part of the Annual Garage of The Year competition, and won by a leading Midlands-based independent garage for each of the last two years, these customer insights confirm a growing trend.

Many drivers are looking for the most competitive prices. However an equal number are also looking for high-quality personal contact with their garage and its staff. Many independent garages, of course not all, go the extra mile. They have adopted neat touches – offering to show customers the parts or components that they have replaced.  

Data recently released by the RAC has confirmed that satisfaction ratings from drivers using independent garages are now higher than that for franchised dealers. This gap also appears to be continuing to widen.

You could say that as a group of businesses independent garages are more open. Of course, the odd rogue or cowboy still exists. With the help of the websites and garage information, that group are being squeezed out. But, it is still the responsibility of the driver to make the best choice in the first place.

Quality of service beyond the usual will still receive attention. And, long may it continue. Recently, a close friend and leading-light in local legal circles, received service he described as ‘out of the ordinary’.

Breaking down on the way to his Channel ferry crossing, the roadside service-agency was unable to repair his car. They, of course, can’t carry every part or component, but quickly transported his car to a small village garage. There the proprietor and his team were able to get hold of the required part, without delay, stopping other work and sending John on in-time to make his crossing.

A typical example of where an independent garage excels. I am sure that there are lots of other examples; but I wonder if main dealers and their service teams receive similar praise as frequently as appears on the Motor Codes website?

I recommend that drivers should take a look at the Motor Codes website and study responses from drivers to their local independent garages who are actively participating in Motor Codes. Many customers are open with their comments and freely giving their feedback which assists other drivers and vehicle users in making a reliable choice of garage for their service and repair.

Another significant advantage to drivers comes from the fact that with more quality independent garages across the country drivers don't have to wait too long or travel too far for their servicing or repairs

Several countries in the EU responded to the BER with strategies to effectively enforce them, making for enhanced competition better amongst car dealers and manufacturers. Switzerland is a typical example with its ‘Car Notice’ passed by their Competition Commission back in 2002.

More recently, in a major victory for independent garages, the Swedish Supreme Court dismissed a petition by carmaker Kia for leave to appeal against a conviction for a breach of competition laws in the Swedish market. Kia’s seven-year warranty outlined that any prescribed service must be performed by a franchised workshop. However, as this article makes clear, under European law, car owners are no longer obliged to go to their dealer during the vehicle’s warranty period.

Some of reflected glow of the RAC data is revealed in drivers’ appreciation and ratings for Crescent Motors. We are undoubtedly proud of our high rating that has contributed to our successes in Awards competitions. With the bar continuing to be raised, Crescent, along with other independents, is determined to remain at the top of its game to maintain its position. It means that our customers are continuing to benefit and take key advantages from using our services.

My conclusion – the introduction of the BER has delivered significant competition and provided extra choice for drivers. It has provided important potential cost-savings to drivers whilst enhancing the quality of professional workmanship and the availability of quality-service.

As you might have heard – ‘So what’s stopping you?’

Today’s blog is written by Steve Tallett, Managing Director of Crescent Motoring Services, whose garages are the current National Independent Garage of the Year; a title his team has held since 2014. Crescent Motoring is also the first back-to-back winners of the Excellence in Customer Service Awards from the Birmingham Chamber Group. Winning these prestigious awards in 2013; and then again in 2014.