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The UK body that represents franchised car dealers has called for greater transparency of the car servicing and repair industry to protect the growing number of motorists that are falling foul of unscrupulous garages.
A worrying 84 per cent of people are unaware that there are no minimum qualifications needed for someone to work as a car mechanic according to research undertaken by the NFDA and Trusted Dealers.
Unlike many parts of Europe, the UK does not regulate entry to the profession meaning that unlicensed and poorly trained mechanics can run a garage without breaking the law.
The NFDA conducted the research to highlight the training ‘gap’ that exists between technicians at franchised dealers and some non-franchised garages and to press the government for stronger, legally-binding regulation of the industry.
Sue Robinson comments, “The average car is a potentially lethal weapon if poorly maintained – making this a real issue of public safety. As VOSA have reported 40% of cars fail their MOT when first tested, meaning these cars are being driven in an un-roadworthy state. Cars today are also becoming increasingly sophisticated and well beyond the skills of many non-franchised garages where staff might have completed manufacturer-approved training courses, or as little as a one week tyre fitting course – there’s no way of knowing.
“At present anyone can open up a garage regardless of their background or ability and we think this is a situation that needs to change. Therefore we are calling for tougher, legally enforced minimum standards, to raise the bar in the industry.”
The NFDA initiative would bring the UK into line with other countries in Europe where automotive mechanics are subject to minimum standards of training.
In Germany for example all garages must have a ‘Maester Technician’ that reached a minimum level of proficiency and importantly, all garages are licensed to protect consumers and to guarantee high standards.
Neil Addley, Director of franchised dealer-owned used car website Trusted Dealers comments, “The NFDA and Trusted Dealers are urging the government to do more to protect motorists by creating minimum standards for all UK garage technicians. Although there are excellent independent garages with very high standards, the fact remains that because the industry is unlicensed, there is no way of knowing whether the man in overalls taking a spanner to your car knows what he’s doing.
“Technicians at franchised dealers receive specific training on their manufacturer’s latest models, as well as receiving regular refresher courses and have specialised tools and parts. Feedback from our members suggests problems with rogue garages are on the increase and we are calling for the government to licence garages or to develop a new, tougher regime to weed out rogue operators and to give the public greater confidence in the industry.”
According to NFDA figures, the average vehicle technician at a franchised dealership will have received over £20,000 worth of training by the time they become ‘master technicians’ around five to seven years later. However under the current system, independent garages could be staffed by employees without any professional training.
In the UK most reputable garage technicians will be eligible to become members of the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI) which is responsible for the Automotive Technician Accreditation programme. However although this scheme is comprehensive and effective, it is voluntary and not legally enforced.
In the UK franchised technicians typically train as an apprentice for three years to become an NVQ Level 3 Technician. Over the next two years most manufacturers would expect technicians to attend regular training courses before becoming ‘master technicians’. Even when this level is reached, technicians expect to have their competency assessed every three years.
All this demonstrates the huge investment that a franchised dealer commits to have the very best technical skills in their workshop for the brands they represent.