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Vehicle repair industry in for a shake-up

‘Aftermarket servicing is unfair to consumers.’

NASREC – The Motor Industry Workshop Association (MIWA), which represents 2 500 independent vehicle repair workshops, will this week meet with automotive manufacturers to lobby for changes to the current status quo in the aftermarket repairs sector.

Speaking at a MIWA event on Friday, National chairman of MIWA, Les McMaster said practices carried out by original equipment manufacturers (OEM) are unfair to consumers.

For example, an increasing number of vehicle parts are being coded by OEMs who are not sharing these codes with repairers that fall outside of their franchised networks, such as MIWA members. Some OEMs are extending warranties to ten years, McMaster said.

While the vehicle is under warranty, you are forced to use only an OEM-approved repair shop to service the vehicle or risk having the warranty removed, as well as the service plan that you paid for upfront.

In South Africa, unlike in the US and Europe, service plans are included in the upfront unit cost of a vehicle, adding between R25 000 and R40 000 to the price, according to McMaster.

Even on out of warranty vehicles, independent repairers are often unable to access the technical information or codes required to properly service increasingly more technically advanced vehicles, due to the exclusive hold that OEMs have on this information.

This enables OEMs to retain customers who might otherwise prefer to engage the services of more affordable, independent repairers.

OEMs argue that this is related to safety and they cannot vouch for the quality or reliability of parts not validated by them. While intellectual property might be a consideration, some of these parts are made in the same factory and simply branded differently.

According to Hartmut Röhl, president of the European aftermarket association FIGIEFA, OEMs in Europe manufacture only 20% of the components of a car. The rest are produced by the specialised component manufacturing industry and sold either as their own brand or that of the manufacturer. Röhl therefore refers to vehicle manufacturers as vehicle “assemblers”.

FIGIEFA is the French acronym for the International Federation of Automotive Aftermarket Distributors.

It was founded in 1956 and does a significant amount of lobbying at government level, working to convince policymakers that the existence of the independent aftermarket sector is vital. FIGIEFA has 18 member countries in Europe, including Germany, the UK, Switzerland and France. The USA, Australia and South Africa are also members. 

Who owns the car?

In Europe, vehicle manufacturers are prohibited from making warranties “conditional on the repair and servicing of a vehicle within their network, or on the use of their own branded spare parts,” FIGIEFA explains in its brochure on the Block Exemption Regulation – European competition law for the automotive market.

In conversation with a senior Volkswagen executive in Germany, Röhl was told, relating to independent repairers, “we do not want that anybody fumbles around with our cars”.

To which Röhl replied, “You forgot, it’s no longer your car. You sold it, you got money for it and the guy who bought it has the right to do what he wants with the car.”

MIWA is part of the worldwide coalition on Right 2 Repair, a campaign supported by FIGIEFA and other similar organisations that are lobbying for independent repairers to gain access to information on new cars through a centralised portal; repair cars under warranty without compromising the warranty; and allow consumers the freedom to access workshops of choice.

“All we want as the independent aftermarket is for you [the OEMs] to recognise us and give us the information we need to repair these vehicles correctly,” McMaster added, noting that OEM practices were “strangling the aftermarket repairers”.

“We are not against the OEMs and franchise dealers… we just want a link in this chain,” he said.

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