26 April 2004

The Office of Fair Trading appears to be winning the crucial battle it has waged with car manufacturers over restrictive warranties.

In December last year, the watchdog claimed UK consumers are being ripped off by a total of £500m a year, and pointed the finger at six companies as the worst offenders. Ford, Citroën, BMW, Peugeot, DaimlerChrysler and Volkswagen Group – which combined account for nearly 50 per cent of the new car market in the UK – were all accused of forcing buyers of their cars to service them at main dealers or invalidate their warranty.

Autocar can reveal that this pressure has paid off. All six manufacturers now offer cars with warranties that last at least two years after purchase, whether you service them at the companies’ franchised outlets or elsewhere. Now that independent garages can get access to the factory parts used by franchised dealers to service any car (and not rely on third-party components) without affecting its warranty, cheaper independent garages can operate on a level playing field for the first time.

The OFT is still urging people to be cautious when shopping for new or nearly new cars, however. Many three-year warranties, such as those still offered by Ford, Citroën and BMW, leave a portion of the coverage to the discretion of the dealer, which means vehicles serviced elsewhere are unlikely to be covered for the full-term. In these cases, the customer has to agree to service his car at a main dealer in order to receive full cover. The motorist will then have to choose between costly main dealer services, or cheaper independent services and a shorter warranty that could leave them at risk of expensive repairs earlier in the car’s life. The OFT estimates that the former route costs an average £199 per service, contrasting with the £116 that an average vehicle service costs at an independent garage. Hyundai, meanwhile, has extended its three-year/30,000-mile free servicing offer until the end of June. Customers can now take advantage of it alongside the five-year unlimited mileage warranty and three-year RAC roadside assistance giveaways on all Getz superminis, Matrix mini-MPVs and range-topping Accent CDX hatchbacks.

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Subaru also follows the Korean company’s lead: its new three years’ free servicing package on Legacy 2.0- and 2.5-litre, Forester 2.0X and Impreza WRX models should finally silence any voices complaining about high running costs.

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