A David-and-Goliath battle between a small Aberdeen garage owner and the mighty Ford Corporation has resulted in a rap over the knuckles for the owners of Land Rover from the Office of Fair Trading.
Sandy Wilson, the owner of Car Clinic, in West Tullos, Aberdeen, launched a small garage business this year to take advantage of new European Union legislation that opened up car servicing to the wider motoring community. Introduced in May last year, the new regulations stipulated that major car-makers must lift restrictions that required owners of cars bought under warranty to have all servicing work carried out only through makers' approved dealerships.
With owners now free to choose where their cars are serviced, Wilson saw a business opportunity and quit his job with a major car dealership to set up on his own. He was to discover first hand that at least one major car-maker was ignoring the new rules when his wife bought a new Land Rover Discovery in January. Wilson said: "The customer welcome pack arrived, and there in black and white was a statement categorically stating it was essential to have the car serviced only by an authorised Land Rover dealer. This came as a huge blow. This was the whole basis of my business plan knocked away."
Wilson complained to the Office of Fair Trading about the "information pack" and Geoffrey Kenton of the OFT competition enforcement branch took up the complaint. In a letter from the OFT to Wilson, Kenton states: "Land Rover has accepted that this wording had resulted in the wrong impression being conveyed to customers ... it has now stopped the issue of further information packs until the wording relating to servicing has been amended."
Wilson believes Land Rover should write to all its customers telling them they can service their cars anywhere and argues that, until this happens, small businesses like his will be fighting an uphill battle. The OFT has estimated that servicing at a franchised dealer usually costs at least £83 more than at an independent garage. It said there was still confusion among consumers over the options available, with more than two-thirds of motorists assuming their warranties would be invalidated if they used an independent garage.