Undercover Garage Checks
A new scheme to check up on garages
15 August 2001

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Trading Standards Officers with The Highland Council have recently added a new weapon to their armoury in the battle to improve the standards of car servicing and repairs.  In co-operation with 11 other local authorities in Scotland and together with the Vehicle Inspectorate, a project has been established, involving the undercover submission of pre-inspected cars to servicing garages, for routine servicing and repairs.

In addition to examining the standard of service provided, officers are also able to inspect cars displayed on dealers forecourts to establish their roadworthiness and the dealers compliance with the licence conditions, which apply.  Part funding of the project was made by the Department of Trade and Industry and has enabled the procurement of a purpose-built vehicle by the Scottish authorities, an adequate and continuously changing supply of second-hand cars for test transaction purposes and the technical training of staff.

During the operation of the project in Highland to date, a significant number of problems have been discovered with the quality of services provided and with defective vehicles being found on sale.  The Vehicle Inspectorate, whose involvement in the vehicle examinations was considered by Trading Standards to have been invaluable, are also understood to be considering a number of infringements of the rules under which MOT test stations operate, which were discovered during the operations.

The need for such a project was clearly identified in a report on Car Servicing and Repairs by the Office of Fair Trading in August 2000, when the then Director General of Fair Trading, John Bridgeman, made known his concerns about the poor quality and unacceptable standards of performance by the Motor Trade in the UK.

A report on the project and on its operation in Highland, including some detail of the problems found to date, is being made to the meeting of The Highland Councils Roads, Community and Protective Services Committee, on Thursday (16 August).  Councillor Dave Munro, Vice Chairman of the Committee, who has responsibility for Consumer Protection and Public Health, said: "Something clearly has to be done, to improve the situation for consumers and for the general reputation of the motor trade in Highland. The results of the investigations carried out during this project, have been extremely disappointing. The picture is not totally black however, and it is hoped that the trade will be willing to work with the Councils trading standards personnel and other agencies such as the Vehicle Inspectorate, in order to improve things". 

Nigel Mackenzie, The Highland Councils Head of Trading Standards, said: "Some of the problems, which have been discovered during these operations, are not adequately covered by the existing Consumer Protection legislation. The powers given to local authorities to combat undesirable trading practices are, however, in the process of being strengthened. The introduction of the so-called "Stop Now Orders", will allow action to be taken against rogue traders through interdicts obtained in the Civil Court, even when no proven breach of the criminal law is involved.

The trade should recognise that these powers will be used by Trading Standards to ensure that consumers in Highland are properly protected."  "The Councils licence conditions which apply to second-hand car dealers, can also play a significant role in ensuring vehicle safety and a fair deal for consumers. Amongst other things, these conditions require dealers to carry out inspections of any cars they put on sale and to make these reports, which should include any significant defects, available to the public.

Those who fail to comply with these conditions or who persist in offering unroadworthy vehicles for sale can risk having their licence revoked."