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Thursday, April 22, 1999 Published at 10:51 GMT 11:51 UK

Business: The Company File

Car repairers face competition probe

Can the industry repair its tarnished imaged?

Car repair centres are facing a competition crackdown amid complaints that they are ripping off customers.

Business Breakfast's Sarah Boxhall on the background to the OFT inquiry
The Office of Fair Trading (OFT), the UK's competition watchdog, is launching an investigation into the car repair industry as it tries to stamp out rogue traders and poor workmanship.

The investigation comes after a rise in the number of complaints from disgruntled customers who feel they have had to pay too much to have their cars fixed.

Rising complaints

John Bridgeman, the head of the OFT said: "We spend £8.9bn a year on car servicing and repairs but are we getting value for money or are we being taken for a ride?"

"In my view this is a sector which is in urgent need of investigation. We need to know more about the nature and extent of the problem and what can be done about it," he added.

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The OFT has decided to launch the inquiry after it was revealed that trading standards officers around the UK received 27,381 complaints about the standards and cost of car repairs in just 12 months.

The number of people reporting car repairers to trading standard officers has doubled over the last decade.

The OFT is concerned that customers are liable to receive too little information about what work is being done on their cars.

They are also worried that a lot of the work is done on cars that is not needed - and therefore car owners are overpaying for routine repairs.

Motoring organisations welcomed the launch of the inquiry.

Cowboy dealers

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RAC head of campaigns Edmund King said: "We welcome any action which will help rid the motor industry of the minority of cowboy dealers and rip-off merchants.

"The consumer needs to be protected. Motorists should be confident that their cars will be serviced to the highest quality standards and that the bill will not break the bank. Unfortunately, there are too many corrupt practices in too many garages. We hope this investigation will help to outlaw the disreputable dealers."

The BBC's June Kelly: "Trading Standards have launched the Golden Spanner award"
The investigation into the car repair industry is the latest move by the OFT to improve competition in the UK and reduce prices.

The OFT has already conducted an in-depth investigation of the supermarket industry and is looking at why cars cost much more in the UK than they do in Continental Europe.

The government signalled recently that it planned to beef up the powers of the OFT as part of a drive to stamp out monopolies and improve competition to ensure that customers do not get a raw deal.

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