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Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Trading Standards sting leaves Halfords Autocentre site with £32,000 fine

Fleet News reports (15 June) that a sting operation by South Gloucestershire Trading Standards has resulted in a £32,000 fine for offences under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Practices Regulations, and nearly £15,000 costs for Halfords Autocentres (I'm not sure precisely which company was the defendant). Of 20 deliberate faults in the Astra they submitted for a £235 service, the technician missed 11.

Nothing new there: in fact, even the story is rather old because the sting took place in March last year and has taken this long to get to court - where Halfords unsurprisingly pleaded guilty. They also argued (though it doesn't help, except in the media I suppose) that their technician picked up a couple of faults (unspecified in the report) that Trading Standards hadn't been aware of, and that the faults that the technician missed were not "overtly dangerous". (Surely it's the "covertly dangerous" ones that are worst anyway?) The court was told that the missed faults (brake fluid level, missing or broken bulbs, faulty windscreen wipers, oil leaks, irregular tyre pressures) should all have been picked up during the "major service": and of course understanding what is and what is not included, and the garage's duty to go beyond what might be on the menu, is key to getting it right.

It does seem to me that there ought to be better ways to go about putting these things right. The defendant here was not a railway arch operation, although by the same token one might say that the consumer should be able to expect more of Halfords than the guy under the arch. Perhaps the most important lesson is the damage that one unreliable employee can cause to a respectable business.

Postscript: Auto Express adds to the story that two other garages hit in the same operation did significantly better, though quite properly we are not told their identities as they seem to have done well enough to avoid prosecution. The trading standards department identified three garages which seemed from their data and that of the old OFT to be disproportionately complained about.

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