18 May 2024
The voice of the independent garage sector

Certification is the name of the game

Parts availability has been a concern for garages over the last three years, with the effects of pandemic lockdowns and the war in Ukraine putting major strain on supply chains worldwide. At the same time, the cost-of-living crisis has meant consumers will now see a cost saving from a recycled part as a real bonus. The growing awareness of how recycling parts has a environmental benefit too means that eBay chose the perfect moment in May to relaunch its Certified Recycled programme, which sells recycled vehicle parts from 81 certified sellers.
    
One of these is Poole-based Charles Trent. The family-run business has been operating for almost 100 years, having been founded in 1926 by the great-grandfather of current CEO Marc Trent. While they might have a lot of history behind them, as eBay UK’s Category Lead – Vehicle Parts and Accessories Laura Richards pointed out, they are looking forwards: “For these guys it is all about process. This is leading the UK, technology-wise.” A lot of it comes down to data, as the company’s Chief Operating Officer Neil Joslin observed: “We have a ton of data analysis. A large chunk of it is led by demand from customers. What we are not doing is taking every part off the car, then putting it on the shelf and letting it gather dust.”
    
As he pointed out, they tend to see two types of car: “There are vehicles at their natural end of life, and then there are insurance write-offs.” The first stage after the vehicles are brought in sees them assessed. Some will be assigned to be stripped down, others will be crushed immediately. On the insurance write-off side, some will be able to be sold on as functioning cars, while others will be set for dismantling. Before that, they are cleaned, wheels and tyres are removed and all fluids are drained, including fuel, oils and all other liquids.
    
We then moved into the first workshop, where some of the more complex vehicles that could not be run down the de-production line are stripped down. A BMW X5 was beginning its treatment when we went in, and was still being worked on when we left a couple of hours later. This was in stark contrast to the 20 minutes it takes the guys to deconstruct the vast majority of vehicles. This area included an EV bay.
    
Every vehicle is electronically tagged, and each part harvested from it is also tagged, showing where it is from. “The reason for this is for provenance” said Neil.  “The market for illegal parts is massive, and this is a way of dealing with it.” At this point, the technicians can also provide an additional level of assessment, in case a part that had been tapped for re-use turned out to be damaged. In total, the X5 had 74 parts assigned for re-use, including the seats.
    
Our next stop was the company’s recently installed de-production line. Like with a production line in a factory, cars roll down as technicians perform their various tasks as part of the larger process. The line has been running since August 2022, and is unique in the UK, with only a few equivalents overseas. “We looked at sited in France that did something similar,” noted Neil, “but they deal with far fewer cars.  We have made a number of innovations, and this one is able to process more cars. At each stop, panels and doors are removed, along with seats and interior trim. Then mechanical elements come out, followed by electronics and electricals, the engine and more are removed. Different bins receive items to be retained for reuse, and elements that are going straight in the junk. Each stop is timed, although we may have mucked up some of this when we were given the opportunity to help tear apart some of the vehicles. When the engine is removed, the whole car can be lifted on its side.
    
“It has been set up with lean processes in mind,” observed Neil. “It can never be truly lean because every car is different, but we do aim to be efficient.
    
Once off the line, mechanical dismantling begins, with items cleaned in a washing machine. Parts are then prepared to go on the shelves and are quality-checked again too.
    
“By weight, 96.3% of the car will be re-used” pointed out Neil. “Across the UK, the target set by government is 95%, but generally we have been well below this nationally.”
    
Once they are cleaned, graded for quality and prepared, the parts are boxed up and placed on the storeys-high shelving units. A tracking system makes sure the company knows what it has, and knows what it can sell on. When shipping, all packaging is both made from recycled materials, and is itself recyclable.

Panel discussion
Following the tour, a panel discussion looked at the growing trend of green parts. On the panel were Head of Automotive at eBay UK Dr. Tony Tong and Laura Richards, Marc Trent, CEO at Charles Trent, ABP Club Chief Executive David Cresswell and VRA head Chas Ambrose, VRA, with YouTube car star Johnny Smith compering.
    
Starting with why certified recycled parts are so important, Chas Ambrose offered the following observation: “Certification brings recycled parts to a new audience. The working relationship we have with eBay is a natural fit.” David Cresswell commented: “The insurers are keen on green parts not just because it is the right thing to do. By having provenance, they are guaranteeing they are looking after the policy holder, and the bodyshop knows the quality of the part that was coming in.” Laura Richards observed: “From eBay’s perspective there are two opportunities. First the value; a 70% saving on the new part. Sustainability is also a big part of it as well. The biggest problem we had the was the perception challenge.”
    
On what drives consumers towards certified green parts, Marc Trent said: “That used to be cost, but for consumers now it really is the environment, as well as the delivery and service. We welcome the regulations getting tougher. We also have to think about where car ownership sits. We worked with the VMs back in the 1990s, and I think they are re-looking at this industry now. France seems to be a big driver of this, and I think the rest of Europe will follow. Mobility is changing, and a lot of factors are affecting the vehicle.”
    
Laura concluded: “We’ve had serious supply chain issues in the last few years. The factories making pattern parts were shut down, then there were the Brexit problems. With the likes of Charles Trent, you have the parts you need on your doorstep. The more eBay can do to help, the better.”