22 May 2024
The voice of the independent garage sector

Economic woes fuel surge in service and repair complaints

Cost of living pressures are a likely key driver in the record number of service and repair cases referred to The Motor Ombudsman’s alternative dispute resolution service in a single quarter.

TMO said on April 23 more than 1,600 new cases concerning routine and ad hoc maintenance conducted by repairers were raised under its Motor Industry Code of Practice for Service and Repair between January 1 and March 31.

This was the highest volume of disputes seen in a single quarter in relation to vehicle maintenance and equates to a 35% increase over the first quarter of 2023 — surpassing the previous high of 1,372 in the fourth quarter of last year.

Service and repair disputes accounted for nearly a fifth of the total cases (9,183) opened in the first quarter of this year, TMO said.

Meanwhile, around 24,000 phone calls from consumers were received during the first three months of this year — an increase of 56% over the corresponding period last year.


Nearly 40% of the service and repair complaints this year related to the drivetrain area of a car, transmission, fuel and exhaust systems.

Concerns were raised by vehicle owners about the standard of work carried out by repairers, such as fuel injectors not being calibrated correctly, and overtightened oil sump pan drain plugs stripping threads.

In addition, complaints in this category stemmed from, amongst other factors, what TMO said were premature and repeated failures of components and gearboxes being reset without prior customer approval.

The standard of customer service delivered by businesses to consumers during a routine service or ad hoc remedial work accounted for the second highest proportion (27%) of service and repair disputes raised.

TMO said reasons for dissatisfaction originated from component supply problems delaying repairs, workshops not having the necessary tools to complete the required work and the use of non-genuine parts causing recurring faults.

Electrical issues

Complaints about vehicles’ chassis areas, which encompass the suspension, brakes, wheels and steering, were responsible for 14% of service and repair disputes logged.

Problems highlighted by consumers took in the likes of wheel alignments being carried out incorrectly, damaged tyre pressure sensors and brakes during work, and rear differential seal failures.

Electrical issues were responsible for 10% of consumer complaints, with problems raised including software updates leading to other errors, hybrid and EV battery failures, intermittent stop/start systems and faulty wiring looms setting off car alarms.

Bodywork defects were also a cause of concern (7%), while complaints concerning the interior of vehicles generated the smallest volume of disputes in the first quarter (5%).

‘Financial strains’

TMO chief ombudsman and MD Bill Fennell said: “Coupled with an economic backdrop where consumers are facing added strains on their finances, this has resulted in even greater demand by consumers for our-free-of-charge dispute resolution service to pursue remedies for the issues they have encountered.

“Routine and ad hoc maintenance is a vital part of running a car, and when something goes wrong, this can be a source of frustration and inconvenience for motorists, whilst they may also incur added expense if their vehicle is off the road for a prolonged period.”

Fennell said he expected the rise in calls and case submissions to continue throughout the year.