South Africa relies heavily on road transport for both business and pleasure purposes, so it is important that the vehicles we use are properly maintained. But just how good are we at doing this, and are we being taken for a ride? MIKE MONK looks at the nation’s servicing habits and what the future holds.
Vehicles today have become increasingly complex and technologically advanced – even budget car entry-level models boast a level of electronic equipment that contributes towards safety and efficiency. And commensurate with this sophistication has come reliability, but as with most things, it does not last forever and regular service and maintenance are necessary to everything functioning properly. So it is encouraging to learn that more than 90% of car owners in SA routinely service their vehicles, with 88% saying they do so at the service intervals recommended by manufacturers. This information emerged from a vehicle service survey recently concluded by the Automobile Association (AA).
‘We often speak of the necessity to service vehicles regularly, and to keep them in good running condition. This not only maintains the performance of the vehicle, but ensures it has a longer lifespan. This also means our roads have vehicles on them which are roadworthy, which is critical to road safety. These results are encouraging, and we hope motorists continue servicing their vehicles in this way,’ says the AA.
According to the results, 53% of owners say they service their vehicles at the brand’s dealer franchises, while 37% take their vehicles to private workshops. Many owners are comfortable with servicing their vehicles themselves, with only a small percentage indicating that they do not service their vehicles at all.
Another encouraging aspect of the survey was the high rate of satisfaction among owners who use workshops to carry out the servicing, with 80% of those who use dealer franchises and 85% who use private workshops rating the experience as good or great.
The results came against the backdrop of The Competition Commission’s enquiry into the automotive aftermarket, and the campaign by private operators in this sector for more official recognition of their services. This process is ongoing and industry role-players have been consulted with the aim of developing a second draft of a Code of Conduct for the Automotive Aftermarket. What the survey results reveal is that owners are equally satisfied servicing their vehicles with private workshops they trust as they are with dealer franchises.
‘But, importantly, most owners (57%) still prefer using original parts for their cars, although the vast majority (77%) believe these parts are expensive,’ the AA notes. Only 16% of respondents believed original spare parts are fairly priced, with most of the comments received indicating these parts are ‘greatly overpriced’. However, despite this, many respondents say they will pay these prices over cheaper non-original parts.
In response to the AA survey, the Right to Repair South Africa (R2RSA) campaign made some comments. ‘As things currently stand in SA, dealerships sell most vehicles with a built-in service plan. What this means is that you buy the vehicle with a non-negotiable service plan included in the price,’ says Les McMaster, Director of R2RSA. ‘What you need to realise is that this service plan could be hugely expensive and cost anywhere between R30 000 to R60 000 or more.’
‘But what’s more of a concern,’ says McMaster, ‘is that there is no transparency in pricing from the dealerships. You could be paying a premium for servicing without even knowing.’ Interestingly, he says that when R2RSA tried to determine the actual cost of the service plan component, no manufacturers approached were prepared to provide this information. He adds that if a consumer is happy with the service at a particular dealership and wants to use that dealership, an upfront payment makes sense for both sides and creates a win-win situation. ‘That’s why R2RSA is all for offering service plans. But if owners would rather choose an independent workshop because it’s more convenient, offers a better service experience, better location, or is more affordable, they should have the right to do so.
‘Ultimately, we believe that owners should have the choice about servicing their vehicle and the only way to make an educated decision is if they have all the information. If the offer by the vehicle brand’s dealership is the best offer there is, logically you would go for it. There should be no need to automatically build in the cost of the service and not disclose the cost you will be paying for the service plan.’
McMaster says the whole point of the R2RSA campaign is to allow owners to select where their vehicle is serviced, maintained and repaired at competitive prices. ‘There is a need for a fair and competitive regulatory environment that enables freedom of choice for consumers and gives aftermarket Small Medium Enterprises a chance to stay in business. South African legislature needs to follow the international Right to Repair trend, which promotes South Africa’s existing consumer and competition laws.’
At the time of writing, following a stakeholder meeting in November 2017, R2RSA spokesperson Gunther Schmitz said, ‘We are eagerly anticipating the second draft of the Code of Conduct from the Competition Commission. In the meantime, we are pleased that several more sponsors have come on board to support the R2RSA. We are in a good position to continue to pursue a solution that has consumers’ best interests at heart and gives aftermarket Small Medium Enterprises a chance to stay in business,’ he concludes.