The OFT…Kaylee…and your talking car.

14 Feb

The OFT describes itself as “The U.K.’s consumer and competition authority”. It was  previously known as the Office of Fair Trading. I draw to your attention the fact that there is a difference between “ensuring fair trade” and  “making markets work well for consumers” – which is the OFT’s latest mission statement.

Either way, the OFT has singularly failed to achieve much of benefit for us consumers recently but it has done quite a lot to towards its other goals of increasing competition and expanding business – neither of which have anything to do with fairness. Sorry to labour the point but this is what I wish to draw to your attention.

In 2003, the OFT decided that car manufacturers were using their Dealer Franchise system to unfairly lock owner’s of new cars into over-priced servicing in return for keeping the car’s valuable Warranty up to date.

The OFT estimated that a staggering £500 million could possibly be saved by consumers if car manufacturers dropped their demand that owners could only have their servicing carried out by garages belonging to that manufacturer’s group. The OFT found that franchised dealers were “significantly more expensive” than independent garages and that there was “no clear difference in quality in the services offered by each”.

So far, so good…albeit with that certain whiff of bears, personal hygiene and woodland hanging over their finding.

In 2004, the OFT removed the demands of manufacturers that effectively “lock in” new car owners to their own franchised garages and decreed that the consumer was free to choose independent garages without jeopardizing their warranty.

The manufacturers bowed their heads, examined their finger nails and complied with the OFT.

Independent garages flourished and consumers were delighted to escape the clutches of a single Dealer Franchise garage, whom most believed were milking their wallets.

I would draw your attention at this moment to a line spoken by the character The Terminator, in the film of the same name:

“…I’ll be back…”

Eight years on and we see new car owners skipping without care from one garage to another, finding the right one for their needs while still maintaining their new car warranty.

Unless their car goes wrong. If it goes wrong, it needs taking to a Franchised Dealer. It may go wrong at least once a year.

How does it go wrong? Well, the dashboard lights up like a cheap Christmas tree and the independent garage mechanic looks as if he’s just spent two hours having the EU Directive (PSD 2007 /64/ EC) read to him by a person without teeth.

Kaylee, my delightful eight-year-old friend, is still recovering from the shock of her recent misfortune. In a bid to speed her recovery, I decided it was worth trying out hypnotism on her. Her family had asked me to keep an eye on her while they nipped off to Matalan and I’ve always been fascinated with the inner workings of the human mind.

Kaylee was surprisingly easy to hypnotise. I asked her to regress to a previous life and she soon began talking in a curious dry voice, similar to Anthony Hopkins in Silence of The Lambs.

Me: Where are you, Kaylee?

Kaylee: I’m sitting in an office, Clarice…I’m just chewing on the thoughts of an adversary…

Me: Who are you, Kaylee?

Kaylee: I’ve solved the problem now. The man from the OFT was very ill-educated, Clarice. His poor manners tired me…

Me: What have you done?

Kaylee: Everything is back to normal. The little people…I gave them cars that talked. It was simple.

Me: Cars that talked? Did they ask for cars that talked?

Kaylee: Clarice, you really should listen more closely. If you listen then you will hear the cars talking. Do you remember the lambs, Clarice…? How they screamed..?

Me: You mean the Engine Control Unit? The ECU talks to the diagnostic equipment at the garage?

Kaylee: Precisely. It screams like a victim of torture. It tells the manufacturer of all its faults and all the things wrong with itself.

Me: Well that is a good thing, isn’t it? That means the mechanic can tell what parts need adjustment or replacement.

Kaylee: Only if he understands the secret code, Clarice. And I write the secret code.

Me: Yes, and you sell decoding equipment to garages for big bucks.

Kaylee: That’s right. Big bucks…to garages. But you know that I have high standards, Clarice…it simply would not do if every unwashed mechanic in the world could learn the  beauty of my car’s ECU. Learn its greatest secrets…

Me: You mean, you program in multiple ‘fault codes’ that cannot be collectively interpreted or else do not solve the problem when rectified one by one in a non-accredited garage?

Kaylee: The cars are like children to me, Clarice. All children need to be protected by their family…protected from strangers….wouldn’t you agree…?

Me: Are there fault codes and lines of programming in the car’s ECU that simply do not make sense to anyone but the manufacturer?

Kaylee: A mother always knows what is best for her baby, don’t you think? I do. Anyone can bring up a child, Clarice…but mother always knows best…

I don’t actually have much experience of bringing people out of hypnotism. None, in fact. So, when Kaylee’s parents came in through the front door I told them that Kaylee was in good spirits and that I had a pressing engagement elsewhere.

© 2012 Loop Withers

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