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HOW THE DVSA DECIDES WHAT STAYS ON THE MARKET

HOW THE DVSA DECIDES WHAT STAYS ON THE MARKET

CAT spoke to Neil Barlow, Head of Enforcement at the DVSA’s new Market Surveillance Unit, about the outcome of the recent Klarius case, and how the department plans to ensure type approval standards are observed.

Why is there a need for the Market Surveillance Unit? Surely checking type approval comes under the VCA’s remit?

The Market Surveillance Unit checks that products – vehicles and components – available on the UK market meet legal requirements, in particular with regard to safety and the environment. It makes sense for this function to sit with the DVSA because of our enforcement, legal and engineering expertise, and resources – and also to provide a degree of separation from the delivery of approvals. The unit was set up in DVSA nearly four years ago, and it’s produced some interesting work in checking vehicles and components for standards compliance. A lot of this work has been around emissions, but it’s not limited to this by any means. We do work closely with the VCA, but it is run by DVSA and funded by DfT.

Why did the Klarius case collapse? Can you tell us what went wrong?

We’re very limited on what we can say on the recent Klarius case, it was technical issues with how information, held across different Government bodies, was organised for disclosure that caused the problems. DVSA and DfT were disappointed that the evidence we had was not heard.

In the last 3 years we have successfully prosecuted more than 1100 fraud cases, losing only six and no others have been dismissed by the courts in this way. We are proud of this success, but we’d rather not have to use that power. We’d rather manufacturers, importers, wholesalers and retailers were compliant with the law. With that in mind, education and awareness raising is also an important part of what we do. However, we will take enforcement action where we need to and have already had successful cases with the MSU. I expect there will be more to come.

Is there a danger that the MSU could be manipulated by companies that have ‘sour grapes’ with a competitor (emission product supply is a particularly fraught sector)? What steps have been taken to prevent this?

No, I don’t think so. This isn’t a new environment for DVSA to be in. For many years we have conducted enforcement in the road transport and MOT sectors and are alert to the risks of what competitors say about one another. However, those in the market can be a useful source of intelligence – the key is that DVSA is open to receiving intelligence from anyone.

We triage all intelligence received. Where it is of sufficient quality we will undertake our own investigations and come to a judgement on whether there is a case for prosecution or another type of enforcement action. We must be able to satisfy the question of whether prosecution is in the public interest.

How large is the team working on Market Surveillance?

We have six full time staff in the MSU, but we also have access to other resources in DVSA. That includes our Intelligence team, our Counter Fraud and Investigations team along with a full time Prosecution and Legal Services team. We are an organisation rich in mechanical and engineering skill, we therefore have around 350 vehicles examiners to call on should they be needed.

Do you have any other aftermarket parts categories in your sights for investigation? (brake pads etc?)

Our priorities are based on risks that we are aware of – one of the drivers being intelligence – but also information from other countries and other enforcement bodies. We wouldn’t be limited by component type. The MSU could investigate any vehicle or component issue where we have a concern that the relevant legal standards may not being followed correctly. So – we will continue with our emissions testing programme of new vehicles, but also include working across the aftermarket.

At the moment, we have work ongoing in the space of vehicle modifications (to emissions systems), tyres, aftermarket components as well as specialist trailers. In all cases, we are checking for compliance with legal standards – making sure businesses and the public are protected from buying something that is dangerous, harmful to the environment and unlawful.

Our key message to the industry – be that manufacturers, distributors, importers or retailers – is to make sure you understand the relevant rules and are compliant. We will be out and about checking what is out there – and we will take robust enforcement action where needed.

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CAT AND COVID-19

We’re still here! 

Like the majority of desk workers in London, we’ve all been sent home based on Government advice. 

But don’t worry. If the aftermarket is working, then so are we. This website will remain full of news, comment and analysis, plus features putting a special focus on how to keep your business running in these challenging times. Our next issue will be published on the first Thursday of April as planned, and you can still get hold of us on the usual desk number or send us a message.

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‘WASTE BATTERY MOUNTAIN’ REPORT IS DOOM-MONGERING

‘WASTE BATTERY MOUNTAIN’ REPORT IS DOOM-MONGERING

A year ago we surveyed fifty different organisations who deal with end-of-life cars, and found that less than a third had made any preparations to deal with electric cars.

So it might seem reasonable for the University of Birmingham to suggest that we face ‘a potential electric vehicle battery mountain in the UK’. But I strongly disagree. The report focussed on the challenge of capturing and reusing metals like cobalt, nickel, manganese and lithium, but it is possible to capture these metals at specialist centres in Europe, and technology is developing very quickly on this front.

What’s missing isn’t the advanced technology to reprocess rare minerals, but a greater understanding at ground level – among dealers, dismantlers and scrap merchants – about what to do with a battery electric car.

READ: ELECTRIC VEHICLES VS THE AFTERMARKET

Concerns about costs, safety and additional resources compared to normal practice are holding people back. A high disposal cost for lithium batteries goes against the accepted norm that an end-of-life vehicle brings in a positive value for scrap dealers and owners, so many sites won’t accept them at this stage.

An additional factor is that electric cars have simply not reached the end of their lives in any significant volume. They are lasting much longer than predicted, and the SMMT has recorded that early mainstream electric cars from 18 years ago are still going strong.

But it’s only a matter of time before we see more end-of-life electric vehicles, as one in ten new cars sold are now electric.

Recent thought is that even for earlier cars, end-of-life volume is likely to occur within the next five years. We will still have batteries to deal with in the meantime – the result of malfunctions or crashes – but our feeling is that it will be a progressive build up as opposed to a sudden explosion in numbers as suggested by the Birmingham report. This outcome will mirror the growth in skills and awareness of recycling processes, handling and routes.

READ: DEALING WITH HAZARDOUS WASTE

At Cawleys we have been dealing with lithium batteries since 2012, and our decommissioning room for EV batteries has been operational for nearly two years. We have developed new skills in training, handling and shipping lithium batteries, and have established routes for end-of-life or second life use of electric batteries.

We can process a battery at the highest danger level by splitting it down into modules; it’s safer to work with 20 30V units than one 600V battery.

We do this in a commercially controlled environment, because there is a significant safety risk when it comes to handling lithium batteries, and there is already an undercurrent of private second use where individuals are experimenting with electric vehicles and power packs. This private repurposing process is likely further delaying increased volumes of end-of-life electric vehicles, by keeping them out of the hands of disposal experts.

The overall picture is positive, and it’s alarmist, unhelpful and untrue to say that we face a potential electric vehicle battery mountain in the UK. We should be confident that electric vehicles can be recycled well, and not let concerns about battery mountains spook the market on the consumer or trade side.

 

Alan Colledge is Senior Manager at waste management firm Cawleys Hazardous Services

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THE LEGAL PITFALLS OF DISCOUNT MARKETING

Discounts aren’t just for the high street – but should be treated with care

In early 2019 the owner of jeweller H Samuel was fined for providing misleading pricing information online. The case highlights what retailers can do when it comes to posting prices and promotions in light of a new national and international drive towards the enforcement of consumer protection laws.

Torfaen County Borough Council’s trading standards team pursued a prosecution over the ‘misleading pricing’ of a range of diamond rings on the H Samuel website. The charges related to the practice of using reference price promotions, where retailers show consumers a higher price at which the item has been offered for sale.

H Samuel’s website had failed to inform consumers that items had previously been offered at lower ‘intervening’ prices, so they were unaware whether they were receiving a genuine bargain. Signet Trading, the owner of H Samuel, cooperated with the council’s investigation and pleaded guilty to what the judge accepted were system failings as opposed to deliberate attempts to mislead customers. Whilst credit was given for that, H Samuel was fined £60,000 in respect of the sale of rings (which had brought in £6,500) and was ordered to pay the council’s costs of £13,382.

It’s clear from this case that retailers must be very careful with reference pricing not to mislead customers into thinking they are getting a good deal.

THE LAW

The Consumer Protection Regulations prohibit businesses from engaging in unfair commercial practices such as giving false or misleading information or exerting undue pressure on consumers. You should take time to read the entire 31-item schedule.

Crucially, consumers are not only people who actually buy from a business – they also include prospective customers, so anyone who saw the promotion in an advert or the shop window could complain.

The consumer rules require businesses to be proactive. They impose a duty to disclose material information that a consumer needs to make an informed decision. A common trap for the unwary is that liability for misleading by omission cannot be avoided if the retailer does not know what it should know and has taken no reasonable steps to find out.

If a retailer faces prosecution, it may be able to raise a defence that the offence was committed because of a mistake or cause outside its control; but only if all reasonable precautions were taken to try to avoid the offence.

However, there is no defence if a retailer knowingly or recklessly allows its employees’ conduct to fall below honest and professionally diligent standards at any point.

PRACTICAL STEPS

There are, however, some practical steps that retailers can take to avoid consumer protection offences. Following these should also provide retailers with evidence to support a due diligence defence if any complaint, investigation or prosecution is brought.

Firstly, it’s important to provide training to all staff involved and retain evidence of that training.

Next, taking care that all information presented to customers (potential and actual) is accurate, fair, not deceptive or misleading. Having safeguards in place as to the accuracy and security of all such information is key. Policies, as in any other part of a business, are essential. It’ll help a retailer if it maintains a comprehensive audit trail of all these efforts.

THE FUTURE

Earlier this year, the European Commission called for online shopping websites to give customers clearer information about pricing and discounts after finding that some 60 percent of websites showed irregularities regarding compliance with consumer protection laws. This was particularly so in relation to the advertisement of pricing promotions, and the failure of traders to provide an easily accessible link to the ‘online dispute resolution’ platform which is required under law.

This area is definitely one to watch and retailers should note that this new focus on compliance with consumer protection laws is likely to result in increased scrutiny at a local, national and even international level, of their online and marketing practices.

Gwendoline Davies is a Partner in the Retail Group at Walker Morris LLP

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WAITING WITH FOLDED HANDS

WAITING WITH FOLDED HANDS

There’s an old dystopian novella called ‘With Folded Hands’ by postwar science fiction author Jack Williamson, in which a new type of robot is launched with an unthinking, unflinching desire to serve humanity. Before long, the mechanical creatures have replaced the police force and then hijacked just about every professional role by being faster and, crucially, cheaper.

The ‘bots appear benign, but anyone who threatens them is lobotomised so they might live their lives in an unquestioning state of ‘happiness’ alongside their mechanical masters. The title refers to a scene towards the end of the book where the protagonist has nothing to do but sit with his hands folded as automation has taken away any occupation he could have held.

Science fiction writers have always had a tendency to scare us in order to get our attention and to make us think about the world. Williamson, Bradbury, Orwell, Huxley et al aren’t just making predictions. I think that it’s more like they are holding a mirror to the reader so they can reflect on society as it is of the moment and consider the path it’s following. All of this brings me nicely onto the subject of connected MOT equipment…

Connectivity, creeping into every aspect of life, prompts a resurgence of these fears and it is true that this technology needs to be treated with transparency and sanction.

But, at the end of the day, it would be nice to offload some menial digital tasks.

READ:DVSA CONNECTED MOT RULES GO LIVE

In the aftermarket, connectivity between garage equipment and a central computer has quickly shrugged off its ill-deserved reputation as a fad, thanks in part to a new set of legislation, introduced earlier this year, aimed at giving the DVSA access to MOT centres’ data. As part of the changes, regulators will only approve roller brake testers that can share test results with the DVSA, and any new MOT centres will only be licensed if they meet the new criteria.

I don’t want to imply that critics of the system are in danger of losing their frontal lobe, but there can be no arguing with the Ministry’s rules. That hasn’t stopped people trying of course; IGA Director Stuart James, for example, argued the development was unnecessary, pointing to the fact that the DVSA ‘already have all the information they need’. Others across the industry have been quick to sing the praises of connected hardware. Some garage directors predicted a decline in MOT fraud rates, while others saw it as a way of emulating some of the benefits of other countries’ state-operated systems.

As an MOT tester myself, I test around six cars a day, trotting from one computer screen to another, jotting down notes on a piece of paper to then take all of these notes to yet another computer and then laboriously enter those same digits into that software, before reading and checking it all again, and woe betide the technician that, for whatever reason, inputs incorrect information.

READ: GEA AGREES TO APPROVE ONLY CONNECTED MOT EQUIPMENT

Human error, of course, does have the potential to creep in, especially with boring, repetitive tasks, and to correct those mistakes can lead to a snowball effect of work for both the MOT station and the DVSA which inevitably takes a bite out of the bottom line.

I’ll admit that the thought of buying yet more equipment to enable state-mandated computing to improve testing does raise financial concerns for me as a business owner. But if it means less time keying in entries, less downtime as a result of errors and a faster MOT test time overall, then perhaps it is time to accept automation.

The Japanese interpret folded hands as a gesture of thanks – and maybe we should, too.

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THE HIDDEN COST OF POOR MENTAL HEALTH IN OUR TRADE

THE HIDDEN COST OF POOR MENTAL HEALTH IN OUR TRADE

By Rebecca Watt – Technician at Avia Sports Cars

According to research carried out by the World Health Organisation, one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. Only one in eight of those with a mental health problem are receiving help or treatment. Maybe that’s because they do not know what help is out there, or maybe they think it is not important or serious enough. There are many reasons why someone with an issue such as anxiety or depression may not get the help they need.

The truth is, everyone is affected by mental health at least once in their lives. Although women are more likely to be affected, men are three times as likely to take their own lives. There are about 6,000 suicides in the UK and Republic of Ireland each year and men make up about three quarters of this figure.

Now you’re probably thinking: what has this got to do with the Motor Industry? In fact, the garage trade is particularly affected by instances of poor mental health. Years of heavy lifting, chasing bills and complaining customers can take their toll, but there are many other reasons why an individual who has previously been fine can change to being ‘not okay’ in a short time.

Stress

Stress can build up and affect things like productivity, quality of work and physical health. Consider a lean management system, like any used in production factories and distributor’s warehouses. If any issue, no matter how slight is detected, the problem will be flagged and managers will work to resolve the issue as efficiently as possible. If a problem with a machine or industrial system is fixed so quickly, why then has a government report found that 300,000 people with mental health problems lose their jobs each year? It makes no sense.

From a business point of view, it is important to ensure employees are aware of the help available to them. People spend most of their time in the workplace, so giving employees the basic need of connection and being cared for will have a greater impact on their lives and will only then benefit the company. Employees will respond to this and work to their full potential. Studies have shown that 12.7 percent of all sickness absence days in the UK can be linked to mental health conditions. The government report showed that better mental health support in the workplace could save UK business up to £8 billion PA.

Flexible working

So what can be done in the workplace to improve mental health? A good start is if employers can embrace flexible working. Allowing staff to work flexible hours or schedules to suit them would give them the self-care time that they require to continue working to the best of their abilities. It is equally critical to allow employees to have their entitled time off, or holiday days away from the work environment so they can return bright eyed and bushy tailed.

People suffering with mental health problems are urged to see their GP, plus there are lots of charities that can help – Samaritans and their excellent confidential helpline for example. Specifically for our industry, there is the charity BEN which also offers a confidential support line and will work with individuals. They also offer a range of workplace awareness and engagement initiatives, training programmes and digital assets to help promote its services within companies. If you look after your employees, they will look after your company. Mental health should never be ignored.

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CHARGING NETWORK FLAWED

Last month it was widely reported that the number of charging points had overtaken the number of petrol stations in the UK. There was a lot of fanfare and ministers, no doubt relieved to be able to say something about a subject that isn’t Brexit, were queuing up to express their delight. 

READ: Could factor fleets ever go electric?

Over 50 different brands of charging points are in the UK

Unfortunately, if you delve into the data a little deeper you’ll see that the picture is not quite as rosy. The numbers, researched by charge point finder Zap-Map belie the fact that there are around 50 separate charging providers each with their own pricing structures. Although a ruling last year means that any can be accessed with a debit card, most users will have a contract of some sort with one or another of the charging providers, which may or may not have any points in the same county where the motorist requires volts. Another depressing stat from the map company is that at any given time roughly a quarter of the chargers are out of use. 

“How the hell are we expected to get to carbon neutral when the charging network is so random, inconsistent and generally awful to use?” tweeted Connor Twomey, Head of PR for Mitsubishi in the UK. Mitsubishi produce the Outlander PHEV, the best selling plug-in hybrid car in the country. 

Conservative MP Bill Wiggin tabled a Private Members’ Bill in an attempt to regulate the payment system. EV users in the UK are currently disadvantaged compared with our European neighbours due to a lack of an interoperable payment system for EV charging” he told a parliament in late 2018. 

READ: GOV. ANNOUNCES INCREASE IN FUNDING FOR EV CHARGING

While it is argued that most people with a plug-in hybrid will charge them at home, so a complex infrastructure isn’t needed, we’d suggest that the number of people who own their own property that has both parking and is able to have a charging point connected may not be as high as Whitehall thinks…

 

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PUTTING A STOP TO BRAKE DUST

PUTTING A STOP TO BRAKE DUST

By Greg Whitaker

The knives have been out for traveling by car recently. All around the nation, there have been scores of column inches devoted to the harm that small particulate matter does to our bodies – and if you live around London, you have probably seen some of the anti-car campaigns being run by the Mayor’s office as a new wave of legislation dictating what vehicles can be driven and when take effect.

It isn’t just smokey exhausts that have caught the attention of the powers that be. A cross-party committee called the Air Quality Expert Group has identified that tyres, roads and perhaps most notably, the dust from brake linings are a source of very small particulates which can cause problems with breathing and can also enter the water table easily when rain washes the dust from the road.

Scale of the issue

In one sense the problem is unlikely to be growing as hybrid and electric vehicles use regenerative braking, so the amount of wear on the pads is greatly reduced. However, as the amount of particulates from exhausts reduces, pollution from brake and tyre wear will increase as a percentage, with DEfRA predicting that 10 percent of transport emissions will be from these sources by 2030. In Germany alone it has been calculated that 10,000 tonnes of brake dust is scattered annually.

It might be easy to dismiss this issue as just rhetoric, but cases of lung diseases and asthma are on the rise and there is good evidence that it is the smaller particles, rather than the bigger sooty ones, that cause the most damage to the organs of the body.

So, what can be done? We asked a number of the 60 or so friction lining brands if they are taking any action on the issue.

Scott Irwin, Technical Trainer at TMD Friction, the company behind brands such as Mintex, Textar and Pagid, said: “With regards to pollution through tyres and brakes overall, there are currently no official limits or common methods of measurement. It is much more difficult to provide these guidelines than it was for emissions from exhaust pipes because brakes are open systems”.

He added that his company has around 800 materials to choose from. “Our raw material portfolio management team proactively researches and tests suitable new raw materials that are not harmful to people or the environment when processed or when used in the brake system,” he said, adding that TMD is a member of the UN’s Particle Measurement Programme which is dedicated to address the issues of non-exhaust related emissions from vehicles.

New materials

Most people know that asbestos was used in making brake pads and shoes until it was, quite sensibly, banned from use donkey’s years ago. Perhaps less well known is the use of copper wire to make the friction material bind together. Copper isn’t in itself harmful, but when ground into a fine power, the metal can get into the bloodstream where it is toxic.

Copper is being phased out, and some companies have already removed it entirely from friction linings. However, others have kept it in the mixture and will do so until required to do so by law.

Matt Leeming a Manager at aftermarket braking brand Juratec noted that his company had discontinued use of copper and other heavy metals some time ago, but the problem is spread wider: “Of course, governments are looking to go further than just restricting the use of some of the more problematic ingredients of brake pads. It has been established that this wear debris, or particulate matter, which is a mixture of both pad and disc debris ranging in particle size from under 100 micrometres to approx. 0.1 micrometres, with some of it falling in the critical respirable range of 10 to one micrometres” he said.

By comparison, a human hair typically has a width of about 50 micrometres.

“To reduce particle emissions further will require a much broader approach across a number of fronts so we are seeing special hard coatings being applied to the surface of brake discs to reduce their wear rates and of course carbon-ceramic discs offer reduced wear albeit at a significantly higher cost” Leeming furthered. “The automotive industry is also exploring partially enclosing brakes and fitting them with filters in order to capture the bulk of particulate emissions so the likely final outcome will be a combination of measures”.

The filters referred to by Leeming are being developed by companies including Mann+Hummel based in Germany. The firm recently exhibited a working model of a brake dust filter, which featured in the firm’s company magazine. For the filter media the engineers opted for a metallic based web. The fibers are resistant to corrosion and are able to withstand the high temperatures on the brake. Several German magazines have also shown pictures of the filter, built on as part of the brake mechanism, being tested on various new VWs, suggesting that VMs might include the design on new vehicles in the near future.

Some firms are further down the road of removing metal from brake pads than others. A few we spoke to would only say that the binding agent would be removed ‘when the time comes’, i.e when required to do so by legislation and herein lies the problem of cleaning up the mixture used in brake linings.

There is scope for development, but with so many brands fighting for space on the factor’s racking, there needs to be rules and clearly repeatable tests introduced that everyone must follow.

Trains a problem too

Don’t think that simply avoiding cars and taking the tube will be an answer to keeping clear of brake dust particulates. Filter brand Mann+Hummel has reported that longer visits to underground railway stations can also be harmful to health. Measurements in the London underground system, for example, have registered air pollution with inhalable particles in the range of 500 to 1,120mg per cubic metre, which compared to the EU’s guideline of 50mg is off the scale. A tunnel cleaning train used to be in service, but it was withdrawn and plans for a replacement were quietly dropped.

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NEW MOT EQUIPMENT STANDARDS SET FOR 2019

NEW MOT EQUIPMENT STANDARDS SET FOR 2019

Many will recall the MOT changes that came into effect in May last year. Introduced at a time of scrutiny surrounding diesel engines, the changes featured DPF checks and also set new categories for vehicle defects. Here in 2019, there’s a new focus: connection. It’s a buzzword that has been pretty much unavoidable in the automotive industry recently, and now MOT centers may have to consider preparing for new standards ushered in as connectivity increases.

Some changes are already planned. As of 1st of July 2019, the DVSA will only approve new roller brake testers that are able to connect to the DVSA’s database and share MOT test information, and from August 1st this requirement will be extended to other types of kit as well. What’s more, come October or November, the DVSA anticipates that those who are planning on opening a new MOT center will have to operate this new ‘connected’ equipment in order to be approved.

Speaking at Automechanika Birmingham, the DVSA’s head of MOT policy Neil Barlow said that future MOTs will be more about ‘connecting to the vehicle’. “Those garages that start to invest in this stuff early, start to build up experience in doing these things early, will be one step ahead of those garages which don’t do that,” he said. “Because at some point the MOT will need to change more radically than it did last May.”

In a bid to reassure garage owners over issues of cost, Barlow also noted that this new ‘connected’ equipment would be ‘the same kit that we use now,’ but with ‘very slightly different software’.

Meanwhile, Stuart James, Director of the IGA, seemed unconcerned about the changes, noting that implications for the industry would be ‘very, very minimal’ and said it was ‘definitely not the case’ that existing kit would have to be switched over to the new standard. “Don’t fear that there will be some kind of mandating of stations having to buy equipment because of a change in legislation. I’m absolutely sure that is not the case,” he said. “The DVSA are not going to impose additional costs on the garage. So this is if you needed a new roller brake tester, then you would have to buy, after this date, a new piece of equipment that is compliant or capable of the upload capability.”

Opinions

Despite the new standards, the DVSA’s ability to monitor MOT activity is nothing new. According to James, the agency can already tell quite a lot about what’s happening in an MOT ‘in live time’. “So they can walk in the door and expect to see that car on the ramp,” he said. “So if there’s a perception of ‘Big Brother’, it’s already there.

“So this extra piece of communications information, I suppose it will be useful for the DVSA to be able to understand how many vehicles are carried out on brake testing, but they know a lot of this. So I’m not totally sure what benefit it will be to the DVSA because they already have all the information they need.”

Barry Babister, MD at CCM Garages and MOT Juice, praised the plans. “A large problem for the MOT industry is fraud,” he said. “The addition of connected equipment could go a long way to stopping this, and to protecting the image of the MOT scheme and the people who operate MOT bays, which can only be good for business.” Regarding potential costs of new brake testers, Babister said: “you won’t have to upgrade until you actually want to so it’s a capital investment usually easily financed.

“What the industry needs is an increase [in] MOT prices to help us cover the ever-increasing compliance and equipment costs,” he concluded.

John Tullett, founder of Autocar Repairs in West Dulwich echoed similar sentiments (though he acknowledged that Autocar Repairs is not an MOT test centre). “There is still a degree of abuse within the current MOT test system in the UK and the proposed development would certainly reduce that. On that basis alone, I am in favour,” he said, also noting that ‘other countries use government controlled test centres will others still are much more strictly controlled than ours.’

Suppliers

While no equipment suppliers provided a comment to CAT on how the changes would affect them, Clive Richardson, Marketing Director at garage tool supplier Draper Tools said that ‘where there are industry standards, those are absolutely met.’

Meanwhile, away from the MOT, the garage equipment market is moving in new directions itself. Fran Weeks, PR consultant at Draper Tools, claims that the demand for electric vehicles is creating a ‘missed opportunity’ for specialised tooling. “So we’ve got a wide range of stock which includes VDE insulated sockets and other hand tools that are suitable to work on these hybrid and electric vehicles,” she said.
Richardson noted that the market for Draper Tools is moving towards larger workshop equipment as opposed to hand tools. “We’re seeing more of a demand now … with what we’d call workshop equipment – the tablet, the four wheel aligner, specialist lifts etc. There’s a lot more demand for that.”

There were certainly plenty of these products on show at Automechanika Birmingham.

 

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FUEL CARDS – SHOULD YOU GET ONE?

When running a business, the issue of fuelling company vehicles is probably not the first thing on one’s mind. Indeed it’s probably more comfortable to try not to think about it, seeing as it’s another overhead that the company could do without. On top of that, keeping track of receipts for accounts purposes or to reimburse staff creates an administrative headache. This is where fuel cards come in. Or rather, came in. Fuel cards have been around for decades, and aim to simplify the process of keeping a company vehicle fleet topped up with fuel by consolidating invoices.

A fuel card is essentially a credit card which is restricted to the purchase of petrol or diesel, plus some vehicle accessories depending on the type of card owned. The fuel card company then pays for a fill-up transaction, and sends the invoice to the company that the fuel card is registered with. These invoices tend to be weekly, and mean that hours once spent sifting through hundreds of receipts to reclaim VAT can be used more productively.

Many fleet operators now use fuel cards. But for those who don’t, it’s a question of knowing when to start.

Types

There are many different types of fuel cards available to suit the type of business one might be running, from SMEs to large, nationwide fleets. BP, for example, offers its BP Plus card or fleets who need maximum coverage with a cross-acceptance partner network including Texaco, Gulf and Esso. Alternatively, there is the BP Plus Bunker specifically for bus and truck fleets who use key motorway and A-road routes.

Generally, more and more companies are signing up, as Jo McDonnell, UK Fuel Card Manager of BP, explains. “We have definitely seen overall growth in the amount of businesses recognising the ways in which fuel cards can support them, by saving them time and costs. There has also been a rise in the number of SMEs using fuel cards as it’s of high priority that their fleet management is efficient and easy to manage, as well as track, and fuel cards along with the BPme app make the process much simpler.”

One such fleet operator is Richard Shortis. Though the Shortis Group, which owns such brands as Wilco and Fast Fit, has outgrown SME territory, Shortis has made use of fuel cards for around 15 years, and thinks that a small fleet size shouldn’t be a factor in deciding when to adopt fuel card use. “Any organisation which has just one vehicle and they have a driver that has to go and put the fuel in it, it’s much easier to give them a card rather than giving them money,” he said. “We used to have our own diesel tanks and have them on site and fill up our vans on site with diesel. But when the savings disappeared from having your own tank, it became more convenient just to use a petrol station. So it wasn’t dependent on the size of the vehicle fleet, it’s the fact that we used to have our own tank and in the old days, years ago, you used to get quite a good saving if you bought diesel in bulk. But that [saving] got less and less, so that’s why we moved to the fuel cards.”

Downsides

Fuel cards aren’t without their faults. Just like any other payment card, there is a risk of fraud associated with their use, despite efforts to make the platform as secure as possible. For instance, if a fuel card is stolen or lost, then what’s to stop anyone picking it up and purchasing fuel on a company tab? For one thing, notifying a fuel card provider of a lost card as soon as possible is a crucial step. But there is further security on top of this.

McDonnell explains that as well as the standard practice of setting a PIN number for card purchases, BP keeps an ‘online authorisation process’ of all fuel transactions, as well as “special alerts that monitor card use, keeping track of everything including location, site type, day and time, products bought, and litres of fuel purchase – giving fuel managers complete transparency.”

Additionally, cards can be linked to certain vehicles or drivers, further enhancing security and enabling fleet managers to keep a more detailed record of spending and mileage. “Firstly, when the driver purchases fuel, the registration and milage are requested at the point of purchase and captured as part of the transaction,” says McDonnell. “Secondly, if a driver pays using BPme, they must enter their vehicle registration and mileage before activating the pump, meaning more accurate data as they capture this whilst in front of their odometer.” This linking of fuel cards seems to be a strong security method employed by most fuel card providers. Indeed, when asked if he had ever had a security problem with the fuelling of his fleet, Shortis replied: “Not really. Most of the fuel cards are assigned to a vehicle registration. The only downside is, it depends if the petrol station doesn’t do their bit with the check on the vehicle. But we haven’t had any issues through misuse of fuel cards.”

Another concern is with the providers themselves. There is a concern among fuel card users that prices can rise if they don’t pay attention, as Shortis highlights: “The only downside is that some of the fuel card providers try to get one over on you – either alter their terms or say ‘oh, by the way we’re putting in a charge now so if you want to use a card it’s gonna be x number of pounds per use’ or whatever,” he said. This certainly isn’t exclusive to fuel card providers though, and many readers can probably tell of similar stories with their electricity, internet or phone bill provider, for instance. This is a nuisance, to be sure, but the way of tackling the situation is the same: negotiate the price down, or threaten to switch providers. “We have switched providers and they’ve come back pretty quickly saying ‘oh, we didn’t actually put that in!’” says Shortis. “Everything’s up for negotiation, or sometimes they don’t negotiate until after you’ve switched.” It’s worth keeping that in mind if ever you notice mysterious charges on your invoice. Plus, regularly keeping in touch with your provider to negotiate a better deal might be a good idea as well.

Looking forward

It’s a system that seems to work just fine, so what could possibly change? Well, even the fuel card industry is keeping on top of environmental trends. “For example, as EV becomes an increasingly relevant topic for both individual drivers and fleets, fuel cards will adapt to meet this need,” says McDonnell. “For example, BP has invested in Chargemaster, which will soon allow BP Fuel Card users to manage their fleet through one simple solution even if they shift to electric vehicles, including access to Polar, the largest network of electric vehicle charging points in the UK.”

Food for thought, whether you operate a one-van fleet or dozens of electric minivans.

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