Car repairer market trends

Car mechanic explaining the work needed to be done on a customers car(last updated July 2019)

What has been happening in the car repair sector

The number of cars in the UK continued to rise until 2016 after which the number of new registrations fell slightly in both the year to February 2017 and to February 2018. Despite the large number of vehicles on the road, the car repair sector as a whole has not had an easy time. Demand for repairs has fallen for a number of reasons, including:

  • the improved reliability of new cars
  • longer servicing intervals
  • increasing use of replacement parts rather than making repairs
  • extended warranties on new cars
  • the economic recovery stalling due to the uncertainty over the Brexit negotiations following the vote in 2016 to leave the EU. To reduce expenditure, many motorists chose to skip scheduled services and ignore minor damage to their vehicles

As well as the fall in demand, car repairers have had to cope with more and more competition - particularly from franchised motor dealers. Traditionally, main dealers' workshops dealt mainly with servicing or warranty work on nearly new cars, but these days they are trying to attract owners of older cars - at the expense of the independent garage. They're helped by the fact that modern cars are getting more and more complicated and often need special tools and equipment to repair. Many 'quick-fit' tyre and exhaust centres have expanded their ranges and now offer servicing and MOTs, often at very competitive prices.

The early 2000s saw a change in EU legislation that, in theory, should have opened up the car repair market to independent repairers enabling them to become an 'authorised repairer' and work on cars under warranty. In practice, though, it seems that the effect on the independent sector has been limited as the vehicle manufacturers have set their standards so high that they discourage many independents from attempting to gain authorised repairer status. The regulations were recently amended once again and go further in ensuring that the automotive aftermarket remains competitive to the benefit of consumers. The new rules made a number of important provisions, including access for independent businesses to repair and maintenance information, tools and training from vehicle manufacturers. However, a new threat to the independent repairer has recently emerged in the form of vehicle telematics which can send important information about an individual vehicle direct to the manufacturer, in effect cutting out the independent. The industry has lobbied the EU to introduce laws that require manufacturers to use a standard form of telematics that would enable independents to gain access to this information and in 2015 the European Parliament voted for 'eCall' technology to be fitted to all new cars from April 2018 and for the introduction of an open-access telematics platform that will give independent service businesses the same access to vehicle data as manufacturers.

After the economic downturn in 2008, the economy started to improve from 2013 onwards. During the recession there was a drop in the number of new cars purchased and people kept their cars for longer, with the result that total consumer spending on repairs increased. As the economy started to recover the number of new cars purchased also increased, with new car registrations reaching a new record of 2.7 million in 2016. The number of new registrations fell back, but only slightly in 2017 and again in 2018. Because new cars are better made and more reliable, servicing and warranty work carried out by franchised dealers increased but there was less repair work for independent car repairers. However, independent repairers have for some time been gaining business from the DIY sector and this is expected to continue as DIY repairs decrease.

Because of the uncertainty over the Brexit negotiations, the economy slowed somewhat in 2016 and slowed further in 2017, with little growth in most sectors. With inflation increasing, forecasts for economic growth in 2018 and 2019 lower and the cost of imported goods rising due to the fall in the value of the pound following the Brexit vote, consumer spending may be more restrained in the short to medium term. This is likely to mean that people will once again keep their cars for longer and so spend more on servicing and repairs with independent car repairers, particularly as their cars go out of warranty. Nevertheless, the independent car repair sector is forecast to slowly decline in real terms in the years to come and further falls are expected in the number of independent car repair businesses in the UK.

Keep up to date with developments

Joining a trade association can help you to keep up to date with what is happening in the car repair sector as well as offering other benefits including advice, information and training. These include:

  • the National Body Repair Association (NBRA), which represents the vehicle body repair industry and operates a quality assurance scheme for members. The Association was formed under the umbrella of the Retail Motor Industry Federation (RMI), bringing together the National Association of Bodyshops and the repairer members of the Vehicle Builders and Repairers Association
  • the Independent Garage Association (IGA), also a division of the RMI, that represents independent businesses that offer servicing, repairs and MOT facilities

Visit the NBRA, IGA and RMI websites for more information about the services these associations offer.

Trade shows

You'll be able to get a lot of useful information if you go to a trade show. You'll be able to meet parts manufacturers, suppliers and importers. Information about forthcoming trade shows can be found on the Exhibitions UK website.

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