BBC programme slams Kwik-Fit…again

Kwik-Fit has once again found itself at the centre of unwanted attention after a BBC consumer programme accused it of recommending work that didn’t need to be done and of failing to properly carry out free tyre safety checks. On 10 July, the “Your Money, Their Tricks” programme mystery shopped 10 Kwik-Fit branches with 10 different cars. The cars, which were of various ages and models, had been pre-inspected by a forensic engineer and had been prepared in order to demonstrate whether checks had been carried out. Similar allegations were made by the BBC’s “Watchdog” programme in September 2010. But this time it was rather tackily presented, as the title of the programme and the in-show caricatures demonstrate.

The BBC claims the Kwik-Fit branches recommended unnecessary work totalling £700 on four vehicles and failed to complete tests on seven out of 10 cars. While the programme reported that Kwik-Fit and the company’s independent engineer disputed the claims, a third opinion commissioned by the BBC sided with “Your Money, Their Tricks”. However, while Kwik-Fit contests the claims of dishonesty, it doesn’t address why basic pressure and tread depth checks apparently were not carried out. Neither does it explain how nail and screw punctures visible in the main body of the tread were not picked up by technicians. In addition, wheel nuts were reportedly untouched after the checks, suggesting brake inspections were omitted.

Kwik-Fit refuted accusations and offered inspections to prove the point

Following the transmission, Tyres & Accessories asked Kwik-Fit to respond to the charges. A company spokesperson challenged the BBC’s findings and its conclusions, pointing out that the programme makers have accepted they got some things wrong – something that wasn’t broadcast on 10 July: “From the limited information the BBC has provided in advance of its broadcast we, and an independent expert, seriously disagree with most of its findings. As a result of our detailed response to its allegations, the BBC has accepted that a number of its conclusions were wrong.”

Nevertheless, Kwik-Fit did accept that there was room for improvement. “In a few cases we fully accept that our staff could have been clearer with their communication; for this we apologise and are intent on improving how we communicate our advice to customers.”

However, Kwik-Fit reports that the company “stand by the majority of the recommendations we gave, and completely reject the way the BBC has calculated the cost of work it has deemed ‘unnecessary’ by not considering how worn these parts were. “ And furthermore, Kwik-Fit have offered to put the cars in question under the microscope in order to prove their point: “We have even made the BBC four separate offers for one car to be re-inspected at an independent laboratory in order to put our diagnosis to the test. The BBC continues to decline this offer.”

As far as over-charging is concerned, Kwik-Fit pointed to its in-house checks and balances: “We have zero tolerance of staff recommending unnecessary work and any proven cases result in disciplinary action. We have a whistle blower line on which staff can anonymously report any aspect of malpractice from their colleagues and a senior management team will investigate and act on any reports.”

Kwik-Fit representatives aimed to shore up the competency of its work recommendation procedures by highlighting the basis on which its technicians are trained to give advice: “Any recommendations we make on replacing parts take into account manufacturers’ information and advice from organisations such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA). The wear of items such as tyres and brake pads is not an exact science, but we believe ours is a professional and responsible approach which focuses first and foremost on the safety of our four and a half million customers.”

Questions remain

The TV investigation was carried out after a whistle blower contacted the BBC with claims that Kwik-Fit, the UK’s largest fast fit chain, deliberately aims to attract customers with free inspections before selling them as much as possible. But while the programme raised important questions about the company’s sale process and the thoroughness of safety checks, the veracity of these specific claims simply cannot be demonstrated by the methodology employed by “Your Money, Their Tricks”. This is because the most damaging allegation made by the whistle blower was that there was some kind of systemic reason for over-selling, with the implication that this is based on the company’s staff target system. What the programme failed to address was whether any actions – if true – were carried out by individuals in isolation or were indicative of a wider problem. Furthermore, the quality of the whistle blower’s evidence cannot be substantiated as it was given anonymously and was not supported by any other evidence pertaining to the systemic nature of the allegations. These allegations simply cannot be proved either way by mystery shopping approaches, which do not address this point.

That said, the allegations made by “Your Money, Their Tricks” echo those made by another BBC consumer programme “Watchdog” in September 2010. On that occasion, Kwik-Fit was accused of overcharging and failing to carry out safety checks on another 10 mystery shopper’s cars. So, whether the accusations of overcharging are proved beyond any doubt or not, the fact that Kwik-Fit has once again been hauled across the coals on a prime-time consumer programme cannot fail to be damaging for one of Britain’s most recognised automotive brands. And if Kwik-Fit spent £1 million investing in training the last time this happened, you have to ask what the company will do this time to make sure such reports cannot be aired again. On the subject of investment, if “Your Money, Their Tricks” is anything to go by, perhaps the BBC ought to spend a bit more money and time considering the presentation and procedures of its consumer journalism.

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