Analysis: The hurdles ahead for the UK aftermarket

Even then, some people think that their new car is tied to the dealer from which they bought it, at least for the duration of its warranty. And they can’t be blamed, because the aftermarket has been spectacularly bad about publicising this.

Even so, main dealers are hardly wild about BER, because the majority of profit on a new car comes from the aftersales service, not from the sale of the car itself. However, the number of people that take advantage and service their new cars outside the dealer network is very small.

Now the aftermarket is pushing to have the regulations renewed in 2023 and the ‘right to repair’ and access to repair and maintenance information enshrined in law, because it fears being technically locked out of the new generation of cars entirely as manufacturers seek to encrypt the data that’s generated by ‘connected’ cars – even those that don’t contain security information or data that could identify the owner.

“It’s a very significant threat, and it’s one as independent operators we can’t ignore,” said Ronan McDonagh, technical director of the European distributors’ federation, FIGIEFA. “Once there’s encryption, reverse-engineering becomes very difficult, if not impossible, from a software perspective.”

Previously, it was possible to reverse-engineer vehicle components, even ones that had microchips and were coded to the car. However, all new cars on sale today can wirelessly connect to a central computer for software updates, telemetry information and to inform the authorities of the vehicle’s location in the event of a crash. This means that some of the data generated by a vehicle is encrypted, and the aftermarket is concerned that, unless forced not to by law, manufacturers will hide behind the excuse that every system has to be ‘secured’ and therefore nobody but their agents will be allowed to service them.

Lawrence Bleasdale, a director of brake parts supplier Eurofriction and a board member of the UK’s Independent Automotive Aftermarket Federation trade body, is quite clear on the subject. “These regulations, fought for over many years, have provided independent garages protection and the ability to successfully access newer vehicles, bringing about new skills and standards. If they were to disappear, there would be no quick workaround,” he said, adding that these rules are “central to ensuring a level playing field”.

At this point, the bodies representing new car dealers have been fairly muted.

Sue Robinson, the chief executive of the National Franchise Dealers Association, said: “We will formulate the sector’s response [to BER renewal] over the coming months to outline franchise dealers’ position.”

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