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Audi UK / VWG UK. 'Condition-based' servicing issue highlighted


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So.. if your Audi is on ‘Flexible’ servicing, or you know someone whose Audi is, this could make interesting reading.

Audi UK recently admitted issues with how ‘Flexible’ servicing has been described, and they have now substantially re-written sections of www.audi.co.uk following a complaint I’d raised after discovering issues that may have left customers hundreds of pounds out of pocket.

 

Background

In Sept 2019, I took delivery of a new Audi A5 I’d ordered on the basis it had a service interval of 18,000 miles or 2 years, whichever came sooner. Therefore, mindful of running costs, I’d anticipated servicing it just once during my three-year lease. In fact, it needed servicing at 9,300 miles & 15 months and again at 14,500 miles & 23 months.

Audi UK operate two service regimes, ‘Fixed’ annual or ‘Flexible’ ‘condition-based’ servicing, described by Audi as a service interval of ‘up to 18,600 miles or 2 years, whichever comes sooner’. It turns out most Audis, destined for the UK, leave the factory set to Flexible servicing and it is incumbent on the supplying dealer to discuss with the customer which regime is the most suitable for that customer. Audi UK call that process ‘qualifying’ the customer. However, I found that;

a). As in my own experience, few Audi dealerships were ‘qualifying’, or correctly ‘qualifying’, customer’s needs.

b). The existence of two service regimes, and the fact that Flexible servicing relies on ‘condition-based’ servicing, resulted in widespread confusion within the Audi dealer network. 

c). Despite Audi UK’s ‘up to 18,600 miles or 2 years, whichever comes sooner’ claim, both Audi UK and dealerships have been failing to explain that servicing on the Flexible regime can occur from 9,300 miles and one year, whichever comes sooner. I subsequently found out, from independent Audi & VWG brand specialists, that cars set on Flexible servicing typically need to be serviced at around 15,000 miles & 18 months, and that it was something of an open secret that Audis rarely get to 18,600 miles, or 2 years, before needing a service. 

After Audi UK initially rejected my complaint, I began collating material that includes call recordings made during my own ‘mystery shop’ exercise of twenty-eight Audi dealerships. In half of these calls, the ’18,000 (variously 18,000, 18,500, 18,600 or 20,000) miles or 2 years, whichever comes sooner’ claim was repeated (i.e no use of the words ‘up to’ or ‘a maximum of’), and not one person I spoke with, in my assessment, fully and accurately described the two service regimes, and a number of them totally denied that Audi use ‘condition-based’ servicing.

The material also includes correspondence with Audi UK’s Executive Office that resulted in a seven-point action plan (including a rewording of Audi UK’s official description of Flexible servicing and the updating of the Audi.co.uk website), call recordings with Audi UK and VWFS staff, material from independent Audi and VWG brand repair and service specialists, an internal memo leaked to me by a dealership-based whistle-blower (Bulletin AU1240-21 for anyone who works at a dealership), and internal Audi UK material erroneously disclosed to me by VWG UK’s Data Protection team as a result of a redaction error affecting Subject Access Request material they provided.

While Audi UK have belatedly taken some steps to amend their communication materials, and claim to have made changes to their internal processes and training, they have failed to resolve my own complaint and, more widely, appear unwilling to acknowledge the consequences this will have had for customers in terms of ‘hidden’ servicing costs. In fact, despite those changes, I believe the up to 18,600 miles or two years, whichever comes sooner’ claim remains too prominent, and references to the ‘condition-based’ nature of the Flexible regime, and that servicing maybe due from 9,300 miles and 1 year, still lack sufficient prominence.

 

Issues

While a broad and non-scientific approximation, I estimate that many Audi drivers may be spending around £375-£425 more, typically, on routine servicing over a three-year period of ownership or lease than they may reasonably have been expecting.

With Audi having supplied around 10,000 cars a month in the UK over recent years, the amount Audi drivers may be collectively out-of-pocket could exceed £400,000,000. That figure assumes my concerns only affect the Audi brand, and only in the UK market. However, with other VWG brands including Seat, Skoda and Volkswagen operating similar dual, variable, or ‘flexible’ servicing regimes, and operating globally, neither of those assumptions should be taken for granted.

While I’d expect those approximations to be challenged by VWG UK, there can be no doubt that customers expecting to service their car every 18,000 miles or two years, whichever came sooner, but found themselves having to do so from 9,300 miles and one year, will be several hundred pounds worse off over a typical period of ownership or lease. When multiplied by the number of cars set on the Flexible service regime, and when viewed alongside the scale of the misinformation being provided through the Audi dealer network, as I found during my ‘mystery shop’ exercise, the collective impact on customers wallets and purses will be significant. Of course, that financial detriment to the customer is revenue that has gone into Aftersales operations.

To add insult to injury, it’s also been my experience that the dealerships I dealt with appear to be exploiting this ambiguity around Flexible servicing. In February 21, a centralised service booking call centre agent on behalf of one dealership attempted to over-sell / mis-sell an ‘Inspection’ service, seven months earlier than it was necessary, and that would have negatively impacted on the anniversary of subsequent servicing requirements (despite the agent openly stating ‘I’m not here to sell you stuff’, and in August 2021, a centralised service booking call centre agent on behalf of another dealer group attempted to over-sell / mis-sell an ‘oil service’, knowing that the oil and filter had been changed just six months and 4,000 miles prior.

In summary, what I’m calling-out, and seeking to make other Audi drivers aware of are, in effect, ‘hidden’ sensors that, through “condition-based servicing”, can significantly reduce the claimed intervals between routine car servicing. As a result, servicing intervals often occur far more frequently than the intervals that have been touted by dealers during the sales process, and through Audi UK’s own website, marketing materials, and it customer service operation, leaving customers to foot far higher routine maintenance costs than they could rightly have been anticipating. In respect of VWG UK, and in light of the ‘diesel-gate’ scandal, the optics do not look good when its brands are still trying to restore faith and trust in their behaviour and products.   

 

Going forward

Having exhausted efforts with Audi UK & VWG UK, I’m now pursuing various ombudsman and regulatory referrals.

Not only is this something I think Audi drivers need to be aware of, I’m interested to see what other peoples experiences have been and what knowledge of this there might already be out there.

DE AUDI 37 - Screen-grab Servicing & Maintenance audi.co.uk. Original.pdf DE58 - Screen-grabs Servicing & Mainance audi.co.uk Updated.pdf

Edited by Mikie
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Hello Mickie,

Many thanks indeed for the comprehensive conclusions of your ‘researches’. 
If I understand it correctly ( and I hope I do!) then the main concern, and fundamental argument, rests with the importance of the use/lack of use of the all important ‘up to’ in terms of the 18K or 2 years service interval. I certainly don’t want to dilute your argument, but these two words are so often abused in advertising, that it has almost become ‘acceptable’ that their inclusion in adverts - in the smallest print possible- next the largest possible ‘50% off’ etc. has become the norm. The follow on as far as Audi and it’s dealer’s marketing is concerned is that it becomes based-on-fact as my notorious late friend often said! As always, the buyer needs to be as sharp as them and get the the situation clearly spelled out via. e-Mail etc. thereby clearing the way for challenges as they occur. 
I think owners should be very grateful for your clarification. 

As I understood it, new owners covering higher than average mileages welcomed the ‘up to 18K…’ schedules, and my experience was that most new cars were set on this unless the owner pointed out that they were only covering low annual mileages - at which point the dealer would switch to the annual service schedule. All sounds nice and reasonable, but now we understand that additional service triggers have been included -  confusing - and yes, lucrative for the business - and unacceptable ?? 
I  would guess the 2 year signalled service is to change the brake fluid? 
Again, I don’t want to dilute your argument, but buyers spend many tens of thousands of £s buying new vehicles and then wish to spend out as little as possible beer-money on servicing if they can get away with it. Then we good folks on here go into raptures about the benefits of ‘full service history’, and some of the servicing may not even be to the standard one would accept. It’s a funny old world of sometimes getting  away with what it is possible to get way with. 
Many thanks again Mickie.

Kind regards,

Gareth. 


 

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Hi Gareth,

I appreciate your comments, but to fire a couple of points back at you..

The fact the two words 'up to' are so often abused, especially in advertising, doesn't make that abuse right, or tolerable. When you're buying or financing a £40,000+ car, whether you're told the interval is '18,000 miles or two years, which comes sooner', or 'up to 18,600 miles or two years, which comes sooner', you'd reasonably expect to get somewhere at least in the ballpark of 18,000 miles or two years, which occurred first. In my case, 9,300 miles and fifteen months is almost exactly half that. Taken to its extreme, 50 miles and 1 day is, technically, 'up to 18,600 miles and two years, whichever comes sooner'. With respect, I think it's slightly different to seeing an 'up to 50% off Sale' sign in a clothes shop window and finding the shirt you want has only been reduced by 20%. 

In my own case, having previously leased Volkswagens over two years prior to the Audi, had I have known the correct servicing schedule was potentially going to be significantly less than 18,000 or two years, I'd have done the same again rather than having the Audi over three years. So, in my case, this has effectively cost me much more than a bit of extra servicing. 

The information given out by dealerships, which was often grossly inaccurate, may also have been used by people considering whether or not it would work out in their favour to take inclusive servicing packages or maintenance plans. 

The scale of the issue, in terms of the number of Audi drivers affected, is potentially huge even if, for the most part, individual financial loss may only be modest.  

In respect of servicing generally, you're absolutely right. But, for many people, and certainly myself, one of the ways we justify to ourselves the expense of buying or financing a brand new car every two or three years is that... we'll have got rid of the car before more expensive service items become due, it'll always be under manufacturer warranty, and we won't have the inconvenience and cost of MOT's. Those off-set costs, if you like, and the supposed peace of mind that should come with driving a brand new car, shouldn't be downplayed. 

Interestingly, I also drive a Porsche Macan GTS that was bought brand new and is serviced annually regardless. Now, having not waited to see what would happen, I've nonetheless been repeatedly told by Porsche dealerships that it too is also subject to a two-year service interval, but a 'genuine' two-year, extended mileage, interval. While the quality of components maybe a factor, I believe VWG UK's use of 'condition-based' servicing in mass-market brands is designed to generated revenue and profit, as opposed to being technically or mechanically necessary. While that's a commercial decision for VWG to make, servicing requirements should, at least, be transparent and easy to understand. 

Here are some of the comments from the 'mystery shop' calls, with me purporting to be a potential new A5 buyer querying delivery lead-times and service regimes; 

“it all depends on the car, so it's normally one year or every 15,000 miles"

“any new vehicle from February we put on a fixed service plan; that's every 10,000 miles or every year”

“(servicing) would be due after two years or 19,000 miles and then, after that, it'll be annually”.

“so your maintenance schedule is first at 10,000 miles or one year and then thereafter every 20,000 miles or two years”.

“12 months, 12,000 miles”

Depends on how many miles you do now. We can set this up in two different formats. We can do a fixed, a fixed, which is once every year or every 10,000 miles or you can go variable so that's once every two years or every 20,000 miles”. Confirmed on the Flexible regime a car would only need servicing once over three years.

“Audi’s instruction now for all dealers is to set them back to Fixed.. A5 petrol would now be every 12 months or 12,000 miles, whichever comes sooner. So one service a year”. Clarified petrol and diesel cars have the same servicing regime and added “They did used to be on they call it long-life. That was long life between services, so previously they were circa two years or 20,000 miles but the, the, the, belief now or the preference from Audi now is is, you know, fresh oil every 12 months”.

“service intervals on most Audis is every two years or every 18,000 miles, whichever one sort of kind of comes first”. Went on to state that on a four-year finance plan, only a minor and a major service would be required. Explained that, if doing 20,000 miles a year, a yearly service would be required but if a car were kept for three years it would only require one service.  

“It depends what you set it as. If you want it as a variable servicing then it's two years or 19,000 miles. If it's fixed servicing then it’s yearly”.

“So if you're on 10,000 and we set you on to the fixed service regime, which is every 12 months”, “If you're doing more than that then we fix you on, we put you on to the long-life servicing which is every 19,000 or two years, whichever is sooner ”. Indicated Audi does not use condition-based servicing.

it’ll be 19,000 miles or two years, whichever comes first”. When questioned / challenged about condition-based servicing, in the context of ‘a friend with a BMW’, responded “Sounds pretty unique to BMW to be honest, yeah”. Went on to discuss servicing packages when prompted.

“we've got two different service regimes, so we've got a fixed service regime for customers doing sort of 10,000 miles a year or less and then a flexible one for customers doing in excess of 10,000 miles per year” and went on to explain “So the 10,000 miles or less, it would be an annual service or 10,000 miles, whichever comes first, if you doin’ over that then it goes on to flexi servicing, which is normally something like two years or 19,000 miles. When asked if the oil was changed at a different time, resulting in coming in for different things at different times, explained ‘no’.

“yearly or you can have them two yearly”. When questioned / challenged about condition-based servicing, in the context of ‘a friend with a BMW’, stated “I don't think we have that type of device in our cars, it sounds like it's learning the way that he drives it, and it's saying, like needs servicing because you've driven it too fast or something like that”.

 

I could go on.. and on.. but you get the picture.  Needless to say, I don't think I'd have got Audi to change their website and procedures without all of twenty-eight calls along similar lines.   

 

 

 

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Hello Mickie,

Everyone needs to applaud your efforts on this, and my cynical side suggests that despite these Sterling efforts, potential ‘buyers’ might still find themselves in situations where they still aren’t clear about what their servicing costs are going to be, as this filters down to individual dealers. Of course, for many ‘buying’ on PCP type deals, servicing may work out at a relatively nominal on-cost on a monthly basis - so fairly easily sold, along with ceramic coating, GAP insurance, and all other add-ons! 

Simply repeating:- financing a £40,000 + vehicle is a substantial commitment and to some, an additional ‘unexpected’ few hundred £s servicing cost over the 3 years may not be a deal breaker within the overall cost of that commitment, and indeed saving on those costs may not be too important to them. But, importantly thanks to your efforts, anyone reading this can now ask the meaningful questions about the actual ( in caps) additional servicing costs over the expected. 
Many thanks again Mickie.

Kind regards,

Gareth. 

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