COVERSTORY

New laws aim to end ser­vice and war­ranty has­sles — if you get a dud, you can claim a re­place­ment

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Classifieds - BILL McKIN­NON bill.mckin­non@cars­guide.com.au

Some­timesCon­sumer pro­tec­tion­size re­ally does­for car­mat­terown­ers— like is when­changin­git comes­for theto get­ting­bet­ter un­der­large new,num­bers oftougher­peo­ple‘‘lemon­from Alaws’’to B. Wethat­s­e­lectwill put­thethe­fam­ily onus hauler­sto de­liv­erwe’don ve­hi­clebe happy toman­u­fac­tur­ers.own.

YOU used to have Buck­ley’s chance of re­turn­ing a dreaded lemon to the car dealer for a re­place­ment or a re­fund.

As for be­ing com­pen­sated for the in­con­ve­nience, ag­gra­va­tion, lost in­come and costs racked up while tak­ing the car from hell to the dealer for a fur­ther non-fix un­der war­ranty, well, make that vir­tu­ally no chance ei­ther.

Many Aus­tralian con­sumers have tried but only a few very de­ter­mined peo­ple have suc­ceeded, usu­ally af­ter long, ex­pen­sive bat­tles against squads of car com­pany lawyers in var­i­ous courts.

The new Aus­tralian Con­sumer Law (ACL), de­vel­oped by the states and the Aus­tralian Competition and Con­sumer Com­mis­sion, came into force on Jan­uary 1 this year. It’s not as tough as US lemon laws, but it gives you much more pro­tec­tion than the maze of state and fed­eral con­sumer reg­u­la­tions you pre­vi­ously had to nav­i­gate to make a case that your car re­sem­bled a par­tic­u­larly bit­ter va­ri­ety of cit­rus fruit.

The Aus­tralian Con­sumer Law ap­plies to most goods and ser­vices, in­clud­ing new and used cars, ex­cept those bought at auc­tion or pri­vate sale, where you’re still ba­si­cally on your own.

When you buy a car from a dealer, you now have the pro­tec­tion of legally en­force­able con­sumer guar­an­tees, in­clud­ing that the car is of ac­cept­able qual­ity (which in­cludes be­ing safe, free

The laws also ad­dress the ex­tended war­ranty trap

from de­fects and durable) and rea­son­ably fit for any pur­pose you spec­ify when buy­ing it, such as tow­ing.

If you have what the ACL calls a ma­jor fail­ure with your car, you are en­ti­tled to re­turn it to the dealer to claim a re­fund, or a re­place­ment— your choice of an iden­ti­cal new car or one of sim­i­lar value.

A ma­jor fail­ure is when a rea­son­able con­sumer would not have bought the car if they had known about the prob­lem, or when the car is sub­stan­tially un­fit for its nor­mal pur­pose.

In other words— the car is a lemon.

If you have a mi­nor prob­lem with the car, the dealer is still al­lowed to fix it un­der war­ranty.

If you have to get your car fixed at an­other work­shop, you’re en­ti­tled to claim the cost from the dealer who sold you the car.

How­ever, if the dealer can’t fix the prob­lem within a rea­son­able time, you are also en­ti­tled to a re­fund or a re­place­ment.

So the clas­sic tac­tic of some deal­ers and man­u­fac­tur­ers string­ing you along by say­ing,

‘‘ Just bring it back and we’ll try to fix it un­der war­ranty’’ time and again un­til the war­ranty runs out, will no longer work.

And when the war­ranty ex­pires you are still pro­tected by the ACL’s con­sumer guar­an­tees— but a used car’s age and kilo­me­tres since you bought it will be taken into ac­count when de­ter­min­ing your en­ti­tle­ments.

The ACL also ad­dresses one of the other great traps of the car busi­ness— the ex­tended war­ranty. Many new and used car buy­ers have paid thou­sands of dol­lars for one of these, on the (mis)un­der­stand­ing that, first, it’s the only way to cover them­selves against re­pair costs when the fac­tory war­ranty runs out and, sec­ond, that when they make a claim un­der the war­ranty, it will be hon­oured.

Those same car buy­ers have of­ten found, to their great cost, that these ex­tended war­ranties some­times are not worth the pa­per they are writ­ten on.

They are, first and fore­most, a way to in­crease a dealer’s profit mar­gin on the car. Most have very oner­ous con­di­tions, in­clud­ing manda­tory ser­vic­ing sched­ules at the dealer who sold you the car. In the worst cases, con­sumers have called the helpline num­ber on the war­ranty pol­icy only to find there’s noth­ing other than an an­swer­ing ma­chine on the other end of the line.

The ACL states that man­u­fac­tur­ers and deal­ers must not pres­sure you into buy­ing an ex­tended war­ranty, or tell you that you have to buy one.

In fact, you now have rights un­der the ACL’s guar­an­tees that are equal to or greater than any sup­posed ben­e­fits you’re pay­ing for un­der an ex­tended war­ranty pol­icy.

If you think you’ve bought a lemon, the first step is to tell the dealer.

‘‘ You should go to the dealer who sold you the car and point

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