BUY­ING A LEMON

Your brand-new car giv­ing you is­sues? Get clued up on your rights

WOW (Women on Wheels) - - CONTENTS -

When peo­ple com­plain to me about new cars that have gone hor­ri­bly wrong, they never re­fer to them as “new”. They’re al­ways “brand-new” or “out of the box” or, in some cases, they re­fer to their prob­lem­atic wheels as “brand-new, out of the box” for ex­tra em­pha­sis. And no won­der; a new car is a huge in­vest­ment. For some, it’s their most ex­pen­sive as­set. And most ac­quire their first new car af­ter at least one sec­ond­hand one. So, to be a car’s first owner is a big deal and the word “new” on its own doesn’t be­gin to do the in­vest­ment – both fi­nan­cial and emo­tional – jus­tice.

When such a prize pos­ses­sion breaks down in some way, the frus­tra­tion and anger is un­der­stand­ably im­mense be­cause the as­sump­tion is that prob­lems are what you get with se­cond-hand cars, not new ones. The re­al­ity is that some new cars are not a good re­flec­tion of their brand. At all. They go wrong in all sorts of an­noy­ing and cat­a­strophic ways. And of­ten, to the new-car owner’s frus­tra­tion, the deal­er­ships and man­u­fac­tur­ers don’t find that star­tling at all.

When the power steer­ing of a R1,5-mil­lion premium SUV failed within six weeks of pur­chase, its owner, a Dur­ban busi­ness­man, in­sisted that the ve­hi­cle be re­placed. “This is a high-

pow­ered ve­hi­cle and I am not happy with that part be­ing re­placed, for safety rea­sons,” he told the deal­er­ship.

The re­gional sales man­ager’s re­sponse was: “Ve­hi­cles are man-made ob­jects and are sub­ject to the same frail­ties as man.

“If this was not so, it would not have been nec­es­sary to sell ve­hi­cles with a war­ranty and/or main­te­nance con­tact.

“Re­gard­ing the re­place­ment of the ve­hi­cle, we re­serve the right to re­pair your ve­hi­cle as part of the sales agree­ment…”

And any­one else who has a new car fail on them can ex­pect a sim­i­lar “don’t get be­yond your­self” re­sponse if they ask for a re­place­ment.

Many as­sume that, thanks to the Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion Act, if the prob­lem arises within six months of pur­chase, they can ex­er­cise their right to choose one of three re­courses: re­pair, re­place­ment or re­fund. That’s how it works when your cell­phone or mi­crowave breaks. But it’s not that sim­ple when it comes to cars.

A few years ago, Mo­tor In­dus­try Om­buds­man, Jo­han van Vre­den, told me that when it comes to cars, con­sumers aren’t au­to­mat­i­cally en­ti­tled to de­mand a re­place­ment car or a re­fund. He re­ferred me to the Act’s def­i­ni­tion of de­fect:

“A de­fect means any ma­te­rial im­per­fec­tion in the man­u­fac­ture of the goods or com­po­nents … that ren­ders the goods less ac­cept­able than per­sons gen­er­ally would be rea­son­ably en­ti­tled to ex­pect in the cir­cum­stances…”

Van Vre­den went on to say that meant that “in the event that a com­po­nent be­comes de­fec­tive, the com­po­nent be­comes the prod­uct”.

Of course, based on that in­ter­pre­ta­tion, no sup­plier would ever have to re­place or re­fund an en­tire prod­uct, just the faulty bit. In other words, they’d all be en­ti­tled to choose to do a re­pair, which flies in the face of the in­ten­tion of the Act.

But that’s the way it is when it comes to prob­lem­atic cars.

The thing is, along with pro­tect­ing con­sumers, the gov­ern­ment has a re­spon­si­bil­ity to sup­port the car in­dus­try. If ev­ery­one de­manded a new car or a re­fund the mo­ment some­thing went wrong, the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try would col­lapse.

I once had a man com­plain that a deal­er­ship re­fused to re­place his car when the stitch­ing on a sec­tion of its leather seats was un­rav­el­ling.

Van Vre­den said his most friv­o­lous case in­volved a man who wanted the deal­er­ship to take the car back be­cause its nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem wasn’t pick­ing up some of the roads.

Since Jan­uary 2015, the Mo­tor In­dus­try Om­buds­man of SA (MIOSA) is ac­cred­ited as a dis­pute-res­o­lu­tion agency and is cus­to­dian of the SA Au­to­mo­tive Code of Con­duct (ACT), which is part of the Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion Act.

In short, if a con­sumer feels done in by a man­u­fac­turer, or a deal­er­ship which sold them a car or ser­viced it, MIOSA is the gov­ern­ment-sanc­tioned body to com­plain to. More se­ri­ous fail­ures, and the more safety crit­i­cal the com­po­nent – such as brakes or steer­ing – strengthen the case.

And, while MIOSA doesn’t sup­port the re­place­ment or re­fund­ing of cars for all de­fects, in se­ri­ous cases, it does.

I asked Van Vre­den to elab­o­rate on the kind of cir­cum­stances which would have his of­fice sup­port­ing a take-back – at no cost to the con­sumer, ex­cept for us­age – of a prob­lem­atic ve­hi­cle.

“Each case is unique,” he said. “I can­not com­ment on this as there are too many pos­si­bil­i­ties and too many fac­tors which are cal­cu­lated when mak­ing a rul­ing.”

What­ever you do, if your new car de­vel­ops me­chan­i­cal prob­lems shortly af­ter pur­chase, take it to the dealer you bought it from. Do not go to another ser­vice provider to re­pair it.

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