ADVICE | ‘Problem’ car replacements are rare, says ombudsman
Car consumers who feel they’ve bought a “lemon” and aren’t getting satisfaction from the dealer can turn to the motoring ombudsman for help, but they need to be aware that being given a refund or a replacement vehicle is a rare occurrence.
“When you buy a car there is no cooling-off period to cancel the sale on a whim,” says motor industry ombudsman Johan van Vreden. “The components that make up a vehicle are separate products, so if there is a faulty part the part gets replaced instead of the whole car. The exception is when it was deemed a direct-marketing sale, where a consumer was solicited to buy the vehicle.”
The Consumer Protection Act (CPA) generally allows consumers the choice of a refund, repair or replacement of a product within six months of a purchase, but it’s different with cars. Because cars have such high values, regularly refunding or replacing them would put car dealers out of business, which is why there is a separate automotive industry code of conduct within the CPA.
About 60% of consumer complaints handled by the Motor Industry Ombudsman of SA (Miosa) are resolved in favour of motor dealers, adds Van Vreden. Cases were previously resolved mostly in favour of the consumer, he says, but since the introduction of the CPA in 2008, the motor industry became well versed in the code of conduct and the pendulum swung.
Van Vreden says new- and used-car buyers sometimes mistakenly believe that the ombudsman’s office automatically sides with the consumer, when the MIO is rather an independent dispute resolution forum for the local motor industry and its customers.
“The MIO is impartial and focuses on the resolution of disputes where a deadlock has been reached between the automotive and related industries and their customers,” he says.
“The office of the MIO makes recommendations in cases referred to it where all parties are unable to reach mutually acceptable agreements when a dispute arises.”
The motor industry is legally bound by MIO rulings, and the penalties for noncompliance can be steep. Van Vreden relates a case where he escalated the matter to the National Consumer Commission (NCC) after a car dealer failed to abide by an MIO ruling, and the Consumer Tribunal imposed a R100,000 fine on the business.
The MIO has the following advice to consumers lodging a complaint:
• Do your homework. Make sure that you understand all the elements of the original purchase agreement. This will include the sales agreement; warranty document and service plan, if applicable. Make sure that your vehicle's service record is current and that the service schedule has been stamped by the servicing dealer, if applicable.
• Your selling or servicing dealer cannot abdicate his or her responsibility, and the first step if you have a complaint is to contact them.
• Keep emotions in check. Remember, you are dealing with human beings and their place of work is their space. Approach the matter in a civilised manner. Keep records of all discussions, intentions and promises.
• Be assertive without being rude. If you are not happy with the manner in which the complaint is being dealt with, insist on the selling or servicing dealer arranging for a manufacturer's representative to review the complaint. (Keep records).
• Stay the course. If at this point you are still not happy with the way that your complaint is being dealt with, contact the customer care department of your vehicle's manufacturer. (Keep records).
• Do not let up. In the event that you are still not happy with the manner in which your complaint is being dealt with, contact the Miosa by completing the online assistance request form at www.miosa.co.za, or phone 086 11 64672.
Matters are usually settled within 30 days but may take longer depending on the complexity of the complaint.