CONSUMER WATCH | Rusted 2017 Suzuki Swift is ‘a write-off’

30 June 2021 - 12:47 By brenwin naidu
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A close-up image of the rusting door handles on Michael Stewart's 2017 Suzuki Swift.
A close-up image of the rusting door handles on Michael Stewart's 2017 Suzuki Swift.
Image: Supplied

Suzuki Swift owner Michael Stewart said the brand’s service knocked his socks off for all the wrong reasons.    

His 2017 1.2 GA is corroded so extensively that an independent repairer recently quoted him R290,101 for refurbishment, which effectively includes a complete overhaul of the chassis and suspension components, in addition to a cosmetic attention.    

“One of the panel beaters I showed the car to indicated the car is so bad it is a write-off after just three years,” Stewart told us.    

The vehicle was purchased new from Suzuki Bramley in Johannesburg for his son to use to school and university, moving with him to Cape Town in 2018.    

Suzuki Auto South Africa (SASA) was unwilling to pay for the fix, but in a statement released to us on June 15, it backtracked on an initial assessment, claiming water damage was the cause.    

“We noticed rusting on the outside of the body just before the first lockdown,” Stewart said.    

March 2020 saw the model checked into the Suzuki Table View dealership. It was kept for a full day for inspection.    

“They never got back to us so I called them and asked about progress, I was informed  they were still dealing with it but they would revert back to me. All of the above happened before the lockdown was announced.”   

Detail of the rusted rear suspension.
Detail of the rusted rear suspension.
Image: Supplied

Having received no correspondence since lockdown measures had eased, he reached out again in October that year.   

He was told the person who was responsible for the inspection had left the dealership, and he would need to bring the vehicle in again for a claim to be submitted, following pictures and a quotation from an approved panel beater.    

“Bearing in mind the car had been taken into the same dealership for the same to be done in March 2020 and we were under the impression the claim had been dealt with.”   

On November 25 it was taken in again for an inspection, coinciding with an annual service. On November 30 Stewart received a call from a representative at the Table View branch, saying  the rust damage would not be covered since it was a result of water.

“[The representative] mentioned the undercarriage was rusted,” Stewart said.    

He expressed reservations about the integrity of the vehicle and the potential danger of driving it.    

“I also explained I have two other cars in Cape Town under the same conditions, both of which are much older than the Suzuki and neither have rust issues. 

“Therefore, I had to assume this is a Suzuki issue or alternatively we were sold a ‘dud’ car and I was therefore unwilling to accept this.”   

He was later called again by the dealership, this time indicating pictures would be sent to Suzuki for a possible claim after all.    

A detail of rust around a window weather seal.
A detail of rust around a window weather seal.
Image: Supplied

“I was confused by that statement. I questioned why in the previous call it was clearly said Suzuki would not pay. I then again asked on what authority had they said Suzuki was not paying.”   

The response? The panel beaters had said so.

“I questioned why they had given me the panel beaters’ answer and what authority the panel beaters held to make this decision on behalf of Suzuki?”   

He was told  “they know Suzuki well enough and over time knew what claims they paid for”   .

Stewart requested the report from the panel beater and was told  because the dealership’s managers were busy with it, he could not access have access yet.    

On December 9 Suzuki Table View asked  Stewart to bring the vehicle in again. He said there was still no acknowledgement of the issues communicated regarding ambiguity about the claim acceptance.    

On January 5 2021 another e-mail indicated the claim would be finalised by the end of that week.    

Later that month, Stewart was contacted by a panel beater representing Suzuki.    

Rust has also appeared on the exhaust manifold.
Rust has also appeared on the exhaust manifold.
Image: Supplied

“He came to our premises and looked at the car and said he would get back to us. He appeared positive about the claim.”   

After some delay, he made contact with the panel beater representative, who asked if the dealership had ever informed Stewart of rust during routine services.   

“The answer was no, they had not. In fact, the section of the book that deals with bodywork on the vehicle and is titled “Bodywork warranty and annual Inspection” had not been updated.”   

On February 10 Stewart made another follow up, but to no avail. On February 19 the dealership said his previous correspondence was missed.    

Curiously, he was then asked to bring in the service book to the dealership to be filled.  

 “It is crazy that years after the services they suddenly want the service book to go back so they can fill in the bodywork reports. Now they are updating the book. Why?”   

He obliged, but took pictures of the empty pages as evidence. On March 1bhe was told he could collect the book at his convenience, but there was still no response to the claim.   

He followed up on March 18.

On April 13, nearly a month later, he received a curt response: “The rust repairs have been declined by Suzuki”.    

Engaging the brand at head office level, a response was provided to TimesLIVE Motoring earlier this month.    

The front suspension has also fallen victim to rust.
The front suspension has also fallen victim to rust.
Image: Supplied

“The concern was brought to the dealer’s attention in March 2020. Due to Covid-19 restrictions the vehicle could only be inspected by the dealer in November 2020. Upon receipt of the quotations the dealer was informed telephonically that the vehicle had been submerged in water.”   

“The customer was notified in November 2020 that the repair was not warrantable. The dealer decided to submit a pre-approval in February 2021. The dealer requested the pre-approval to be rejected based on panel beater findings. SASA therefore considered the matter closed.”    

“On June 1 2021 the concern was brought to SASA’s attention through an external source and the investigation was reopened.”   

“SASA made contact with Suzuki Table view to confirm dealer and panel beater findings. The panel beater was requested by the dealer to corroborate the statement made in the previous communication. Upon receipt of the confirmation e-mail from the panel beater the statement had changed to ‘water damage is from the long standing close to the sea’.”  

 “This being contradictory to the original statement the case has been reopened.”   

Suzuki Table View Stewart had tried to contact Stewart, who had moved the vehicle to Johannesburg where it is presently parked.    

“The customer’s main concern is that he was not notified of the extent of the damage on the undercarriage. The customer has taken the vehicle for an independent assessment and was of the severity of the damage. Also, the dealer has been notified the customer has undertaken to seek legal advice.”    

“Subject to this new information, SASA's legal team will make contact with the customer’s legal team to determine the way forward.”   

Stewart drove the vehicle back to Johannesburg in May and early in the trip, he suffered a flat tyre.    

It was dark but I got the car safely off the N1 highway between Cape Town and Paarl. I tried to remove the wheel nut but was unable to do so. I called the AA who arrived later and they managed with some difficulty to get the nuts off and change the wheel with the spare.”   

“I was then concerned that the other wheels would be the same so I stopped in Paarl at a Tiger Wheel and Tyre. They found all the wheels were rusted and locked effectively. They loosened the nuts and fixed it to some degree to enable me to continue with the journey.”

At the time of publication, Stewart had escalated the matter to the Motor Industry Ombudsman of South Africa (Miosa).

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