Car spares warranty saga can make you go spare
I don't know how the car spares industry got the idea that its products are exempt from the warranty provisions of the Consumer Protection Act, but six years on it's getting really tiresome.
The CPA gives everything you buy a warranty of six months, meaning that if a product breaks or proves to be unfit for purpose in those first six months you can return it for your choice of a repair, replacement or refund.
Goods can only be voetstoets - sold without a warranty of any kind - if you buy them on an auction or privately.
But I constantly get complaints from people who have bought defective automotive goods and are then denied any recourse by the retailer, who simply claims "Sorry, no warranty. We told you." As if telling a customer that the company is operating outside of the law makes it OK.
One outlet has a sign at its cash desk stating: "Electrical goods are not returnable. Strictly no cash refunds." I'm pretty confident that if the owner of that company bought a TV from a national retailer, which went wonky two months later, he'd be outraged if he returned it and was told electrical goods are not returnable.
Yes, sometimes consumers cause the problem by using the product contrary to manufacturer's instructions, and that's why retailers may insist on sending an allegedly defective product for technical assessment to rule out user abuse.
But a blanket refusal to offer any warranty on electrical goods is totally illegal and has been since April 2011.
Which brings me to the experience of Durban veterinarian Dave Rabie. Earlier this month, he bought a set of China-made fog lights for his daughter's Ford Figo from Autostyle Motorsport's Umhlanga branch. They cost him just under R700 and came without any installation instructions. A "no guarantee" sticker was applied to the box.
Rabie fitted the lights to the car, having arranged for an auto electrician to connect them the following afternoon, and left the car in a shade port that night.
In the morning, after overnight rain, Rabie found moisture in both fog lights, the one being particularly badly affected.
"I contacted the branch and was told there was no warranty on the lights as they are not OEM (original equipment from the manufacturer) - this despite the box claiming they were - and, in any event, electrical items carry no warranty," he told In Your Corner.
"I explained that it was a manufacturing fault and not an electrical one, but that was apparently irrelevant."
Unhappy, Rabie called Autostyle's head office and asked why the company did not comply with the CPA, but was told the same thing.
"I was instructed to strip the lights, leave them in the sun and then seal them with silicone."
In other words, the product was unfit for purpose - the lights leaked from the start - but it's up to the customer to fix them!
I ran the story past Consumer Goods and Services Ombudsman Neville Melville, who has clearly also come across his fair share of "CPA, what CPA?" cases.
"It is part of the mentality, pervasive amongst smaller suppliers, of: 'Our rules, which trump any legislation or other law, say ...'," said Melville. "We also have lawyers quoting the common law as if statutory law is totally meaningless. The growing spirit of 'civil disobedience' in the business sector is worrying."
The employee at the Umhlanga branch of Autostyle confirmed the company's "no warranty" policy and that it had been communicated to Rabie.
I repeatedly attempted to call the Joburg head office but the landline number appeared to be out of order. I was unable to contact the man said to be the owner on his cellphone but my text and e-mail went unanswered. Buyer beware.