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Car repairs and insurance, plus event refunds — consumer journalist Wendy Knowler’s 'Watch-outs of the week'

17 June 2022 - 14:55
Protect yourself from bandit behaviour by asking specific questions about a company's quotation process before you hand over your property - specifically the quote rejection or 'release' fee. File image.
Protect yourself from bandit behaviour by asking specific questions about a company's quotation process before you hand over your property - specifically the quote rejection or 'release' fee. File image.
Image: Reuters

In this weekly segment of bite-sized chunks of useful information, consumer journalist Wendy Knowler summarises news you can use:

Beware the “nominated driver” clause in car insurance policies

Did you know some car insurance policies have strict terms dictating who may and may not drive your car?

Most insurers focus on the regular driver — the person who drives the car most often — and base the premium on that person’s risk profile: they don’t require the names of all the other people who may drive the car for a claim to be successful.

They may charge an extra excess if the occasional driver was under the age of 25, but the claim won’t be rejected on the grounds that their name doesn’t appear on the policy. But some policies do have such strict “nominated driver” policies.

In the case I’m investigating, the policyholder’s 37-year-old son-in-law was stationary at a traffic intersection when hit from behind by another motorist and her claim was rejected because of that clause — the man’s name was not listed in the nominated driver section.

The policy reads: “If a driver is not nominated on the schedule there will be no cover in the event of a loss.”

This is especially problematic, given that it’s entirely normal to allow a third party to drive your car occasionally — a car dealership employee during a service, for example. The risk of having such a strict driver policy is high as this family has just discovered. Rather opt for or switch to a less prescriptive one.

Event cancellations — don’t accept a “no refunds” fob off

In the Consumer Goods and Services Ombud’s latest newsletter there’s a story which provides wonderful guidance — ammunition — for others in the same situation. It’s headlined: “Is there such a thing as a non-refundable deposit?”

It reads like this: “After three failed attempts to have the wedding of their dreams, only to have their hopes dashed by Covid-19, a couple decided to cancel their wedding entirely.

“Having booked and put down a deposit on the venue in December 2019, the happy day was initially scheduled for May 30 2020, then March 2021 and finally, set for November 26 2021.

“In January 2021, when uncertainty dogged the vaccine rollout in SA, the couple informed the supplier they would rather cancel than risk another postponement.”

Believing that 11 months’ notice was reasonable and fair the couple requested a refund of their R30,674.

The supplier refused, prompting them to turn to the CGSO for help.

“We engaged the supplier, who shared their calculations, explaining they would only consider a refund if the couple rebooked the venue.

“We referred the supplier to section 17 of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA), which states that consumers have the right to cancel advance bookings subject to the payment of a reasonable cancellation fee and that the circumstances must be considered, including whether the notice period is long enough for the service provider to find a replacement booking.

“Accordingly, we advised the supplier that their cancellation policies were contrary to the CPA and recommended an amount of R22,580 as a fair refund.”

The venue refused to pay the reduced amount on the grounds that it included a “non-refundable” deposit of R5,000.

“We explained that in terms of section 51 of the CPA contracts drawn up by the supplier may not contain terms and conditions contrary to the provisions of the CPA as the Act will prevail.

“In simple terms, you cannot contract out of statute.”

In other words, and this applies to all contracts, even if you signed an agreement, the CPA prohibits the contracting out of or waiving of certain consumer protection under that legislation.

Happily, the company concerned finally relented and refunded the couple R22,580.

This is a really good case study to refer to if a service provider is prejudicing you in the same way. You can find it by going to cgso.org.za, click on Download, then Newsletters and it’s the one at the top of the list — Quarter 1 2022.

Do you know your rights when it comes to repair quotes?

Patricia wrote to me about a tricky situation her son had got into with her car.

“He asked a local repair guy in Pretoria to check the car’s gearbox.

“The owner removed the gearbox and then gave us a R23,000 repair quote.

“We don’t want him to go ahead with the job, but now he’s refusing to release the car until we pay a ‘release fee’ of R10,000.”

Other workshops have told them R2,000 is fair as a “strip, quote and release” fee.

Clearly there is some labour involved in producing such a repair quote and business owners are entitled to pass those on to the customer. But upfront disclosure is key.

The Consumer Protection Act covers this in some detail. In short, that mechanic was obliged to inform the young man about his quote rejection fee; tell him exactly how much it would be and get his consent before opening the bonnet of the car.

This is to prevent service providers holding consumers to ransom with outrageous “release” fees as this mechanic has done.

Companies are also precluded from deviating from an original quotation amount without first getting the customer’s consent.

Protect yourself from such bandit behaviour by asking specific questions about a company's quotation process before you hand over your property — specifically the quote rejection or “release” fee. And make sure it's committed to writing.

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 GET IN TOUCH: You can contact Wendy Knowler for advice with your consumer issues via e-mail: consumer@knowler.co.za or on Twitter: @wendyknowler.

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