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Customers can be wrong!

2005-09-13 10:10

John Oxley

Everybody knows the public is constantly being ripped off by car dealers, importers and manufacturers. It must be true, 'cos everybody knows.

But what about when a member of the public tries to rip off a dealer, or an importer, or a manufacturer?

Can't happen, you think?

Well, I'm going to tell you a story which suggests that maybe it can.

But first, I'm going to call on the office of Johan van Vreden, the independent Motor Industry Ombudsman (MIO), for a little bit of backing.

In his annual report for last year Van Vreden says the MIO had 8 640 requests for assistance.

He says of these 1 409 could be resolved at the first contact stage, while 7 231 developed into formal written complaints which were referred to the implicated dealers, manufacturers or importers, 2 200 of them with recommended action proposed by the Ombudsman.


A total of 155 complaints could not be resolved up to this stage and had to be adjudicated by the MIO.

Of these 52 were resolved in the customer's favour and 65 in favour of the importer/manufacturer/dealer. In 38 cases a compromise was reached between the parties before final adjudication

The important thing here is that more of the really difficult cases were resolved in the importer/manufacturer/dealer's favour than in favour of the customer.

What I'm trying to say is that the customer isn't always right - and sometimes motorists take chances to try to profit from problems that aren't the fault of the dealer/importer/manufacture.

A case in point arose recently after a Cape Town woman posted a series of publicly-accessible "blogs" on a local website claiming her husband was being unfairly treated by a local dealer.

She tried to get Wheels24 involved, too, but after investigation it quickly became clear there were too many different versions of events surrounding the issue.

Chain of events

That said, here's what it appears took place. The woman's husband had a four year old Honda S2000 which had about 70 000 km on the clock.

He was involved in an accident and the damage was quite extensive - to the tune of over R140 000.

After fixing it the panel beater discovered a funny noise, so took it to his local Honda dealer for a checkup.

Two mechanics took it out - one to drive, one to listen - and while they were out the rain came down in torrents, as it often does in Cape Town.

Either something broke or the Honda's tricky handling caught them out (click here for more on how this can happen) and the car was totalled.

Now here's where it gets interesting.

The car's value

I asked around, and an S2000 of that age and mileage in good nick would be worth maximum R230 000 to the trade - that's about R260 000 retail.

But don't forget this one had just come from the panel beaters after being involved in an accident. If it hadn't been written off, it would probably not have fetched more than R200 000 trade - nobody wants to buy a car that's been extensively repaired.

However, after some wrangling the dealer's insurers agreed to pay out over R280 000.

Great stuff. Time to move on, you say.

However, the owner wasn't happy with that. He wanted a new car, at cost.

What's more he demanded a courtesy car until his new car was ready - and complained when he got a Honda Accord. Don't know what he expected...

But the dealer didn't want to sell him a new S2000 at cost. Fair enough. After all, the mechanics didn't deliberately go out to prang the car, and the insurance payout was generous.


Now here's where it gets really tricky. The wife, who seems to have lots of time on her hands, then started a campaign against the dealer, on the Internet and in the local press, to try to force the dealer to give in.

After failing to get me to take her side, she got hold of a reporter on a local "knock and drop" newspaper, who took up the story. It was carried on the front page, with lots of emotion and drama.

Worst piece of one-sided journalism I have ever seen, with not ONE WORD of explanation from the dealer.

Not a thing. Not even one line.

That's not good enough!

As it happens the husband agreed to take the insurance money and found a replacement car elsewhere.

My take is that he should think himself very lucky. He got paid out a lot more than the original car was worth, and ended up with a car which hadn't been damaged before.

So why the snot and trane?

Can't say, but I wouldn't be surprised if it ends up in court.

  • If you get any problems with a dealer/importer/manufacturer you can't resolve, the office of the independent Motor Industry Ombudsman can be contacted via its website www.miosa.co.za, telephone (012) 361-8824, fax (012) 348-9303 or e-mail mi.ombudsman@netactive.co.za.


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