The office of the independent motor industry ombudsman of South Africa was established in 2001 to resolve disputes within the automotive industry.
The initial impetus for an automotive industry ombudsman came from a number of manufacturers (OEs) who felt that dispute resolution in SA was fragmented.
Adri Bezuidenhout, well known motor industry commentator, TV presenter and independent journalist was approached to examine the possibility of creating an effective mechanism to resolve the issues.
'The OEs' dilemma was that they could resolve most complaints but there was always an odd, difficult situation that required a different approach," explains Bezuidenhout.
"The manufacturers felt they needed an independent body that could assess the situation and offer a reasonable solution to the satisfaction of all parties concerned," he said.
"This totally independent body would need to make a ruling, for example, whether a gearbox or an entire car should be repaired or replaced. Because of a contractual agreement entered into with the MIO, the manufacturer or importer would accept and abide by the recommendation of the ombudsman. However, the owner of the vehicle would also have to accept the ruling," he says.
During the formative stages of the MIO Bezuidenhout realised there are two aspects to this decision-making process: technical considerations as well as legal requirement.
So the office of the ombudsman was structured accordingly, with technical, legal and administrative experts covering all potential aspects of a complaint.
"Everything ran according to plan," says Bezuidenhout. "However, it soon became clear that eight out of 10 complaints arose from the used car area."
This gave birth to the MIO?s unique Transaction Protection Project (TPP) that involved dealers from the used vehicle segment. The project requires both dealer and buyer to sign an agreement whereby, if a dispute arises, both parties unconditionally accept the ombudsman?s recommendation.
"Independent dealers are encouraged to contact the MIO regarding TPP," says Bezuidenhout. "Some 400 dealers have joined the project and the numbers are growing. Once accepted as a participant in TPP, the dealer's name appears on the ombudsman's website. When you want to buy a vehicle, go to the ombudsman's website and choose from the TPP dealers in your area," explains Bezuidenhout.
It's important to note that all the bigger dealer groups have joined the programme and support the principles involved. The ombudsman's office is currently negotiating with smaller groups to join as well and many already have.
During 2005 the MIO handled a total of 11 482 requests for assistance. Impressively, 2 222 of these were resolved at the first contact. The 2006 figures will be released shortly.
According to the 2005 report a parallel can be drawn between the increase in the number of vehicles on our roads and the number of complaints regarding so-called wear-and-tear items.
One of the MIO's biggest challenges, according to Bezuidenhout, is to educate the public, not just on where to buy, but how to buy.
"Buy from a reputable dealer involved in the MIO's TPP programme. Buy within your financial limits. Forget about so-called bargains. If you hear the word 'bargain' then run, not towards the bargain but away from it! In the longer term, that bargain will cost you a lot more than what you saved on the purchase price," he says.
It's reassuring to know you have a safety net when you're purchasing or servicing a vehicle.
Contact details for the MIO are: