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Dealing with car woes? Understand the complaints process

Feeling unhappy with your vehicle’s repairs? The new car you bought, is not what you expected? Jan Schoeman, Chief Operations Officer for the Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI), says there is recourse for inefficient servicing of vehicles, if, of course, you have used the right service provider.

What’s also important is to understand the process. “There are different bodies with specific mandates within the industry,” he says.

He explains that the Motor Industry Ombudsman of South Africa (MIOSA) was established in 2015 in terms of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) and is tasked, in the main, with the resolution of consumer complaints through a process of adjudication. “The very nature of adjudication is, however, time consuming and the consumer is never quite guaranteed of a specific outcome, which has resulted in a number of misconceptions about the process.”

Rulings made by the MIOSA are not legally enforceable in their own right. Consumers who receive favourable rulings which are not accepted or acted on by the service provider are required to approach the consumer tribunal to have these rulings converted into awards that are executable in law – a process that can also be extremely time consuming.

“The RMI has developed a sophisticated alternative available to consumers with complaints before consumers approach the MIOSA, or opt for the legal route,” says Schoeman.

The RMI process is based on facilitation and mediation between consumers and accredited-RMI members. “It is designed to produce speedy and equitable outcomes to consumer complaints.”

Over many decades of consumer dispute resolution, the RMI has consistently maintained a settlement rate in excess of 90% of the more than 20,000 complaints and inquiries it receives through its various regional offices, annually.

So how does it work? “We always encourage consumers to first try and resolve the matter directly with the supplier. If this doesn’t work, consumers who remain dissatisfied with the goods or services can approach the RMI for assistance. Firstly, you will need to visit the RMI website and download the complaint referral form. You then need to complete the form and submit it, together with all supporting evidence, to the nearest RMI regional office. The assigned RMI department will then start the process of looking into the matter,” says Schoeman.

The mediation process is non-legal and therefore no legal representation is allowed unless otherwise advised and is done without prejudice. “For these services, the RMI has a no-charge policy, unless during the process a technical inspection and report is required. The costs of these services will be for the complainant’s account.”

Schoeman says it’s also important to note that no unsigned or half-filled in forms will be processed. “The RMI prefers that all contact be in writing for everyone’s protection. This also ensures the RMI’s impartiality,” he explains.

“The process is quick and effective. In most cases, disputes are resolved through the facilitation process. If no suitable outcome can be reached, the vehicle owner can then escalate the case to the MIOSA.”

Once again, he highlights the importance of only dealing with accredited RMI members. “We want consumers to know that they do not have to accept a service that is below par from an RMI member. We believe in transparency and best business practices. We are an industry that believes in excellence. RMI members have to adhere to strict standards to retain their membership, so the likelihood of needing dispute resolution is lower when using an RMI member.”

“Your car is the second largest investment you will make after your home. Taking your car in for a repair can be a costly exercise. Getting what you pay for, i.e. a car that is running properly and fully repaired, should be the obvious outcome. If this hasn’t been your experience, then remember that there is a dispute resolution process,” he concludes.