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Understanding your basic consumer rights as a motorist

Understanding the Consumer Protection Act and your basic consumer rights as a motorist is important, says Jakkie Olivier, CEO of Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI).
“As an organisation that champions the rights of motorists and service providers in the motor industry we often come across cases where there is little to no understanding of the basic rights as captured in the Consumer Protection Act. This leaves parties open to possible exploitation,” he says.
In essence, there are nine basic consumer rights which include: the right to equality in the consumer market and protection against discriminatory market practices; the right to privacy; the right to choose; to disclosure of information; to fair and responsible marketing; to fair and honest dealing; and accountability from suppliers. It also includes the right to fair, just and reasonable terms and conditions, and the right to fair value, good quality and safety.
“There are several sections with in the Act that are particularly pertinent to the buying, maintenance and repair of vehicles. What’s important to take note of is that these sections need to be read within the context of the Act as a whole to ensure there are no misinterpretations. We always advise motorists and service providers to rely on the counsel of legal experts or knowledgeable laymen in the matter,” says Olivier.

No quote, no work

Section 15 of the Act deals with pre-authorisation on service, maintenance and repair work. According to this section a retailer may not charge for a service, maintenance or repairs on a vehicle without the authorisation of the consumer. If the retailer has proceeded without authorisation and rendered any service on a vehicle, it has acted outside of prescribed guidelines and the consumer has the right to report the retailer for dispute resolution. In Section 15 the consumer has three options relating to the cost of a job – an estimate, a cut-off maximum price or carte blanche to get the job done. The consumer needs to elect one of these three options upfront.
“Be aware that an estimate is determining the possible cost when unknown factors are evident, probably due to a hidden or unseen environment such as the internal components of an engine etc. Although it is not a requirement of the CPA, we believe it is important that an estimate should be followed by a quote – a final document determining the cost to the car owner,” explains Olivier.
A quote or estimate should ideally be in writing, however, in certain circumstances, verbal authorisation will also be acceptable.
In some cases, it is very difficult, or near impossible, for a service provider to look at a vehicle and know exactly what the problem is, how much it will cost to repair, and how long the process will take. In this case a strip-and-quote estimate would be given, which will allow the provider time and scope to ascertain any hidden or latent defects before an official quote is drawn up. Once a quotation is given, no matter what may transpire thereafter, the consumer has every right to hold the service provider to the quoted amount for the quoted work. The quote should include the cost of rebuilding the unit after it has been stripped. In cases where the consumer has authorised a strip-and-quote estimate, and subsequently declines the quote, the consumer is not entitled to receive the vehicle back in the same condition as it was prior to the disassembly and quoting for repairs, unless this was pre-quoted on. In such cases, the consumer will be liable for the payment of restoration fee.
Section 41 supports Section 15 in that it stipulates that consumers have the right to accurate information, i.e. no false, misleading or deceptive information, meaning that a retailer must supply accurate and correct information during a transaction. This applies to providing an estimate, quote or selling a product. Should you have received incorrect and inaccurate information during a transaction, you have the right to report the matter to the relevant authorities for intervention and investigation.
The RMI has a dispute resolution process in place to assist customers that may be dissatisfied with the services rendered by its members.
“It’s for this very reason that it’s important to use an RMI accredited repairer. That way you can be assured that there will be repercussions for services not rendered adequately,” says Olivier.
He explains that if you are dissatisfied with the job done, your first step should be to contact the RMI directly.
“Give us a call. Register your dispute and once we have all the information, we will engage with the RMI member in order to find a resolution. We go through a process of facilitation where discussions are held between all parties,” he says.

Quality is your right

The right to a quality service to be rendered is covered in Section 54. This section stipulates that a retailer must inform you ahead of time if the repair will take more time than initially agreed upon.
“You have the right to quality servicing within an agreed upon timeframe. If this is not the case you are within your right to escalate the matter with the retailer,” explains Chanique Rautenbach, Associate at Barnard Inc Attorneys.
The section also covers damage to your vehicle. In the case where the retailer has damaged the vehicle during the repair or service, it is the responsibility of the retailer to remedy the situation. This covers any and all damages that may have occurred.
“It is important to note that the consumer is not entitled to have the vehicle repaired to a condition that is better than what prevailed prior to the damage occurring,” she adds.
When buying a vehicle, according to Section 55, a product, in this case a vehicle, should be able to deliver service or perform the task for which it was created. This means that the vehicle should be of good quality, free of any defects and be in an operating condition. It must also be durable and useable for a reasonable time period, unless it was bought at an auction, in which case a different set of requirements apply. Be aware of any exclusions that have been recorded on the offer to purchase, as these exclusions will not be covered by any warranty or guarantee.
Rautenbach explains that consumers must remain mindful of the fact that, when buying used goods (vehicles, parts or accessories), these goods will be subject to a warranty that covers these goods after fair wear and tear, considering the age and mileage of these goods. In addition, consumers should be aware that goods, such as electrical equipment or parts, will usually have a warranty condition that requires them to be fitted by a qualified professional and, often, an accredited RMI member.
Did you know that retailers have to return old or replaced parts to the vehicle owner after a service? This is according to Section 67 of the Act.
“The point of this section is to encourage transparency when it comes to the replacing of parts,” says Rautenbach. “As a consumer you have the right to ask for the old, replaced parts.”
It is important to note, however, that the section excludes this obligation if the work is done under warranty, insurance claim or paid for by a third party.
“As an organisation that champions the rights of motorists and service providers in the motor industry, we want to see an increased awareness of these consumer rights. It ensures better communication between consumers and service providers and ethical trading,” says Olivier.

Warranties and liabilities

How confident are you as a motorist that you understand your rights with regards to your vehicle and the servicing, maintenance and possibly even the buying and selling thereof?
Sections 56 and 57 of the Consumer Protection Act focus on warranties. Section 57 relates to the warranty on repaired goods. According to the Act, a retailer must guarantee reconditioned or new parts installed during any repair or maintenance work for a period of three months.
“We encourage all RMI members to provide a warranty of six months for workmanship applied which we believe sets us apart in the industry,” says Olivier.
Section 56 speaks to implied warranty of quality. It is implied in the section that, where exceptions don’t apply, products should carry a warranty of at least six months. The consumer may return goods to the retailer if the goods do not comply with the requirements of this section. In brief, the consumer may return the goods within six months without paying a penalty fee. The risk rests with the supplier. The retailer should either repair, replace or refund the product at the sole direction of the customer. Should the consumer be found responsible for the product failure i.e. misuse or abuse, the retailer will be exonerated from any further liability. In the case of the purchase of an item, warranties will only apply in the event that the item is fitted by qualified persons, and often accredited RMI members. If this is not done, the warranty will become void.
Goods purchased at an auction are subject to different conditions, which the consumer should be aware of. New and used purchases are treated in an almost identical way in terms of the implied six-month warranty. Only fair wear and tear may differ on used goods unless the goods are sold subject to a specific condition as set out in Section 55 of the Act.
“Another section worth being familiar with is Section 61 which focusses on liability on damages,” says Rautenbach.
According to this section a consumer can claim liability when injury or sickness sets in due to the retailer’s doing. Liability can also be claimed in cases involving physical damage to movable or immovable property and where damage or harm has resulted from not enough instructions or warnings being given.
“Your vehicle is the second largest investment you will make after a house purchase. It is important that you understand that you have rights when it comes to your vehicle and that you can exercise your rights. These rights are in place to protect consumers and businesses. We always advise motorists and service providers to call on the counsel of legal experts in the matter,” concludes Olivier.