Dealing with bad service

Having your vehicle serviced or repaired is inevitable. If the vehicle is still under warranty, this will usually happen at a dealership. However, once that warranty expires, vehicle owners may have to find a reputable aftermarket service provider. This can prove to be a daunting task, especially since there are unscrupulous individuals and businesses in the industry. What protection do you, the consumer have if you feel a mechanic or panel beater has done sub-standard work on your car? The first step is to know your rights under the Consumer Protection Act and the second is to approach one of two organisations that will help you settle disputes.

Consumer Protection Act to the rescue

Many South Africans are not as adept at complaining about bad service as their European and American counterparts, nor do they fully understand their rights. This is where the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) comes into play. The act intends to empower consumers to understand their rights and equip them with the means to enforce these rights.

Certain clauses in the act deal specifically with the motor and related industries. For instance, the act clearly stipulates that service providers must not charge for goods unless the provider has given an estimate and the customer has agreed to it. The customer may refuse to pay for unapproved work done.

The act also states that the supplier must return all replaced parts, unless it is a warranty or insurance claim. According to the act, you as consumer have the right to demand quality service. For instance, it is your right to complain if the work being done on your vehicle took longer than originally stipulated.

Furthermore, if you collect your vehicle and it is covered in oily fingerprints and there is a scratch on the fender caused by the mechanic’s tools, the act specifies that the service provider is responsible for fixing the damages or refunding you a fair portion of the price paid.

In terms of the replacement parts used when servicing your vehicle, the act stipulates that these parts must be of good quality and free of defects, be durable and useable for a reasonable period of time and must comply with the applicable standards or public regulations.

Help from the Motor Industry Ombudsman

Under the CPA, the South African Automotive Industry Code of Conduct stipulates that businesses in the motor industry are obliged to register with the Motor Industry Ombudsman of South Africa (MIOSA). The MIOSA has no say in the day-to-day running of a business and its sole purpose is to adjudicate when a complaint by a consumer or a supplier is lodged.

Johan van Vreden, the Motor Industry Ombudsman, has a few helpful tips for frustrated motorists. “The most important thing is to not become emotional or aggressive if you encounter a problem. Over-reacting can hamper your efforts to have a dispute resolved, especially if there is a lot of money involved. Be assertive without being rude and don’t let up. If you are still not happy with the way your complaint is being dealt with, contact the MIO office and submit a dispute,” he explains.

A dispute must be submitted on the official MIOSA Assistance Request Form (ARF) and filed with the office of the MIOSA by either fax, email or pre-paid registered post. Once received, the complaint is logged on the system and an email is sent to the customer reflecting the case reference number, which is to be used in all future correspondence. Should the MIOSA receive an incomplete ARF, the complainant is contacted and asked to complete the document and resubmit it to the MIOSA. The case can’t progress until a completed ARF is received. The complaint will then be forwarded under a covering letter to the other party involved for their comment. The other party has 10 business days to send the MIOSA its comments. On receiving the response, the adjudication process will begin.

If the other party does not respond within the required 10 business days, a reminder is sent, purely as a courtesy gesture. After 2 business days have lapsed, the case is sent to a case manager for adjudication and finalisation, without the other party’s comments.

Dispute resolution from the AA

An organisation such as the AA – which has a reputation for highlighting instances of misconduct in the industry and providing consumers with redress – can also be of great value to its members in the dispute resolution process. If you feel that you have been unfairly taken advantage of by a service provider, the AA has a qualified technical expert, with vast experience in the automotive industry, who will handle the dispute on your behalf.

In addition, AA Members can get telephonic advice on all matters motoring, including warranties, guarantees and general vehicle ownership.

Of course, prevention is always better than cure! Choose a provider you can trust from the AA’s Quality Assured (AAQA) accreditation programme, a network of certified service providers, including auto body repairers, vehicle maintenance and repair centres, auto electricians, locksmiths, accessory fitment centres and specialist repair centres.

Forewarned is forearmed

The message is clear: know your rights as a consumer. And if you are unsatisfied by the service you have experienced, one of the best things you can do is to spread the word. If more people are aware of bad service and fraudulent activity, fewer unsuspecting vehicle owners will be done in by unscrupulous service providers.