Cape Town - A Cape Town car dealership has been ordered to refund a woman who bought a second-hand car in late 2015, only to have it break down a few days later.
In a judgment delivered earlier this month the National Consumer Tribunal found that Hanlie van Lill of Kraaifontein must be paid back the R61 450 she paid for her 2001 year model Volkswagen Passat.
“I was really expecting to drive a car that could take me from point A to Point B,” Van Lill told Fin24. “I thought the car was going to be reliable.”
Just four days after she made the purchase, however, the car broke down. “I got stranded next to the road,” she said.
Van Lill said the salesperson who sold her the car at first promised to cancel the deal and take back the car, but later changed his mind. He became adamant that “he wasn't going to assist me”.
“Since that day I have struggled,” she said. Some 19 months after she bought the car, she expects to get her money back on October 4.
A long road
After the car broke down Van Lill lodged a complaint with an independent ombudsman group called SA Customer Complaints in early 2016. She approached the Motor Industry Ombudsman of South Africa, which ruled in her favour. But the car dealership ignored the ruling.
The case then made its way to the National Consumer Commission, which acts as the primary regulator of consumer-business interaction in South Africa.
The commission’s tribunal ruled on September 4 that the dealership - Western Car Sales CC - must reimburse her.
Western Car Sales was not present at the hearing, and did not file any affidavits. Fin24 could not reach the dealership for comment.
Pay back the money
The judgment states that Western Car Sales CC must reimburse Van Lill the full amount she paid for the car.
Van Lill said she was happy that she could now start to put the whole episode behind her. "It's a long time to wait to get results," she said. Since the car she bought didn't go, she was forced to rent a car to get to work. This incurred an additional cost, she said.
The tribunal ordered that the dealership must also "at its own cost” collect the car which is still standing outside Van Lill’s house. Further, the dealership has been ordered to pay an administrative fine of R100 000 to the National Revenue Fund.
It found that clauses in Van Lilll’s contract when she bought the car were in direct contravention of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA).
As a result, it appeared to be almost impossible for her to seek redress when the car broke down.
One clause in the contract, for example, stated that the car was offered with “no warranties or guarantees on any electrical components, radios, air conditioning and alarm systems, central locking systems or keys.”
Contravening the CPA
The tribunal found that this contravened the CPA.
“The CPA does not provide for the sale of goods on the basis that the supplier does not accept any liability and does not offer any warranty whatsoever.”
Trevor Hattingh, spokesperson for the National Consumer Commission, said it welcomed the outcome of the case. "This judgment should serve as a deterrent to motor dealers and other businesses who are still not complying with the provisions of the CPA.
“We advise motor vehicle dealers and suppliers of goods or services to make use of an opportunity to settle consumer disputes through accredited ombud schemes," he said.
“These schemes play a critical role in a system that was designed to amicably resolve disputes between consumers and suppliers.”
Hattingh said that, if a supplier or business failed to adhere to, or simply ignored a ruling from an ombud scheme, the NCC will step in.
“We will have no option but to investigate and prosecute if we find non-compliance with the CPA," he said.
Van Lill advised consumers to use the services of ombudspeople and the services of the National Consumer Commission.
"And don't ever give up," she said.
SUBSCRIBE FOR FREE UPDATE: Get Fin24's top morning business news and opinions in your inbox.