Durban - Imagine being smitten by a new car, signing an offer to buy it, paying a deposit, then being told seven months later that you’re still on the waiting list, and by the way, the same car is now about R50 000 more expensive.
That’s what’s happened to many who signed for the new A-Class Mercedes-Benz, thanks to the dramatically depreciating rand.
Brandon Mercer took the A180 for a test drive in July 2013 and was happy to sign an offer to purchase document at the Mercedes -Benz dealership in uMhlanga.
“I signed the form, which was e-mailed to me without the terms and conditions, and paid a deposit the following month,” he said.
He was told he would probably get the car only in the new year, and was later told there was an extra delay in the case of models ordered with a sunroof.
NULL AND VOID
But when he contacted the sales agent recently, seven months down the line, he was told that the price of the car had increased substantially and the offer to purchase he had signed was null and void.
The basic price of the model in question has soared from R273 717 to R324 600. Mercer had originally added more than R40 000 worth of optional extra features to the car.
“Where do I stand in terms of legality?” he asked Consumer Watch.
“I can’t afford to pay the instalments on a car that’s increased in price so dramatically.
“What is the purpose of signing the offer to purchase if the dealership can change the price whenever they choose?”
“I could understand a fluctuation caused by the exchange rate, but this amount is outrageously exorbitant.”
Brian Watt lodged a similar complaint on consumer complaints website Hellopeter.com, relating to his signing of an offer to purchase at a Mercedes-Benz dealer in Gauteng for an A-Class model in July 2013.
In Mercer’s case, the offer to purchase carried a small-print expiry date of July 10, 2013 - a week after it was signed.
I asked Mercedes-Benz uMhlanga dealer principal Steve Hickman whether the fact that the agreed deal had a limited validity was clearly explained to customers when they put their names down for a specific car and paid a deposit, having been told the car would be available only many months later.
“Our terms and conditions clearly and comprehensively address all matters pertaining to the ordering of a vehicle,” he said.
“The customer accepts these terms and conditions by signing the offer to purchase.”
Interestingly, deposits paid on vehicle purchases are refunded without interest.
Asked to comment, Motor Industry Ombudsman Johan van Vreden said an offer to purchase was a binding contract “subject to the conditions as decided by the parties and duly signed off by the contracting parties”.
READ EVERY WORD BEFORE YOU SIGN
He added: “If there is a caveat in the conditions of the offer to purchase, such as a price increase or specification changes, then both parties must have agreed to it otherwise they would not have signed the agreement.
“Therefore the buyer must be aware and read the conditions carefully to make sure that they understand the terms and conditions.”
But Van Vreden said he was “very uncomfortable” about advertisements for products which the advertiser was not able to supply at the time.
“That in itself is a transgression of the law unless you make it clear that the product is subject to a waiting list in your advertising.”
What’s to learn out of this case?
If you sign documentation relating to goods or services which are not immediately available, be clear about your obligations and those of the supplier, should either of you pull out of the deal, for whatever reason.
Also, ask specific questions about the validity of the price on that quote. Especially if the price of the item in question is directly affected by the exchange rate.
And make sure that all those very material conditions are recorded on the documentation.