File photo: Reuters
File photo: Reuters

The hazards of private sales

By Wendy Knowler Time of article published Jul 29, 2013

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Johannesburg - The Consumer Protection Act gives us a whole lot more rights than we used to have, but don’t make the mistake of assuming that it applies to every sale.

If you buy a puppy, for example, and it turns out to be riddled with disease or deformed, you can’t demand your money back or a refund of your medical expenses because the act doesn’t cover animal purchases.

Then there are private sales. Every week I get a handful of emails from people who’ve bought goods after responding to a classified advert, not realising they’ve bought “voetstoets”, because private sales are not covered by the act.

On July 18, Gayle Melin and her husband, Dave, of Durbanville, bought a small second-hand bakkie from a mechanic operating a workshop from his home.

“We were on a tight budget and so were not expecting to get a perfect vehicle, but the seller said it was in good running order,” Melin said.

They paid R22 000 in cash, and signed the “private sale agreement” the mechanic had prepared.

It all went horribly wrong from the start.

“Within moments of starting the bakkie, the wiring under the steering wheel caught fire – there was a major short in the wiring,” Melin said.

“There is something very wrong with the engine; there is no power and some very strange noises.”

They’ve since had a mechanic look at the vehicle and been told that the chassis is bent, the water pump needs replacing and there is more rust than they were made aware of.

They contacted the seller and asked for the sale to be cancelled and their money refunded, but he is refusing.

“Please can you advise if we have any sort of legal rights to cancel this sale,” Melin wrote.

Not under the CPA, no. The agreement they signed makes it clear it was an “as is”, voetstoets sale.

If only they had got that mechanic to inspect the bakkie before they did the deal, they would not have bought it.

If you’re contemplating a voetstoets private sale, you’re taking a massive risk if you don’t get whatever you want to buy professionally checked out first, especially in the case of a car.

From four wheels to two. Late last month, George Kilian bought a road bicycle which he saw advertised on the OLX website for R3 000.

“The sellers didn’t mention that there was anything wrong with the bike, but when I tried to adjust the seat I realised that the seat stay was broken and it was evident that someone had tried to do a quick fix,” he said.

Worse was to come. A week ago, Kilian went on his first long ride on the bike, and after about 30km his cycling partner asked him to pull over as his back wheel didn’t look right. It was then that he discovered the rear chain stay was broken.

“And from the look of the crack it did not happen recently. I could have been seriously injured.”

Again, sadly, he can’t demand a refund under the CPA, as this was a private sale. Of course, there’s always civil action via the courts, but that’s time-consuming and costly.

* Wendy Knowler is a consumer journalist. Contact her on [email protected]

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