BACK AT LAST: The EMPD helped eight owners get vehicles back from Ramwagen after they were refused their cars. Pictures: Simphiwe Mbokazi / Independent Media.
Johannesburg - What should have been a simple car repair has turned into a months-long nightmare for many clients of a car repair shop in Kempton Park.

Car owners have claimed the Ramwagen company is a “fraud”, making accusations including that they were overcharged, their cars were not fixed properly and also that their cars were sold or salvaged without their permission.

Meshack Lebogo was drawn to Ramwagen when his car broke down, while he was on his way to work in January because they advertised free towing if he fixed the car with them.

However, after paying over R15 000 for a quote he said he received via text with no cost breakdown and waiting several weeks for a response about the status of his car, Lebogo began to get suspicious.

“I went online to check reviews and saw a lot of complaints,” Lebogo said.

“This is where I discovered that Ramwagen operates as a legit business but in actual fact they are just massive car theft and fraud syndicate.”

Things went from bad to worse for Lebogo, as he said that when he went to the workshop they told him to pay more for extra repairs - at first R1900, which later ballooned to R4900. When he refused, they told him he would have to pay R740 per day to store the car on their property.

EXPENSIVE SPACE: Ramwagen storage lot.

Since then, Lebogo has been rallying groups like the Motor Industry Ombudsman of South Africa (Miosa) to investigate the company and trying to get his car back. He said he had trouble opening a case with the police because he did not know how to classify the issues.

It has been four months since Lebogo’s saga began. Today, he catches a ride to work every day with one of his friends. He said he doesn’t know where his car is, but worries that Ramwagen might have sold it.

If this is true, Lebogo would not be alone. Since his problems began, he has joined a WhatsApp group with over 20 members harbouring similar complaints.

In this group, Lebogo heard stories of individuals who claim they got their cars back from Ramwagen in much worse shape than when they brought them in; people who say their cars were stripped of parts while in the shop and those arrived at the shop to retrieve their car only to learn it had been sold.

Zain Van Rooyen, one of the de facto spokespersons of the “Justice for all” WhatsApp group, said he is optimistic that, through the group, they will be able to take the company down.

“The problem is when you go to the police station, it’s a tricky situation with how you register a case. A lot of people get lost in the legal system and give up,” said Van Rooyen.

Since he started having problems with Ramwagen in March, he says the Justice for all group has come a long way. They have six cases opened at the Kempton Park police department and more with Miosa.

Miosa and the SAPS have confirmed that cases have been opened with their departments. Kempton Park police spokesperson Captain Jethro Mtshali said the cases were under investigations at the specialised Benoni Vehicle Theft Unit.

“The matters are still under investigation and received attention. No one has been arrested so far,” Mtshali said.

Robin Wright, a case manager at Miosa, said when a case is opened, Miosa reviews the case and allows the other party to respond. After they investigate, they send a letter to the National Commission, who investigates the case and can impose fines.

“We do have cases where we get multiple complaints about the same party, but we look at each case individually.”

Ramwagen responds

A manager at Ramwagen said as they have so many customers, having a few complaints was expected.

He also said many complaints were from clients angry over storage fees. “If you don’t accept a quote, you have seven days to collect your vehicles but they decide to come back two weeks later then start complaining about storage fees.”

Frank Ramos, the owner of Ramwagen, said he would have to look at each individual case.

He said he would not respond without receiving the complainants’ names. The Star declined to provide names in order to protect the privacy of sources. At this point, Ramos said he had “no recollection” about any of the aforementioned allegations.

Van Rooyen said that since April, the group has helped to recover eight vehicles. A few weeks ago, the Vehicle Theft Unit helped him retrieve his car from where it had been impounded by Ramwagen.

LOST TRACK: Car owners visited Ramwagen to find their cars, but found they had been moved elsewhere for storage.

However, he said, the car was returned missing some parts. He said he was unable to drive the car because its cylinder head was gone and the part costs R25 000. He is also still expected to pay Ramwagen for repairs.

Though Van Rooyen may have his own car back, he said he plans to stay involved with the case. The WhatsApp group said its purpose is to “bring Ram down”.

“Whoever needs help, I’m willing to help,” Van Rooyen said.

But for some customers, help may be coming too late. Panji Botha said he learnt about a month ago that Ramwagen had salvaged his car after he tried for months to get old parts replaced.

Botha said his car had been towed in December and he waited for a month to hear from the company to get a quote or an alert that they had started working on it.

When he continued not to hear from Ramwagen in February, he visited the shop, where a manager told him he owed money for storage.

When he refused to pay, he said the company salvaged his car. Botha said that through a Small Claims Court, he was able to receive his R3600 deposit back, but said he should be paid the value of his vehicle.

At this point, though he has seen some people on the group get support, Botha said he feels hopeless that his struggle was not worth it. He said, for him, the group has gone quiet.

“In the Small Claims Court, I thought I was getting somewhere, but now that I’ve come this far I’m tired of it. I don’t know what to do anymore,” Botha said.

The Star

Follow Lila Reynolds on Twitter: @LilaWReynolds