Private workshops are fighting OEMs for the right to repair warrantied cars.
Johannesburg - Should you have the right to decide where your in-warranty car gets fixed; either at a franchised dealer or an independent workshop?

That’s what South Africa’s Competition Commission is currently deciding following the November 3 deadline that called for public comment on a draft code of conduct for the motor industry. This controversial code aims to provide cheaper vehicle servicing and repairs to motorists, but it’s put vehicle assemblers and importers at loggerheads with independent workshops.

In one corner we have the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) who would like to keep you in the ‘family’ by forcing you to service or repair your car at their franchised dealers. In the other we have independent workshops that can fix your car for cheaper, but you’d lose your warranty if you took your car to them. The independent workshops, represented by an organisation called Right to Repair South Africa (R2RSA), wants legislation to force OEMs to honour warranties on cars serviced at any accredited workshop.

Not surprisingly the OEMs are trying to put the brakes on this because the status quo suits them just fine, as they’re able to foist high parts and labour prices onto a captive audience.

OEMs argue that as custodians of their respective brands, they need to take ownership of the safety and operation of their products. It’s a valid point, as a car that breaks down due to an inferior part or shoddy workmanship by a non-franchised dealer could reflect badly on the brand even if it’s not the brand’s fault.

But the problem lies with the often exhorbitant fees charged by OEMs when quality ‘non-genuine’ parts are available at much more affordable prices. This is why many, if not most, motorists switch from a franchised to an independent workshop the moment their car’s out of warranty.

In defense of the OEMs, it’s not unfair to invent a product and make money out of servicing and repairing it, but it doesn’t win much public sympathy if you overcharge customers that you are holding hostage under threat of cancelling their warranties.

Clearly both sides are looking out for their own interests rather than the consumer’s, lest you think of R2RSA as some kind of public-spirited knight in shining armour, but the outcome could have implications for your pocket. It’s an issue we’ll be watching with interest.

With most new cars being sold with service or maintenance plans these days, many consumers probably won’t understand what all this fuss is about. In many instances these plans are bundled into the price up front and you don’t have to worry about paying for services for a few years; you just make sure to sell the car once the plan expires.

But R2RSA has also taken up the cudgels against service/maintenance plans being built into the price, as so many of them are, arguing that consumers should have the choice of whether or not they want it.

Would this save you money? I randomly selected a car that offers an optional three-year/45 000km service plan, the VW Up, and compared the cost of the plan - R4 783 - against what it would cost you to pay for individual services yourself.

Without the service plan the first 15 000km service would cost you R1600, the 30 000km service R2400 and the 45 000km service R1600, coming to a total of R5 600.

Therefore you’d save R817 by buying the service plan up front, so it would make financial sense to do so with this particular car although it may be different with other vehicles.

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