Cars and cellphones. Those two consumer goods send the most consumer complaints my way.
Both are considered essential items to those who have them, so when they go wrong, consumers expect them to be fixed – fast.
Often that doesn’t happen. And while many have a spare cellphone, not many have access to a spare car.
When there’s a delay in repairing a car – usually as a result of problems sourcing a part – the customer is often told there are no “courtesy” cars available. Sorry.
If the customer is particularly assertive, or the dealership is particularly customer-friendly, a courtesy car is provided, but it’s almost always an inferior model to the customer’s own car – the one they are forced to continue to pay the finance instalment and insurance premium for while it sits at the dealership.
FAILURE TO COMMUNICATE
The other thing that usually characterises these complaints is that the dealership fails to keep in touch with the consumer as the weeks go by and the vehicle remains unrepaired, which, naturally, makes the customer even less tolerant of the situation.
The Brice family’s complaint about their 2010 Kia Sportage repair experience had all these elements, but it had an extra element that made it stand out – the main reason their vehicle has been sitting at Kia’s Roodepoort dealership since October 19 is that the wrong repair part for their faulty air conditioning unit was delivered. Twice.
Twice a part for a left-hand-drive vehicle, instead of a right-hand-one, was shipped from Korea and delivered to the dealership.
The dealership gave Justin Brice the use of a courtesy car – a Toyota Corolla – but with their family’s annual holiday coming up, they were naturally anxious to have the use of their own car.
The saga began in August when Brice took the car to Kia Roodepoort for its two-year service. It was then that the fault in the air con/heater unit was identified.
He was told that the required part would be ordered, and when it arrived, they could bring the vehicle back to have it fitted.
The call came in mid-October, and the car was booked in on October 19.
But Brice got a call later that day to say that he couldn’t fetch the car because the part was for a left-hand-drive vehicle. Naturally, he suggested that he collect the car anyway, and return it when the right part arrived. No can do, he was told, the vehicle had been stripped and putting it together again was a complicated process, so he must rather wait. He was not given an indication of how long that wait would be, Brice says.
“We assumed that it would only take a few days to get the part from Korea,” he says. The following week, the dealership provided Brice with the use of that Toyota.
“Six weeks came and went, during which time we had to call the dealership every time,” Brice’s wife, Michelle, told Consumer Watch.
“All they would tell us was that the part was being sourced,” she said. We kept phoning and asking why another solution couldn’t be found, but were never given a response by either the dealership or the customer care manager at Kia South Africa.
“We even suggested that they buy back our Kia and sell us a similar one. No response to that either.”
Finally, on November 30, after six weeks of being without the car, the Brices were told that the part had arrived at the dealership, and that the car would be ready for their collection by December 4 at the latest.
WRONG PART, AGAIN
When she didn’t get that call on that day, Brice called the dealership to find out what time the Sportage could be collected.
“That’s when I was told that again the part for a left-hand-drive vehicle had arrived, and that they were trying to sort it out,” she said.
“Nobody had bothered to phone and tell me this! I am so worried that it’s going to be another seven weeks before we get the car back.
“Meanwhile, two car instalments have been paid for a car that we cannot use and our family holiday is coming up. We don’t know where to turn or what to do. Your advice would be greatly appreciated.”
I went one better – I took up her case with Kia Motors SA.
Responding, the company’s after-sales manager, Antony Shiell, said the circumstances of this case were “unique”, and that the company was “indeed sorry” for the consequences.
Dealerships carry stock of all service and maintenance parts and other “fast-moving” parts, he said, and Kia’s distribution centre stocked all parts where more than one had been ordered in the past year.
“We are able to supply any dealership in South Africa with those parts within 24 hours,” he said.
But given that there had been no previous demand for the Brices’ Sportage, it had to be ordered from Korea and sent by “air freight”, arriving within five days.
“All parts are boxed by the supplier and carry a specific unique part number that identifies the part according to model, specification, repair group, left or right, etcetera,” Shiell said.
Kia Roodepoort ordered the right part, but with the attempt to install it, it was discovered that the wrong one was delivered, he said. Kia in Korea had made the mistake.
And they did it a second time.
The part was due to arrive at the dealership on Friday.
KIA MAKES THINGS RIGHT
“Although neither the dealership nor Kia Motors South Africa are at fault in incorrectly ordering the part, we must accept full responsibility for the inconvenience and anguish caused to Mr and Mrs Brice,” Shiell said.
Last weekend Kia made a Sportage available for the Brices’ use, and they have used it to visit Bloemfontein this long weekend, having cancelled their planned trip to Port Elizabeth because of the car problem.
“And as a gesture of goodwill we also reimburse them with an amount of R5 000 to cover the instalments paid while their vehicle was out of commission,” Shiell said.
The Brices appreciate the gesture, but point out that the amount does not cover the two instalments – in fact, one instalment is R5 400.
“Thanks so much for intervening,” Michelle Brice says. “We are very accommodating people, but after almost two months of not having our car, and not getting any real answers, we were desperate.
“To this day, no one has explained to us why they couldn’t just put the car together again so that we could use it while waiting for that part.
“If they’d just kept in touch with us, and tried to explain what was going on, we wouldn’t have become so irate.”
And there it is. Customer Service 101: Customers want to be kept informed.
If they are promised a call back, they expect to get it. -The Star