Image with Salesman used

Although the Consumer Protection Act has been around since April 2011, confusion still reigns about aspects of it.

Some consumers, for instance, believe the CPA gives them the blanket right to return goods for a refund as long as they do so in a cooling-off period. This isn’t true however, except in the case of deals concluded through direct marketing.

What’s true is that the Act protects the customer against rip-offs when dealing with unscrupulous dealers and suppliers. There are a few important laws drivers should be aware of:

If you bought a product due to direct marketing (in other words a transaction that wasn’t initiated by you), there is a cool-off period of five business days in which you can return it. This is to counteract the high-pressure hard-sell, an environment in which many consumers feel overwhelmed and intimidated into agreeing to buy something they either don’t really want or can’t afford, or both.

In the case of goods bought in the traditional way, you have the right to demand a refund if your purchase proves to be defective in some way within six months - as long as you haven’t altered the product yourself.

But with vehicles this isn’t as straightforward as it seems.

South Africa’s Motor Industry Ombudsman, Johan van Vreden says cars are made up of many parts. If an alternator fails in your new car for instance, it makes more sense to replace the alternator instead of the whole car.

“The CPA is a very well written piece of legislation, and also protects the dealer from trivial complaints,” says Van Vreden.

Product bundling is banned, so you won’t be forced to buy unwanted accessories just because a dealer wants to get rid of slow-moving stock. This is unless a motor company can show that the convenience to the consumer outweighs the bundling or there is an economic benefit to the consumer, such as with the service and maintenance plans that are built into the price of many vehicles today. In theory, you could try dig in your heels and refuse to take the service or maintenance contract, but with the peace of mind it offers, why would you want to?

Buyer-seller contracts have to be in plain and understandable language, without all the Latin and legal-speak.

The fact that grey or parallel imports aren’t supported by the official importer/distributor must now be clearly communicated by signage on the shop floor. It’s much like putting a “smoking is hazardous” sticker on a cigarette pack.

Manufacturers will now be forced to notify customers of a recall. But recall doesn’t mean that a whole car has to be replaced because of, for instance, a faulty washer. A big change is that suppliers are liable for damage caused by unsafe or defective vehicles or parts whether or not the harm resulted from their negligence.

As before, you will have redress to higher authorities if you have a complaint that hasn’t been resolved to your satisfaction by the motor company.

But some of those authorities now have a lot more authority.

The Motor Industry Ombudsman will be given more teeth by the CPA once the SA Automotive Industry Code of Conduct is implemented. The Code, which is based on the CPA, has been published for public comment.

Once this Code is accredited by the minister of trade and industry, parties will be legally bound to abide by MIO rulings (at the moment this is voluntary).

This all gives motor dealers much more incentive to resolve customer complaints promptly, rather than letting them escalate to the Ombudsman or other dispute-resolving bodies such as the National Consumer Commission or Consumer Tribunal.

What it boils down to is that motor companies who sell junk or have poor customer service will be hurt by the CPA, but companies that follow sound business principles and standards, offer quality products and maintain good customer relations should welcome the new legislation. -Star Motoring

The MIO can be contacted on telephone number 086-116-4672.