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Understanding your basic consumer rights as a motorist is important, says Jakkie Olivier, the chief executive of the Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI).

“As an organisation that champions the rights of motorists and service providers in the motor industry, we often come across cases where there is little to no understanding of the basic rights as captured in the Consumer Protection Act (CPA). This leaves parties open to possible exploitation,” he says.

“There are several sections with in the act that are particularly pertinent to the buying, maintenance and repairs of vehicles. What’s important to take note of is that these sections need to be read within the context of the act as a whole to ensure there are no misinterpretations. We always advise motorists and service providers to rely on the counsel of legal experts or knowledgeable laymen in the matter,” says Olivier.

Section 15 of the act deals with pre-authorisation on service, maintenance and repair work. According to this section, a retailer may not charge for a service, maintenance or repairs on a vehicle without the authorisation of the consumer.

If the retailer has proceeded without authorisation and rendered any service on a vehicle, it has acted outside of prescribed guidelines and the consumer has the right to report the retailer for dispute resolution.

In section 15, the consumer has three options relating to the cost of a job: an estimate, a cut-off maximum price or carte blanche to get the job done. The consumer needs to elect one of these three options upfront.

“Be aware that an estimate is determining the possible cost when unknown factors are evident, probably due to a hidden or unseen environment such as the internal components of an engine etc.

“Although it is not a requirement of the CPA, we believe it is important that an estimate should be followed by a quote - a final document determining the cost to the car owner,” says Olivier.

A quote or estimate should be in writing. However, in certain circumstances, verbal authorisation will also be acceptable.

In some cases, it is difficult, or nearly impossible, for a service provider to look at a vehicle and know exactly what the problem is, how much it will cost to repair, and how long the process will take. In this case, a strip-and-quote estimate would be given, which will allow the provider time and scope to ascertain any hidden or latent defects before an official quote is drawn up.

Once a quotation is given, no matter what may transpire thereafter, the consumer has every right to hold the service provider to the quoted amount for the quoted work.

The quote should include the cost of rebuilding the unit after it has been stripped.

Where the consumer has authorised a strip-and-quote estimate and subsequently declines the quote, the consumer is not entitled to receive the vehicle back in the same condition as it was before the disassembly and quoting for repairs, unless this was pre-quoted on. In such cases, the consumer will be liable for the payment of restoration fee.

Section 41 supports section 15 in that it stipulates that consumers have the right to accurate information - in other words, no false, misleading or deceptive information, which means that a retailer must supply accurate and correct information during a transaction. This applies to providing an estimate, quote or selling a product.

If you have received incorrect and inaccurate information during a transaction, you have the right to report the matter to the relevant authorities for intervention and investigation.

The RMI has a dispute resolution process in place to assist customers that may be dissatisfied with the services rendered by its members.

“It’s for this very reason that it’s important to use an RMI-accredited repairer. That way you can be assured that there will be repercussions for services not rendered adequately,” says Olivier.

He says that if you are dissatisfied with the job done, your first step should be to contact the RMI directly.

“Give us a call. Register your dispute, and, once we have all the information, we will engage with the RMI member in order to find a resolution. We go through a process of facilitation where discussions are held between all parties,” he says. 

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