Pretoria - Ticking and hissing noises inside the car and a Bluetooth system which does not perform optimally when the vehicle travelled faster than 70km/h are not defects enough to render the vehicle dysfunctional.
This is according to five Supreme Court of Appeal justices after a Pretoria woman demanded a refund for her (then) new Renault Kwid she had bought, as it had too many problems.
The Zambezi Road in Pretoria North Autofit Centre where Abigail Wentzel bought her dream car in December 2017 refused to refund her for the vehicle. It said it did fix the problems she had complained about, and besides, she’d been driving the car all along.
But the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, earlier ruled the centre and Renault SA had to refund Wentzel the R256 965 she had paid for the car after financing.
At the time the judge remarked: “The courts must take a robust approach towards economic giants who flex their financial muscle to bully unsuspecting consumers to accept flawed goods, and raise all sorts of spurious defences and denials.”
But Wentzel’s now nearly three-year-old Renault Kwid make it all the way to the Supreme Court in Bloemfontein. Renault SA and the car dealership successfully appealed against the high court judgment. Their main argument was that every time Wentzel complained that something was wrong with the car, they had fixed it.
Wentzel, from Kilner Park, said the salesman assured her it was perfect for her purpose. But, she said, she had trouble with the car almost from the start as it rattled so badly that the roof rack was coming loose and had to be stuck on with super glue. “When I first started the new vehicle on the showroom floor, there was a ticking or rattling sound,” she said. However, the salesman said it was normal and simply the car systems starting up.
Four days later she called to say the noise was worse. “The new vehicle’s hazard lights also started flashing when it was started.”
Soon the air conditioner didn’t produce cold air and the Bluetooth did not function properly. Wentzel said despite numerous attempts by Renault to repair the vehicle, the defects remained unresolved. The dealership denied that the problems were so bad and said it fixed what needed to be fixed.
Renault also submitted that Wentzel’s application to the high court was premature, because she had not exhausted her remedies in terms of the other provisions of the Consumer Act.
The parties offered mutually destructive factual versions. On Wentzel’s version, the defects were never resolved by Renault. Renault argued that all four Wentzel’s complaints were resolved and no further complaints were brought to its attention.
“Not every small fault is a defect as defined. It must either render the goods less acceptable than people generally would be reasonably entitled to expect, or it must render the goods less useful, practicable or safe for the purpose for which they were purchased.
“No evidence was led by either side to inform the court of what purchasers of entry-level motor vehicles are reasonably entitled to expect. Is every rattle or unfamiliar noise a defect in terms of the statute?
“A defective module may be readily replaced … Does that render the vehicle defective so as to entitle the purchaser to return it and demand repayment of the purchase price? Clearly not,” the court concluded.