Sunday, 23 September 2018

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Can I take action?

I need advice. I bought a car and it looks like the dealer tampered with the mileage of the car. Also he was once told about the car engine problems but sold the car without servicing it. By luck I took the car to the same garage he once took it to only to be told that he knew about the problems prior to selling it. Can I take him to task for selling a car with mechanical faults without disclosing to the consumer?

You most certainly can. But first some background. When you buy a second-hand car you’ll often see that the agreement or the invoice or receipt will include the word “voetstoots” or sometimes “sold as is” or “sold as seen”. What that means is that the dealer makes no particular claims about the state of the vehicle. They’re not making any promises and it’s up to you and me, the buyers, to make sure that the vehicle is in a condition we’re prepared to pay for.

That’s why you should always inspect a second-hand vehicle thoroughly before buying it. If, like me, you’re not an expert mechanic then you really must find one who’ll accompany you. If you don’t know one, maybe approach the mechanic who serviced your last car and offer him or her a small inducement to assist you after work. Trust their judgment if you don’t trust your own.

However, the “voetstoots” clause isn’t absolute. For instance, a car dealer can’t use it to cover up the fact that they’re lying to you. If you ask a question about the state of the vehicle you’re thinking of buying the dealer is required to tell you the truth. That’s another reason why you should take an expert mechanic with you. They’ll know which question to ask. I would always ask the dealer if they’re prepared to state in writing the condition of the vehicle before they sell it. If they refuse, you’re entitled to ask yourself what they’re hiding.

In your case I think the first thing you should do is quite simple. Go to the Police and lay a charge against the dealer of “Obtaining by false pretence”, as forbidden by Section 308 of the Penal Code. If that doesn’t have the desired effect, try the Consumer Protection Unit in the Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry. We’ll also get in touch with the dealer and explain to him the error of his ways.

Is it right to force me to pay?

I bought a television on hire purchase. I later notified them that I am no longer working and made a payment plan on how I am going to clear my arrears. I was then called by a debt collector who wanted to me to pay the full amount just once off. My total arrears are P3100 and they expect me to pay the whole amount all at once. At the moment I can only manage to pay P1000. I tried explaining to the debt collector and all she wants is to repossess the television. I want to know if it is right to force the customer to pay the full amount yet I’m making an effort to clear the arrears.

No, I don’t think it’s right. However, that depends if the payment plan was agreed by both you and the store and if, more importantly, you’d kept to the agreement. If the agreement you refer to actually existed and you did honour it, then the store needs to stick to it as well. However, if it didn’t exist then there’s nothing for them to stick to. If it existed and you failed to keep up the payments you agreed, then the store is entitled to set debt collectors on you to recover the money you owe them.

Most importantly, I think you should resist every effort they make to repossess the TV. Don’t think that by giving up the TV the debt will disappear, it won’t. Even if they take the TV away all they’ll do is auction it for a fraction its value and deduct that amount from the balance you owe them. You’ll still owe them a large amount of money and you won’t have a TV to watch.

Whatever the situation might be, I suggest that you contact the store and ask them to confirm what their intentions might be. And then get whatever is agreed in writing. Remember that verbal agreements aren’t worth a thing when you’re dealing with an organisation that can afford attorneys and debt collectors.

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