Q&A: What to do when a dealer does unauthorised work on your car
Why the motor industry ombud is not your best option in your dispute with motor vehicle franchise
Q: A purportedly reputable motor vehicle franchise has done unauthorised work to my car. They cannot explain, or simply refuse to explain, why the work was necessary and now refuse to release my car if I don’t pay an exorbitant invoice. Other than the motor industry ombud, is there anything else I can do? — Pierre Reineck, Cape Town
A: Lauren Lewis, an associate at Trudie Broekmann Attorneys, responds:
I don’t recommend approaching the motor industry ombud of SA (Miosa) because we receive many complaints about them; some of their rulings we’ve seen are wrong in law; and according to Miosa’s own statistics, they found in the supplier’s favour in 60% of cases, despite the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) being heavily weighted in favour of the consumer.
In terms of section 15 of the CPA, a service provider must provide you with an estimate and you must pre-authorise the work. Section 21 of the CPA is clear that you are under no obligation to pay for unsolicited or unauthorised services.
Instead of approaching the ombud, you can go to court, using a vindicatory action to get your car back. Given the facts of this matter, it is likely that the franchise will defend the action on a non-payment argument. You can pre-empt this defence by referring to sections 15 and 21 in your summons. The court route will however set you back at least R30,000 in legal fees. It will cost you less if the dealership releases your car on receiving the summons.
A cheaper option is to lay theft charges against the franchise. I suggest you alert the franchise to sections 15 and 21 of the CPA and then threaten to lay the charge or bring a vindicatory action if you don't get your car back immediately.
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