Motor dealerships routinely inflate the price of a vehicle by charging for such things as cleaning, 'delivery' and engine services.  Picture:  Moeletsi Mabe
Motor dealerships routinely inflate the price of a vehicle by charging for such things as cleaning, 'delivery' and engine services. Picture: Moeletsi Mabe

"I've just got my lovely new car from the dealership, complete with flowers, champagne and a red ribbon," an attorney posted on Facebook last month.

She was shocked to learn, though, that she had paid for these extras - handsomely - as they were built into the "on the road" fee charged as part of her finance deal.

The paperwork confirmed she had paid about R4800 to get her second-hand VW Polo "showroom and road ready", including licensing and registration and half a tank of petrol. "The paperwork was e-mailed to me and I didn't go through it, much less contest any of the charges," she said.

Many who buy new cars share her experience. Dealerships routinely add an "on the road" or "service and delivery" fee of about R5000 to car deals, and most consumers pay it without question - plus interest on these extra charges if the vehicle is financed.

When Mark Taschner bought his 2015 Honda Jazz last month he paid a R4548 "service and delivery fee", the salesman telling him it was a "fixed admin-type fee".

Taschner said: "I wasn't given any breakdown, and I paid a licensing fee separately."

Clint Tomlinson's mother, Jeanette, spotted a R4990 charge on his contract four months after he had bought a 2008 Volvo S40 from MMA Cars in New Germany, KwaZulu-Natal.

"The entry was described as 'service, delivery and fuelling'. The car had less than R100 worth of fuel in it when I fetched it; it was not delivered to me and the car had been serviced six months earlier, not pre-sale."

When Jeanette queried the charge with the dealership's finance and insurance manager, she was told it was an "on the road" charge covering a "mini valet" and roadworthy test.

"When I asked her for the roadworthy certificate, she got defensive, and to date I haven't seen it," she said.

Clint said: "Based on the evidence, all I actually got for that R4990 was a valet, and a 'mini' one at that. The licensing and registration costs were charged separately."

In a subsequent e-mail, MMA Cars dealer principal Mike McClelland told Clint the R4990 fee covered "preparation of vehicle, certificate of roadworthiness, valet and related documentation".

Money asked McClelland when the vehicle underwent that roadworthy test, and whether the documentation was provided.

McClelland said clients were "advised" of all fees, and suggested contacting the Motor Industry Ombudsman for further information.

Ombudsman Johan van Vreden said it was "not acceptable" for dealers to add charges that were not justified, but consumers had a responsibility to interrogate such charges before they signed a deal.

"By taking delivery of the vehicle, it is accepted that the consumer is satisfied with the arrangement," he said.

Van Vreden undertook to mention the importance of querying and negotiating the "on the road" fee in his office's consumer education initiatives.

Retail Motor Industry Organisation company secretary Gary McCraw said all costs should be clearly explained "so that you can make an informed decision before committing to the purchase of the vehicle".

He added: "The customer has an equal responsibility to ensure that they fully understand what they are purchasing, the costs relating to the purchase and the content of the contracts they are signing for.

"If at any stage the customer feels unsure they should take the time to obtain the correct information and if necessary delay the purchase decision until they are completely sure and satisfied that their concerns have been addressed."

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