How to fight a carmaker (and win)

If your car has just gone poopy in its trousers, prematurely, well before automotive dementia is supposed to set in … here’s what you do

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 It's unlikely the Beastie Boys were aware they would become the poster boys for consumer advocacy in middle age

It's unlikely the Beastie Boys were aware they would become the poster boys for consumer advocacy in middle age

Fight for your right

In the immortal words of renowned 1980s social philosophers, the Beastie Boys

"Your pop caught you smoking, and he said, no way! That hypocrite smokes two packs a day.
"Man, living at home is such a drag. Now your mom threw away your best porno mag (bust it!) You gotta fight for your right..."

Ain’t that the truth?

THE PROBLEM

My inbox fills up with missives from people whose cars are on the brink of death, with excessive cash the only cure. Unfortunately, most of these people are out of their depth - they don't know basic consumer law and they're effectively taking a toothpick to a knife fight in the service department. Here's the latest one:

 
"Back in 2011, I bought a new Holden Cruze CD. It’s had many problems. I always service the car on time and keep it in a lockup garage. As a second car for my family, it has been used for only 49,000km. Just before Christmas the transmission died nd I’ve been quoted around $6000 to replace it."
 

So far I’m feeling empathy but not surprise - that Cruze is one of the worst shitheaps on ‘Strayan roads - total shitbox and typical Holden. 

 
"I went to the dealer where I bought the car from and spoke with the general manager (who was the salesman who sold me the car). He advised me to submit a complaint to Holden VIC as he cannot do anything before the head office decides first. I am just about to do that. What can you, as a professional in this area, advise me to say to support my claim?"
 

FIrstly let me say that I’m sorry to hear your life has become so desperate that I appear to be the remaining professional voice in the wilderness of automotive customer screwing-over. I’m also sorry you bought that shitbox. Nobody deserves that.

THE BASICS: YOUR RIGHTS AND REASONABLE DURABILITY

 Part of any cogent consumer risk management plan is to avoid like the plague any vehicles with a reputation for barking

Part of any cogent consumer risk management plan is to avoid like the plague any vehicles with a reputation for barking

It is illegal for a dealer to brush you off onto the manufacturer. They are specifically not allowed to fob you off in this way. Holden should take urgent action to educate its arsehole dealer network, in my view. Especially as Holden is under the ACCC’s microscope following its own illegal consumer conduct.

There is a legislated consumer guarantee for Reasonable Durability under Australian Consumer Law. This means that, regardless of the warranty status, goods and services are required to meet the durability expectations of a reasonable consumer.

I’m no lawyer but I am certain a reasonable person would expect a properly maintained car to last more than 49,000 kilometres. So it seems to me there are excellent grounds for a successful claim here.

What you do is: You start with a friendly approach. ‘Hey, this has just happened. Can you help me?’

The minute you feel brushed off - go to Defcon Four. To wit:

MAKING A COMPLAINT (EFFECTIVELY)

 Examine how you feel ... and say the exact opposite - that's the plan. Oh, and leave the caps lock key off

Examine how you feel ... and say the exact opposite - that's the plan. Oh, and leave the caps lock key off

You go to the ACCC’s website and you find their advice on writing a complaint letter. Just Google ‘ACCC’ and ‘write a complaint letter’. Alternatively, click here >> 

The ACCC says there are five things you should put in a complaint letter >>.

One:

Describe the problem and you preferred outcome. I prefer to play ‘thinks & says’ on this: 
Thinks: Dear arse-wipes, it’s such a shitbox; just fix it. Says: The transmission in my well maintained Holden Cruze with fewer than 50,000 kilometres on the clock has failed prematurely and unreasonably early, and I respectfully request that you repair it for free.

Two:

Specify the key dates - like when you bought it and when the problem occurred.

Three:

 Grandma was quite ok - then she heard the Beastie Boys and decided they should repair her Barina for free after all

Grandma was quite ok - then she heard the Beastie Boys and decided they should repair her Barina for free after all

Tell them what action you’ve taken to rectify the problem, and what you are going to do if they don’t help you. Thinks: How about I march in with a flamethrower and shove it so far up your bony arse that not even the team from CSI: Miami will be able to extract a viable DNA sample from the charred remnants of your black heart. Says: In the unfortunate event that the issue cannot be resolved amicably, I will have no alternative but to instruct my lawyer to proceed with a claim under Australian Consumer Law, and also make a formal complaint to the ACCC.

Four:

Put a timeframe on the response you require. Two weeks is entirely reasonable.

Five:

Attach relevant documentation - like the proof of purchase and the service history. Realistically, however, that’s all linked to the VIN code in the case of the car, and the manufacturer has all that on their database. Remember to retain the originals of everything - only ever send copies.

The ACCC has an excellent complaint letter example >> and also a damn fine complaint letter generation tool >> That’s your ‘Strayan tax dollars at work. So you might as well use those 'free' resources (seeing as you've already paid for them.

IF THAT DOESN'T WORK

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You have to remember that you are not begging for assistance. The carmaker - those mother-lovers at Holden in this case - don’t get to decide yay or nay here. You’re telling them how it’s going to be. They get to decide whether they’re going to make it easy or hard - but they are absolutely not above the law.

If they knock you back, you need to invest a couple of hundred dollars and sit in front of a lawyer for half an hour. Some local lawyer who understands consumer law - it doesn’t need to be Denny Crane. You don’t need Denny Crane.

Thirty minutes with a decent local solicitor is all you need to decide A) if your case is a shot duck. And by ‘shot duck’ I mean if you have driven the car 200,000 kilometres and never once had it serviced, or if you parked it in the Pacific Ocean, or one of its estuaries, and this in some way contributed to the defect.

(That’s almost certain to be an insurmountable obstacle on the road to getting this fixed for free.)

B) - Your solicitor can also advise how best to proceed, hopefully without going to Defcon One. Hopefully even without applying KY liberally to the business end of that flamethrower - no matter how morally justified or uplifting that seems in the moment.

CONCLUSION

That’s how you fight. Effectively. I get so many desperate pleas on this. From people at their wit’s end. Every week. A disgraceful indictment. A pall on the industry. And yet some companies do a great job supporting their customers. It’s a few bad eggs bringing the whole team down. I’m looking at you - Holden, Ford, Volkswagen, Jeep and Mercedes-Benz. And isn’t that always the way?

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