Council cautions consumers on vehicle purchase

16/10/2008 15:00

The Consumer Council of Fiji shares similar concerns with that of the Fiji Motor Traders Association (FMTA) on the importation of unfamiliar brands or make of motor vehicles in Fiji. The Council is concerned because consumers are at the losing end when they purchase unfamiliar brand of vehicles that usually do not come with back-up services, spare parts are not easily made available and mechanics often do not possess the technical or mechanical knowledge to diagnose or fix problems related to unfamiliar vehicle brands.

The Council is concerned that some vehicles that are imported into the country do not have the provision of necessary back up service. The increase in the number of complaints lodged with the Council by distressed owners of such vehicles that have no back up services is becoming a huge problem, burdening the owners with unnecessary expenses. Most complaints received at the Council pertain to LPG vehicles whereby its owners are denied back up service from the car dealer where the vehicle was bought. For example, one complainant had bought his LPG vehicle, which is being used as a taxi from Automart car dealer in Suva. He was only able to operate his taxi for 9 months after purchase when its regulator defaulted. The complainant returned to seek back up service from the Company but there was no such service being provided. Hence, he has been running around for some two months now trying to locate a company that repairs LPG vehicle services. He sought the assistance of independent mechanics who were unable to diagnose the problem with his vehicle. The Council was able to gather from its enquiry that only one company provides such back up service for LPG vehicles but it is not a car dealer. As such, LPG vehicle owners do not have any choice of the company or the price to pay to have their vehicles repaired.

An additional concern of the Council is that some car dealers state that they arrange for vehicle financing. Through consumer complaints, the Council has learnt that consumers often  are misled into signing bank documents without having the terms and conditions properly explained about taking out a loan, the amount of interest to be charged, the penalty for defaulting in payments etc. In the above-mentioned case, the complainant is unwary of the amount of loan the car dealer sought on his behalf. Arranging for finance on behalf of a consumer means that a car dealer is able to sell a vehicle and profit at the expense of gullible consumers who end up with a huge debt to pay. In such cases, consumers are unable to shop for the bank that offers a better interest rate and instead end up paying loans that the car dealer arranges.

The Council has expressed its concerns in the past regarding some car dealers ripping off consumers by selling vehicles of inferior quality that are disguised with a few cosmetic changes such as spray painting and altering the mileage reading so that it shows a lower figure than has actually been covered. The number of used car dealers has undoubtedly increased around the country, and so has the number of consumer complaints pertaining to unscrupulous purchase deals registered with the Council. In addressing consumer complaints, the Council is concerned about the quality and safety of the imported second-hand vehicles. The nature of these complaints include the breakdown of vehicles soon after it’s purchase, warranty provision of vehicle parts that is not properly communicated to the buyer, improper and cheap mechanical work, and the unavailability of certain spare parts. Consumers are constantly being ripped off and misinformed about the vehicle they purchase. Consumers have also complained of vehicle parts being changed during the deal without the buyer’s knowledge.

JEVIC measure was introduced because some dealers did not give consumers a fair deal. However, consumers continue to be cheated and misled in other issues of vehicle purchase. Consumers are therefore strongly advised to seek all necessary information about the vehicle they intend to purchase including the brand, make, financing, back up service, deposit to be paid, warranty cover and so forth. Consumers should always deal with a reputable dealer and not pay any money until they are certain of the car dealer’s ethical practices. Consumers should contact the Consumer Council for necessary advice before approaching a car dealer for vehicle purchase.