Right to Repair uncovers shocking OEM non-compliance

Results from a mystery shopper exercise conducted by Right to Repair South Africa (R2RSA), covering 99% of the automotive brands available in South Africa, have revealed some startling results with…

Results from a mystery shopper exercise conducted by Right to Repair South Africa (R2RSA), covering 99% of the automotive brands available in South Africa, have revealed some startling results with as many as 36% of OEMs showing total non-compliance to the Guidelines and 5% providing false information.

Kate Elliott, R2RSA Chief Executive Officer, says they are concerned by the false information that certain salespeople are giving to customers, especially considering that the salespeople are often a customer’s primary source of information when purchasing a car. Of all the OEM mystery customer visits, only 18.5% were in total compliance and 38% in partial compliance with the Guidelines.

The Right to Repair Guidelines for Competition in the SA Automotive Aftermarket opened up an excellent opportunity for customers to be able to service their car brand at a dealer or workshop of their choice without compromising their warranty and yet, almost three years later, the research still reveals a worrying trend of non- or only partial compliance.

One of the key concerns is the number of salespeople at dealerships who are seemingly deliberately confusing warranties and value-added products to induce customers into believing that they need to purchase a maintenance plan in order to protect themselves from serious financial outlays further down the road. “When you purchase a car,” explains Elliott, “understanding the warranty is crucial. Unlike service plans or maintenance plans, which are termed value-added products, a factory warranty comes free with your vehicle and protects you against mechanical and electrical faults, both big ticket and smaller items, providing coverage for repair or replacement costs. But beware of sales tactics that tie together the warranty with the value-added products as the key to ensuring that you are not left out of pocket down the line.” Warranties and value-added products are two entirely different things. You do not need to purchase a value-added product in order to benefit from the vehicle’s warranty. In terms of the Consumer Protection Act, all products sold in South Africa must carry at least a six-months warranty.

To clarify, here is a breakdown of the different terms:

Factory Warranty: covers manufacturer defects or failures for a period of time (at least six months) after purchase and is automatically included when you purchase the vehicle. Components most commonly covered under warranty include the engine, gearbox, differential, turbo assembly and more. These are essential and expensive components that are critical to the safety and smooth running of your vehicle. The servicing and maintenance of the vehicle are not covered under a warranty. Likewise, any damage owing to driver abuse, negligence or incorrect use could impact your warranty terms.

Value-added products:

Service plan: A service plan covers the cost of having your car serviced at set intervals, by an authorised service centre, in line with manufacturer recommendations. As with a warranty, service plans are generally restricted to a specified time and/or mileage.
Services often include the replacement of items like air, fuel and oil filters, brake fluid, oil and gearbox oil, spark plugs and coolant (depending on the manufacturer’s specifications). Purchasing a service plan also means that you are not impacted by price changes relating to labour or parts – you have agreed to the one-off (or monthly) rate and are therefore able to budget accordingly.

Maintenance Plan (also often referred to as a motor plan): A maintenance plan extends beyond routine servicing to include low-cost wear and tear items like brake pads and wiper blades. Compared to your warranty, which is free, maintenance plans cover relatively low-cost items and generally come at a premium.

Extended Warranty: An optional add-on product that covers defects or failures beyond the vehicle’s factory warranty, effectively extending the life of your warranty. Extended warranties are an insurance product, purchased to protect the consumer from paying for big ticket mechanical breakdowns beyond the factory warranty’s lifespan. Each extended warranty will vary in exactly what it covers and under what circumstances, so it is important to ensure that you understand the full terms of any product you intend purchasing.

The second misconception is that certain OEMs are telling customers that in order to keep their warranties intact, they need to use the dealer for servicing and can only use OEM parts. Elliott says this is in direct contradiction of the Guidelines. Service plans are great for those who are not interested in shopping around for the best deal and are all about convenience, but if you want to use an independent workshop or even an alternative OEM dealership and wish to choose which parts to use for your vehicle, then you must be granted the freedom to do so.

A further concern is that consumers are being wrongly told that independent workshops do not have access to the correct computers, training and tools to properly service and repair a car of a certain calibre and that ‘non original’ parts are unsafe.

“The reality is that there are many highly specialised independent workshops in the automotive aftermarket that are more than capable of servicing your car. They adhere to a strict code of conduct to protect motorists. Original Equipment Manufacturers also do not manufacture their own parts. Companies such as Monroe, Autozone, GUD etc manufacture the parts for the OEMs and sell the exact same parts under their own brand name to independent service providers.”

On the issue of independent workshops having access to the right kind of tools, training, software and technical information to service new, high-tech vehicles, Elliott says the Guidelines make it mandatory for the OEMs to provide independent workshops with the same technical information, training and tools as they provide to their dealers. “In fact, it is generally the same workforce that operates across the board with many mechanics moving between OEMs and independent workshops all the time.”

Elliott says these findings have been passed on to the Competition Commission for further investigation. Her advice to consumers is not to be duped by misinformation. “You should always look for a brand that you can trust, but know it is perfectly safe to look beyond the OEMs. Paying for an OEM logo, whether for its dealership services or parts only benefits the profit margin of the brand in question, it certainly does not make the part or service provided more reliable than its independent alternative. When in doubt, contact Right to Repair SA,” concludes Elliott.

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