Motor vehicle repair bills can be a shock to the system, but they don’t have to be if you do your homework, writes Mike Monk.
‘Repairing a car can be a costly exercise so it’s always helpful to know what you are in for before the repair work begins,’ says Pieter Niemand, Director of the Motor Industry Workshop Association (MIWA), a constituent association of the Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI). ‘Unfortunately, vehicle owners don’t always understand the difference between an estimate and a quote, which can lead to misunderstandings between a mechanic and the owner’.
Basically, the difference between the two is as follows. An estimate gives the possible cost when unknown factors are evident, whereas a quote determines the exact monetary cost, explains Niemand. ‘It’s important to realise that in some cases it is very difficult, or near impossible, for a mechanic to look at a vehicle and know exactly what the problem is, how much it will cost to repair, and how long the process will take.’ Owners need to provide sufficient details of the vehicle, (eg. make, model, year) to ensure the repairer refers to relevant information, then be specific as to what repair is needed and for what purpose. Explanations provided by consumers often assist greatly to determine the actual cause of problem.
For example, when a non-starting vehicle is towed into a workshop and the owner needs to get the vehicle running again, an estimate will be used when it is not known what might be damaged inside an engine, gearbox etc. In this case, a strip and quote’ estimate should be given, which will allow the mechanic time and scope to ascertain any hidden or latent defects before an official quote is drawn up.’ Note that information provided should always be written down.
While these concepts may appear simple, Niemand says misunderstandings can result in heated arguments. ‘Once a quotation is given, no matter what may transpire thereafter, the consumer has every right to hold the mechanic to the quoted amount. Any additional work remotely related to the repair will be accepted as being part and parcel of the quotation. It’s therefore very important that from inception, details of the quote are clear and time is taken to explain the quote in detail, making note of any ‘might happen’ scenario so that the owner is well aware of the details,’ he says.
Niemand believes it is essential to get all parties to sign the quote ahead of any repair work being done. ‘If any additional work is required, the mechanic should contact the owner, make a note of the time of contact and get a corroborating signature from a member of staff in the case of a telephonic conversation.’
What about the Consumer Protection Act (CPA)? How does it protect both parties? Section 15 of the CPA relates to ‘pre-authorisation’. Here, the retailer has to communicate its findings with the consumer in a form of a quotation/estimate explaining and basically summarising the way forward in terms of what was found to be faulty, ie the reason for the breakdown and its recommendation of what the best approach would be to address/resolve the matter. This would include a rand value of the repair. Pre-authorisation needs to be obtained from the consumer before any repair work may proceed. In a case where repairs were conducted without authorisation, the consumer does have valid grounds to question the repair, which can then be further investigated and mediated upon.
In the event of a dispute with one of its members, the RMI facilitates an Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR) process as prescribed by the CPA and in line with the Motor Industry Code of Good Practice. In terms of the CPA, the RMI is the ADR centre and from its national foot print in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban, Cape Town, Bloemfontein and Port Elizabeth, provides a dedicated consumer complaint resolution service. The ADR process is a non-legal platform that aims to best resolve the matter, failing which parties are able to approach the Motor Industry Ombudsman (MIO) or an attorney at law. The intention is, however, to resolve as many complaints as possible, with the focus being to assist all the stakeholders in the industry, including the MIO. It is significant to note that the process facilitated by the RMI has a 94% success ratio, thus providing a credible industry solution to the RMI member base and the public alike, without having to partake in costly litigation.
The message to owners is clear. ‘Don’t be afraid to ask questions regarding an estimate or quote, and if you are not satisfied, don’t be afraid to look for another, more reputable workshop that is clear on the costs involved,’ advises Niemand. MIWA has 2 500 accredited members nationwide and all observe the RMI’s Code of Conduct, which constitutes an undertaking to uphold only the highest standards of business ethics and practice, and to abide by the discipline and authority of the RMI as envisaged in terms of the code.
‘Don’t be pressured into paying before you are satisfied, and remember that a second opinion is always a good idea before any repair work begins,’ Niemand concludes.