Dealership ordered to fix car with rust after lengthy appeal process

Published May 17, 2024


Rust on a new vehicle became the subject of a legal wrangle before the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria.

Rust on the floor of a brand new vehicle was detected two months after the vehicle was purchased. The company, which sold the vehicle, refused to repair it at their own cost claiming the buyer spilled pool acid in the area which caused it to rust.

Owner of the vehicle, Robert Williams, relied on the Consumer Protection Act in his bid to have the vehicle fixed.

The Act establishes a broad and comprehensive scope for consumer protection. Its purview includes developing and maintaining a consumer market in such a way as to ensure fairness, accessibility, effectiveness, sustainability and responsibility for the benefit of consumers.

The Lazarus Motor Company turned to court to appeal an order issued by the National Consumer Tribunal in which the company was ordered to fix the vehicle.

Williams told the court that in November 2017, he bought a new Ford Everest from the motor company.

About two months later, he saw corrosion on the bolts of the vehicle's rear loading compartment under the carpet cover. He informed the company and was asked to bring the vehicle in for evaluation which he did on the same day.

The company subsequently denied any liability on the basis that the rust was a result of a spillage of pool acid. Williams sent pictures as proof of further rusting and corrosion on other vehicle parts, including the undercarriage.

He was requested to bring back the vehicle to the dealership so that a further investigation and evaluation could be done by a representative from Ford South Africa.

The claim was subsequently rejected by Ford South Africa after Williams refused an offer that they repair the vehicle on condition he paid for the costs of repair whilst they supplied the labour. His referral of the matter to the Motor Ombudsman did not yield any result due to the dealership not co-operating with the Ombudsman’s investigation.

The National Consumer Tribunal eventually ruled in his favour that the vehicle had to be repaired.

But on appeal the dealership argued that the vehicle was not defective, as Williams had bought it primarily for transportation from point A to point B. Despite the rust, the car could nevertheless transport him and it has done so for 170 000 kilometres, the court was told.

The dealership said Williams even agreed that the vehicle was in good working order and of good quality and that he was able to drive it around without any problem.

Williams said while the car was in a good operating condition as he frequently serviced it, it had a defect which he wanted fixed. He said the rust had caused failure of the left rear shock and covered the undercarriage of the vehicle.

Judge Nomsa Khumalo, in a concurring judgment, said it was clear that the rust has spread extensively throughout the vehicle, affecting the metals. Although the vehicle could still be used to get Williams where he wanted to be, it was not meant to have rusting or corrosion on any of its parts as a new vehicle.

“As a result, due to the existence of the rust one can say that the vehicle is less acceptable and unsafe than people generally would reasonably be entitled to expect from the goods of that type, a brand new car. This indicates a defect in the vehicle,” she said.

While the dealership maintained that the rust was caused by acid and there was no fault regarding the manufacturing process of the vehicle, the judge said there was no evidence that acid was in fact spilled in the car.

An expert testifying for the dealership said he has never encountered this problem or heard of a complaint regarding rust on a manufactured car. But the judge said this does not imply that it will never occur.

The dealership also argued that Williams was happy when he bought the car and did not mention any rust at the time. Judge Khumalo said it was important to remember that he was not an expert in cars or the manufacturing process; as such, he could not have known, in the event that he was a fair buyer, where and how to check for defects when he bought the car.

“This fault is clearly a latent defect, the rust was hidden under the carpets, it was not visible or apparent upon inspection of the vehicle,” she said.

The judge turned down the appeal and ruled that in line with the Consumer Protection Act, the dealership had to fix the rust.

Pretoria News

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