With around 500 new cases to study every month, the Motor Industry Ombudsman of South Africa has its work cut out. But how does it work, and who is the man behind it?
January 17 2015 was a a big day for the Motor Industry Ombudsman of South Africa (MIOSA). That's the day it was accredited as a dispute resolution agency and became a custodian of the SA Automotive Code of Conduct (ACT) which is part of the Consumer Protection Act.
In short, if a consumer feels done down by a motor manufacturer, or a dealership which sold them a car or serviced it, MIOSA is the government sanctioned body they complain to. And currently you can expect to wait six to eight weeks for the office to make a finding.
Last year 60% of cases went the way of the industry, and 40% in favour of the consumer. And given that MIOSA is funded not by government, but by the motor industry, inevitably some car owners on the wrong side of that 40% have accused MIOSA of being "in the pocket of the motor industry".
So I'll kick off my Q&A with Motor Industry Ombud Johan van Vreden there.
Q: What do you say to the frequent allegation that your office "is in the pocket of the motor industry"?
JvV: The MIOSA is not a consumer council that automatically sides with the consumer. In essence it represents both industry and the consumer. It acts as a referee between the industry and the consumer and among industry participants. It utilises good engineering practice, good customer care practice, good legal practice, and fairness as a basis in its deliberations.
Add to this the fact that the MIOSA is an government accredited institution, (so) we are protected by law to enable us to carry out our function without fear or favour.
Q: Why are the manufacturers/dealers not named in the case studies published in your annual reports?
JvV: Unless a service provider is non-compliant with the Consumer Protection Act No 68 of 2008 (Act) or the South African Automotive Industry Code of Conduct, we will not name any manufacturers/dealers/service providers in our case studies.
Q: What percentage of "operators" - importers, distributors, manufacturers, retailers, franchisors, franchisees; suppliers etc - are now signed up with MIOSA?
JvV: The MIOSA has 22 000 registered companies of which 6 000 have accepted the Code and the MIOSA's legal standing. As you will understand, total compliance will not happen overnight. However, we now have inspectors in the field and are advertising and attending road shows to speed up the process. The MIOSA is currently underway with legal proceedings against the other 16 000 companies and will also be conducting a "name and shame" campaign.
Q: Your recently released 2015 annual report reveals that engine-related complaints on used cars take up most of your complaints handling team's time. In my experience, many used car dealerships conduct business as if the CPA does not exist. Do you agree?
JvV: No, we don't agree. The MIOSA has found that at least 90% of service providers are adhering to the ACT. There are however a few chance takers.
Q: Most consumers who have a car, new or used, malfunction on them within the first few months, want a refund or at least a replacement. In what percentage of cases, in your experience, is either justified in terms of MIOSA's interpretation of the CPA, rather than a repair?
JvV: It depends, if a vehicle can be repaired we don't give refund or replacement as this may result in usage costs to the consumer. In terms of a new vehicle the vehicle must be repaired back to manufacturer standards. In terms of a used vehicle the vehicle must be repaired back to good working order.
Q: Under what sort of circumstances would your office support a take-back (at no cost to the consumer, except for usage) of a problematic vehicle?
JvV: Each case is unique in its own merit. I cannot comment on this as there are too many possibilities and too many factors which are calculated when making a ruling.
Q: What advice to you have for owners of cars which develop mechanical problems very shortly after purchase?
JvV: Immediately take the vehicle back to the selling dealer. Do not take it to another service provider to repair.
Q: What's the pettiest reason a car owner has advanced to your office as justification for a new car/refund?
JvV: The navigation system was not picking up some of the roads.
Q: What's the most serious case - in terms of consumer injustice - that your office has handled in the past year?
JvV: This one is a difficult one. Every single case that is reported to my office can result in a consumer injustice being perpetrated by a service provider. As such each case is dealt on its own merit and with the same level of seriousness.
Q: How many new cases are opened in an average month?
JvV: The MIOSA averages about 500 new cases per month.
Q: What five things do you wish consumers would do before they buy a car?
- Do a needs analysis - do you need the vehicle for a specific reason or do you want the vehicle because someone else was driving it?
- Thoroughly inspect the vehicle, in and out, ie. check things like information plate, compare it with the disc, etc.
- Check that the vehicle's service history is up to date and that the service book is in the vehicle. Make sure that there is a spare key for the vehicle.
- Thoroughly read and understand the terms and conditions of the contract.
- Insist on copies of the Offer To Purchase (OTP) document and the contract.
Q: To what extent has the signing of the Code changed the operation/standing of your office?
JvV: The MIOSA has been able to upgrade all of our systems to accommodate the high volume of incoming enquiries and complaints. The MIOSA staff compliment has tripled since accreditation. This was necessary to handle the influx of enquiries and complaints which this office receives on a daily basis. As far as "standing" is concerned, I think that there has been a far greater awareness and a willingness to co-operate to avoid full-on legal action.
Q: What car do you drive? And what car would you like to drive if money was no object?
JvV: I drive a 2003 VOLVO XC90 T6 SE AWD. If money was no object, I would love to own a red 458 Ferrari Spider and a 1299 Ducati motorcycle (also red).
How should consumers get in touch with the MIOSA?
To contact the Motor Industry Ombudsman of SA, go to www.miosa.co.za. The “submit a comment” link takes you to the prescribed form.
Any views or opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent those of Cars.co.za or its editorial content team.