It’s not very surprising that vehicles are one of the most widely complained about things that we buy. According to Citizens Advice, in the first quarter of 2016/17, complaints about second hand cars took the top spot – 15,314 complaints, 11% of the total. Statistics concerning vans aren’t readily available, but the point is made.
The question for most is – how can they get a problem dealt with? How do they push through a complaint?
The first step to getting not just satisfaction, but a resolution of an issue, is to look at the warranty that came with the vehicle.
A warranty is in essence an insurance policy which generally covers the cost of parts and labour for a finite period of time. They’re provided by manufacturers, dealers or separately via third parties. Each will have different benefits, clauses, cover and importantly if an add-on, cost.
The most comprehensive will be that from the manufacturer and it’ll cover pretty much everything in or on the van apart from consumable items. So, the engine, fuel and ignition systems, cooling systems, electrics, gearbox, clutch transmissions, steering and suspension will be covered. But items that are designed to wear out from use – consumables – such as brake pads and disks, tyres and exhausts are not.
Clearly, abuse of a vehicle will not be covered, nor will damage that follows from modifications such as engine remapping for performance or fuel economy.
While similar in operation to cars, van warranties tend to cover the same period of time but for greater mileages. A Mercedes Sprinter, for example, comes with three years and unlimited mileage. Vauxhall offers three years and 100,000 miles for heavy vans. In comparison, Mercedes cars come with three years and unlimited miles while Vauxhall offers three years and just 60,000 miles for its cars.
Dealer warranties for used vehicles are normally allied to those offered by the manufacturer. Vans will either come with the balance of the manufacturer’s warranty or a new one-year warranty.
Alternatively, if the vehicle is older and not bought from a dealer, it’s possible to opt for a third-party warranty from a non-affiliated supplier. Clearly, there are a number of suppliers here and so the cover, cost, terms and conditions will vary wildly. The key, as this will be paid for, is to check – that means read and question – the terms and conditions of what is being bought. Some may cover parts, but not labour, others may be for key components but not everything, and a number will come with a high initial excess.
Also, be aware that while a warranty from a manufacturer has no limit on the number or value of the ‘claims’ that may be made, the same is not true when a third-party warranty is bought – there may be a limit on the claims that the warranty will cover. In other words, it’s important to check the terms and buy what suits.
And to increase resale value (or at least make the job easier), ensure that the warranty is transferable to a new owner.
Making a complaint
Having a warranty is one thing but being out of warranty is another. So, what can be done if a dealer or garage refuses to help with a problem relating to a van bought from them?
Initially, it’s important to try to sort the matter out with the dealer directly, possibly asking to speak to the dealer principle (also known as the head of business). They are the one with the absolute power in the dealership to get things moving; they may also have more traction with the manufacturer through the contacts that they have. Polite conversations, polite letters and common courtesy, together with provable facts will get a complaint much further than emotionally-charged rants. Make a friend of the dealer and a resolution will be more forthcoming.
If that approach doesn’t work, it’s possible to try a direct approach to the head office management of the dealership or even the manufacturer. Their details won’t be easy to find and communication will be filtered, but again, a well written email with nothing but facts may work. Many of the contact details can be found through ceoemail.com. It’s free to use.
If there’s no satisfaction the complaint moves into more uncharted waters. Because the van is being used for business purposes the Motor Ombudsman – which to be fair is a voluntary regime that dealers have to want to join – is out of bounds; it cannot help.
Another option open to those renting or leasing a van is to try the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association, BVRLA, a trade body for companies in the leasing and rental of cars and commercial vehicles. It has a free to use conciliation service which has been approved under the Alternative Dispute Resolution for Consumer Disputes (Competent Authorities and Information) Regulations 2015.
The process requires complainants to first fully exhaust the dealer’s own complaint procedure. But once initiated, the BVRLA will seek information from both parties to the dispute, together with any relevant evidence they wish to be considered. The BVRLA aims to resolve complaints within 30 days.
As to what it can look at, the BVRLA will investigate potential breaches of the Codes of Conduct, which sets out the standards the BVRLA expects from its members. The conciliation service can only look at matters that relate to disputes arising from the activities of BVRLA members. See http://bvrla.co.uk/advice/guidance/using-bvrlas-conciliation-service for more detail.
There are other Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) type conciliation services available including one from the National Conciliation Service. A Trading Standards Institute certified automotive ADR provider, it specialises in consumer and trader disputes within the automotive retail sector. It commonly deals with issues relating to sale contracts of vehicles, service and repairs contracts of vehicles, used vehicles and lost deposits. The method of operation is similar to that from the BVLRA. More detail can be read at https://www.trusteddealers.co.uk/complaints/..
Finally, if there is still no satisfaction, the last option to consider is going to law, but this really should be the last resort. The law is blunt, confrontational and comes with cost. However, those that are confident that they can prove their case can take a look at the government’s online court service at https://www.moneyclaim.gov.uk/web/mcol/welcome. Before proceeding, it’s critical to make sure that the other side is likely to lose and, just as importantly, have the financial resources to pay any costs or awards made against them.
Previous Total Vehicles articles can be found in Contractor’s Corner: www.total-contractor.co.uk/contractors-corner/total-vehicle/