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*Not* Covered by Warranty

*Not* Covered by Warranty

If the dispute is not resolved, why do consumers not resort to public agencies whose responsibility it is to defend them as the weaker party in disputes with big business asks Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg

April 8, 2012 11:41 by

As a long-time writer on economic issues, I regularly receive complaints from readers about shady practices by “sole” agents, dealers and distributors, when it comes to honoring warranties. Some readers complain about shoddy repairs by “authorized” dealers, unexplained delays and exorbitant prices. In fact, it can be said that lack of clarity over warranties is the bane of many consumers, especially those of limited means.

This negative reputation is not always well-deserved, as many merchants in fact live up to warranty obligations. But that still leaves many who would do everything possible to get out of returning defective merchandise or repairing it for free.

What is most frustrating for consumers is that they believe that there is no place to go when faced with this ominous phrase (“not covered by warranty”), especially when repairs have to be done immediately, and as such accept reluctantly whatever they are told, pay the money and leave.

Quite often, there are no easy ways to contact the manufacturer directly, no familiar public agency to turn to, and no effective independent consumer protection group to consult.

There are usually tell-tale signs that could foretell if a merchant is not keen on honoring his or the manufacturer’s warranty. If the warranty is vague or has too many exemptions, that is one sign. If it is written in legalese in fine print, that is another. The most important sign if there are no clear contact points or procedures for filing complaints or settling disputes.

You also should expect warranty problems with cheap merchandise made by obscure manufacturers, and sold by merchants with little history.

However, some big-name brands and big-time dealers have developed equally big names in bad service. For example, have you ever wondered why cars that have an outstanding reputation and sell well outside Saudi Arabia are not doing so well in Saudi Arabia? I have and the answer I got was consistent: “It may be a good car, but its agent is unreliable.”

One story I came upon has confirmed consumers’ complaints about even the biggest names in manufacturing and dealership. A few months ago, one consumer bought a top-of-the-line European car for about 450,000 Saudi Riyals ($120,000) from its sole dealer in the country. As part of the deal, the car was “guaranteed” for five years, with “free maintenance” to boot during that period. A good deal, he thought!

However, from day one the car started exhibiting some problems, but the salesman, who was his sole contact, kept saying that they were minor imperfections that could be fixed at the first maintenance visit to the dealer’s workshop.

At1,000 km, as usual with new cars, the consumer tried to get his car into maintenance, but was told that it was not necessary. He then tried at 5,000 km, but was again told that it was not time. The car was so well made he was told that it did not need to be maintained so regularly. He was suspicious, because it crossed his mind that the dealer simply wanted to save money, because he had offered “free maintenance” as part of the deal, and as such did not have a financial incentive to maintain the car or fix its faults.

Finally, at 10,000 km, the driver took the car to the dealer’s workshop. By that time, what were “minor” imperfections turned to be quite severe, the most potentially serious of which had to do with the car’s steering wheel. Despite that, he was asked to wait for several weeks before anyone could look at the car, let alone admit it for a checkup, regular maintenance and taking care of those problems.

Finally, after days in the workshop, the car was released. The free maintenance turned out not to be so free. He was asked to pay for spare parts that were defective from day one. “Not covered by warranty,” they were told. More seriously, the dealer could not fix the problem of the steering wheel. On that, the consumer is on his own.

In situations such as this one, which are quite common, is it really true that consumers are all alone, as many feel? Why not try to contact the head of the company in question? If that does not work, why not contact the manufacturer? If the dispute is not resolved, why do consumers not resort to public agencies whose responsibility it is to defend them as the weaker party in disputes with big business? What about private consumer protection organizations? What about private lawyers, who could take on good causes for a contingency fee? In fact, all these tools or similar ones are available in all countries, but consumers need to familiarize themselves with them and try to enlist them to resolve their warranty disputes. More on how to do that in a future column.

First published on Arab News

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