Even in the most controlled production environments of modern car manufacturers, some cars inevitably come out as defective. What can you do if your car is part of this 1% - a problematic lemon? The administrator of Team-BHP successfully got Mercedes-Benz to replace his problematic two-year-old C-Class with a brand new model.
Team-BHP shows what you can do if you are stuck with a lemon:
- Remember that you can win if your case is genuine and you have your facts straight: Indian consumer courts are on your side.
- Complete documentation is a must. Your records should include each and every service station visit, any work carried out and all problems acknowledged. If you are missing documentation, get duplicate copies from your service station before proceeding with your case. Do not ever part with your original documents.
- At every stage of the negotiation, demonstrate that you are well prepared and that you have the time and inclination to pursue your case. Manufacturers have dedicated legal departments, some of whom believe that customers just don’t have the time to dedicate to these long proceedings.
- Verbal promises are worthless. If the manufacturer or dealership commits to anything, have them put it in writing.
- If you car is within the original warranty period, your case will be much stronger.
- Do not give the dealership or manufacturer too many opportunities to repair your car. A handful of visits are enough for them to diagnose and eliminate a functioning car’s problems. If there is no end to problems surfacing, it is better for you to consider alternative action.
- Before you start negotiations, decide what is a reasonable resolution. If there are some defective parts, it should be reasonable to demand their replacement. A free extended warranty period is a good solution for cars that are only slightly problematic, but if you are convinced that your car is beyond repair push only for refund or replacement.
- Some settlements include refunding the original cost of the car, but deducting an amount per kilometer driven. If the amount is reasonable, accept it.
- Unfortunately, there is not much you can do if you bought your car used. If you have purchased your car through authorised certification programs, you may have some albeit limited protection.
Stage One: Negotiation
Stage Two: Publicity
- Keep the legal option as a last resort. A significant amount of time and effort go into court cases and there is a chance that the manufacturer or dealership will offer an appropriate resolution before going that far.
- Try to negotiate with your dealership or manufacturer first. Speak respectfully, but firmly: yelling won’t get you anywhere. Leave a copy of your history of problems and service reports with them. Do not let them leave you waiting; always insist on a timeline for the next step and if they promise to get back to you, ask for a deadline. If they are going to send you a document, ask them when you should expect it. It is your job to keep them to their deadlines. At this stage, the dealership or manufacturer will try to gauge how serious you are about solving the problem.
Stage Three: Litigate
- If there is one thing a business hates most, it’s bad publicity. If all relevant parties have not agreed to offer you a solution in stage one, use the media to your advantage.
- Publicize. Draft a well-written and easy-to-read summary of your problems and include your service records as proof. Post these on India’s largest automotive community (Team-BHP - The Definitive Indian Car Community) and on review sites like MouthShut.com. Get in touch with the help desk of AutocarIndia magazine (a subscriber-only service) and forward them your details. The people there are very cooperative and take on cases like this every month.
- Evening publications like Mid-Day love this sort of news. Get in touch with them and push for coverage.
- It's fun and useful to send the manufacturer or dealership every link and article. Show them what an angry consumer can do.
- A majority of the cases that were pursued properly were resolved by this point in the process. If your manufacturer or dealership is still stubbornly refusing to budge, approach the ICRPC (Preparing and Filing Consumer Complaint at Consumer Court in India)
or other consumer right activists; there are several non-profit consumer rights groups that will be eager to help you out. These organizations charge a nominal fee and operate out of a sense of social responsibility rather than profit. Do not make the mistake of appointing your usual business lawyer: choose only a consumer-rights specialist. There are many documents to be prepared, but leave them to your lawyer.
- Other advantages on your side are that the courts are now very pro-consumer and that manufacturers hate the bad publicity that comes from legal proceedings. Don’t give up: if you fight for your rights, justice will surely prevail!