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Used-car buyer? Save yourself a world of pain by asking this one question

10 October 2019 2:57 PM
Wendy Knowler says dealerships don’t do much to explain how you may unknowingly void your warranty and service/maintenance plans.

Consumer journalist Wendy Knowler says there’s a question many used car buyers don’t ask, often with disastrous consequences:

  • When is the car due for its next service?
pixabay.com, 2019

A case study

Conroy Oliver bought a Mercedes Benz CLA 200d in October 2018.

It was a demonstration model with 4000 kilometres on the clock.

Eleven months and 10 000 kilometres later Oliver took his car for its annual service.

I was then told that it was 240 days overdue for a service because it was a January 2018 model, and therefore it had to be serviced at least every 12 months, hence January 2019.

Conroy Oliver

How it works

Knowler says dealerships don’t do much to explain to buyers how to ensure they don’t unwittingly miss a service or act in a way that would lead to the cancellation of their warranties and service/maintenance plans.

Motor manufacturers stipulate service intervals in terms of time (e.g. every 12 months) or mileage (e.g. every 15 000 kilometres), whichever comes first.

If you drive a lot, you may have to service your car in shorter intervals than a year while those who don’t drive much are still compelled to service their cars every 12 months.

Oliver says he was not told when he bought the vehicle that it was due back in three months for a service.

It cost him dearly.

Mercedes Benz SA has cancelled the car’s motor plan and warranty even though it’s only a year and nine months old!

I was informed that the value of the motor plan is R80 000, but we will not be reimbursed or compensated in any way. Their policy is that if you are more than six months late for a service, then the plan is cancelled. The dealership ran all the tests and did all the checks. The vehicle is perfect and still, MBSA refuses to put the plan back in place.

Conroy Oliver

To add to the confusion, the dealership sent Oliver a reminder he’s due for a service at the end of August, while it should’ve been done in back in January.

If the dealership wasn't aware of the fact that the car was overdue for a service how on earth should I know? I thought this may be an interesting case study and a great example of how not to treat customers in such tough times.

Conroy Oliver

Oliver is not a first-time buyer; he owns two other premium vehicles.

I have never experienced anything like this before.

Conroy Oliver

I took up the case with Mercedes Benz SA, asking, among other things:

Given the implications regarding the motor plan, does MBSA impress upon its dealerships the need to discuss with buyers of used cars when the next service is due?

Wendy Knowler, consumer journalist

MBSA’s response:

The terms and conditions of a manufacturer warranty/maintenance plan are provided at the point of sale to allow customers to familiarise themselves with knowledge of the implications of the warranty and maintenance plan. The customer is accordingly bound by these terms and conditions. It, therefore, remains the responsibility of the owner of the vehicle to familiarise themselves with the terms and conditions of an agreement he/she enters into. Despite the above, our commitment to reinstating Mr Oliver’s customer confidence in our brand remains. In a bid to have this resolved amicably, we are investigating this matter further with the dealer and will be in contact with the customer directly."

Mercedes-Benz South Africa

Another case study

First-time car buyer Brian Mkhabela recently contacted Knowler after buying a 2015 Mazda 3 (on 30 July 2019) from a Mazda dealer in Centurion.

The car was almost due for service; its last service was in October 2018 at 40 300 kilometres. When I bought the car, the mileage was on 53 000 km. Now it's been almost a month and I've only travelled 2553 km since then, and the service light turned on yesterday. Should the dealer have serviced the car before handing it over and can I now claim that it needs servicing?

Brian Mkhabela

Knowler’s explanation

The car wasn’t due for a service when it was sold to him (i.e. its service history was up to date).

It would’ve been premature to service the car before selling it to him.

I always advise people to check when a service is due when buying a used car because often dealerships will sell a car just before that time. If you want the car, you can use that to negotiate a lower purchase price.

Wendy Knowler, consumer journalist

Mkhabela was driving a lot, which meant he reached the 55 000km service requirement before the annual service date, and only a month after he’d bought the car.

If he did about 1000 kilometres per month, which is average, he could wait until October to have his car serviced.

Buyer, beware!

The Money Show’s Bruce Whitfield interviewed Knowler.

Listen to the interview in the audio below.

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10 October 2019 2:57 PM

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