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Bought a Dud: How the CPA can protect you.

Buying a car? The Consumer Protection Act (the CPA) has got your back.

Buying a car, whether new or used, can be stressful. Cars are one of our biggest purchases and there is always the concern that the car you buy might turn out to be a lemon. The Consumer Protection Act, or CPA as it is commonly known, provides some peace of mind for car buyers but consumers also need to be aware that their rights are not always unlimited.

“For a car buyer, the most important part of the CPA is the probably the right to safe, quality goods in good working order,” Jamie Surkont, director at used car retailer getWorth explains. “And with that comes the so-called “6-month CPA warranty” if the car does not meet the CPA requirements. Consumers are generally very excited about these CPA rights.”

What if I signed a contract that says the sale is voetstoots?

Fortunately for car buyers, a seller cannot contract out of the law. Van Zyl said that the CPA simply says that a term in a contract that goes against the CPA rights, will be void – this means that even though the term is included in the contract, the seller will not be able to rely on it. This may also apply if you signed a contract saying that the sale is voetstoots.

What if I bought the car privately, or at auction?

Private and auction sales are generally not covered by the CPA. “Defective or poor-quality cars can cause huge cost and frustration. Most people understand that purchases on auction are generally voetstoots, so they expect to pay lower prices to compensate for that risk. But not everyone realises that they may be in the same boat with private purchases.

It’s something to take into account when you decide how to buy,” Surkont said.

What if the seller disclosed the defects?

Van Zyl said that it is not the intention of the CPA to smother the used car industry – sellers of older cars, including those with some defects, should still be able to sell them at a reasonable price, considering what they are worth.

“Consumers must also be fair and reasonable and think about it in a sensible way. If you purchase a car which is an old model with high mileage, you cannot expect to receive a car which is as good as new and with no possibility of something going wrong. If this was the case, no second-hand dealer would be able to make a living and consumers would struggle to sell or trade in their vehicles,” van Zyl said.

What if what the car is not what I thought it was?

Surkont says that consumers must do their homework and make sure that the cars they are buying, are suitable for their needs. He continues: “Dealers can of course assist with questions and can provide valuable information. Dealers also have an obligation to give true and correct information.

At the very least, the seller must disclose to you the correct registration year and code status (e.g. new, used, rebuild). It is also reasonable to expect that the seller should disclose the correct vehicle make, model and variant description and mileage.

“If one of these critical pieces of information is materially different from what was disclosed to you, you could argue that the salesperson misled you and that you would not have bought the vehicle if you knew the true facts.”

What if I financed the car, or bought additional services?

If you financed the car, your loan agreement with the Bank who provided the finance will be subject to the National Credit Act rather than the CPA. “In most cases, it will be your responsibility to arrange settlement of the loan. The same may also apply to add-ons, like insurance products or warranties that you purchased at the same time as the car,” said van Zyl.

Can I return the car if I don’t like it?

“The CPA only covers you if you for defects or quality issues, or if the car is not fit for its intended purpose. If you simply find that you don’t like it and want a refund, that would be subject to the return policy of the particular seller.

“But it is rare to find a generous return policy for cars in South Africa. There are several overseas car sellers that offer no-questions-asked money back guarantees, but as far as we’re aware, there is only one in this country,” said Surkont.

And according to van Zyl, there is no general cooling off period that applies to car sales. The consumer should therefore make sure that he is satisfied with the car before purchasing it.

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