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Case studies - Servicing a Car

Which? member Ken West faced a two-year battle to recover the cost of getting his car repaired – despite having bought an extended warranty on the vehicle. 

In March 2011, the anti-lock braking system (ABS) warning light appeared on Ken’s VW Touareg. He took the car to his local VW dealer to diagnose and repair the fault. He then made a claim on his extended warranty policy from Warranty Direct, having first checked that the ABS unit was insured under the terms. 

But Warranty Direct rejected the claim following an engineer’s report on the car, which the company commissioned. 

The report found that the fault was caused by water getting into the car, which wasn’t covered by the policy. 

Ken then contacted Which? Legal Service for advice. 

Which? Legal advice

We advised Ken to instruct an independent expert to investigate the ABS failure. This report found that the fault wasn’t caused by water. On the strength of this, Ken requested that Warranty Direct honour the terms of its policy, but it refused.

After a final response from the company, and on our legal advice, Ken referred the matter to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS).

The FOS adjudicator agreed with Ken’s complaint. Warranty Direct refused to accept the adjudicator’s decision and requested that the matter be reviewed by the Ombudsman. 

Outcome

The Ombudsman upheld the adjudicator’s decision and awarded Ken the costs of the repair, along with the costs of the further expert report and associated expenses. With interest, Ken got a total of £3,095.

Legal points

Insurance providers may try to refuse a claim by relying on a particular clause in the contract. If you disagree, you can refer the matter to the FOS. 

Usually, this must be done within six months of receiving a final response from the company. The FOS adjudicators will make a decision, which can then be reviewed by the Ombudsman. 

The FOS decision is binding on the insurance provider. In this case, Ken had to rely on the evidence of an expert that he found, but it’s normally better to agree an expert with the party with whom you are in dispute.

Mrs Jones took her car into a local garage for a service and some additional repairs. The repairs ran over the time that she had thought they would take and she had to hire a car from another garage. The repairs to her car were finally completed more than a month later. 

When returning the hire car, Mrs Jones told the garage staff about the repairs that she was having done to her own car. They were shocked at the length of time that it had taken. They suggested that these repairs should only have taken about two weeks, and suggested she seek compensation for the cost of the hire car.

Not sure what action to take, Mrs. Jones contacted Which? Legal Service. She told us that while she was happy to pay for the service and repairs to her car, she wanted to know if she could claim back any of the money that she had spent on the hire of the car. 

Which? Legal advice

Our lawyers told Mrs Jones that under the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 (as amended) the repairs should have been completed within a reasonable time. What is reasonable is subjective and is normally decided on the facts of each particular case. 

We told Mrs Jones that as the hire-car garage suggested that these repairs should have taken no longer than two weeks to complete, this could be considered the ‘benchmark’ with regards to the time that the repairs should have taken.

The fact that the garage had taken over a month to complete the repairs would indicate that they had not done so within a reasonable time. 

Our lawyers advised Mrs Jones that her right to claim any of the costs incurred for the hire car was dependant on whether she had told the original garage that she’d need a replacement car while her own car was being repaired. It would also depend on whether she had asked the garage for use of a courtesy car. 

If the garage was aware of Mrs Jones’ need for a car and were unable to provide her with a courtesy car, they would then be liable to compensate her for the cost of the hire car – for the period in which the garage retained her car beyond what would be deemed to be a reasonable time. 

Legal points

Any compensation that Mrs. Jones could claim would be dependent on her telling the garage of her potential losses (her need to hire a car) and have arisen as a direct result of the garage’s failure to repair her car within a reasonable time. 

Otherwise, it would be reasonable for the garage to have assumed that Mrs Jones had an alternate mean of transport such as a second car or public transport.

Which? Legal helps driver get car fixed free of charge after manufacturer offered to meet only half the cost

Which? Legal member James Cook came to us for help after enduring a catalogue of serious and repeated problems with a new Land Rover Discovery 4 from the moment he took possession of it in June 2012. The car suffered issues including a water leak in the boot and a rear brake light coming loose from its mounting, causing paintwork damage. These problems were rectified by the dealership under the warranty, which was still in place at this time.

In December 2014, James saw the exhaust pipe hanging below the rear bumper line and the silencer dangling on its rubber mounting, having broken away from the tail pipe. He couldn’t use the vehicle and called the AA. It couldn’t fix the exhaust at the roadside but, for safety reasons, removed the silencer. The issue was so serious he was advised to contact Land Rover immediately.

James contacted the dealership and Land Rover offered to pay 25% of the price of a new exhaust and fitting. He declined this, and the offer was raised to 50%. But he was still unhappy with this. He looked into the matter and found a ‘technical bulletin’ Land Rover had issued in July 2013, warning of an exhaust pipe issue with the car he had bought, which he’d been told nothing about. He came to Which? Legal for help.

Our advice

We suggested that James write to the dealership and Land Rover’s chairman, detailing the issues and the breach of contract committed by selling a defective car. The company quickly agreed to repair it for free, with the modified exhaust fittings highlighted on the technical bulletin.

What the law says

Goods sold to you in the UK must be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and as described. For goods bought before 1 October 2015, this is covered by the Sale of Goods Act 1979. If what you buy isn’t satisfactory, you can reject it (but you must usually do this within 30 days) or the retailer must repair or replace it. If neither is possible, you should be offered a full or partial refund.

However, the Consumer Rights Act 2015, that came into force on 1 October, allows a trader to take into account how much you’ve used a product when assessing how much of a refund to give you, even where this is within the first six months after you bought it.