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CASA TALES 3

Car buyers complain for a reason, says consumer protection agency

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After two consecutive weeks of dishing out bitter-tasting stories of love lost between car owners and their casas (car dealerships), Inquirer Motoring now airs the side of the government tasked to look after the welfare and protection of all consumers.

In a statement sent to Inquirer Motoring, the Bureau of Trade Regulation and Consumer Protection (BTRCP) said that all complaints submitted to the agency are taken seriously. “Buyers complain for a reason,” it read. And for every complaint, “the DTI process of mediation or arbitration will take place.”

According to the BTRCP office, the Department of Trade and Industry receives consumer complaints of varying “nature,” including those that pertain to “Defective Products and Services,” “Product and Service Warranty,” and “Deceptive Sales Acts and Practices.”

BTRCP also sent to Inquirer Motoring a statistic sheet of complaints specific to car dealerships nationwide encompassing the dates Nov. 5, 2012 to Jan. 31, 2013. During that time, a total of 49 complaints had been submitted and received by the agency. Of that number, 21 had been resolved/dismissed; the remaining complaints are in varying degrees of processing and resolution.

BTRCP (currently headed by Director Victorio Mario A. Dimagiba) and DTI have established a process for handling consumer complaints. It is embedded in Republic Act No. 7394, or the Consumer Act of the Philippines. At times, BTRCP explains, the mediation process is swift. However, there are instances when the process takes much longer, depending on the complexity of issues all parties have to resolve.

The agency clarified, however, that BTRCP is not the DTI agency that handles mediations and arbitrations. BTRCP, it clarified, is a policy, program and project office. The DTI regional offices across the country handle and resolve the actual consumer complaints.

When asked about the pending Philippine Lemon Law, BTRCP said, “The DTI supports the Philippine Lemon Law bills in the past Congress, but this is a legislative process wherein Congress controls the process.”

House Bill No. 4841 titled “An Act Strengthening Consumer Protection in the Purchase of Brand New Motor Vehicles”—or the Lemon Law of 2011—would give buyers of brand-new cars the right to demand a replacement “with a similar or comparable motor vehicle” if the first vehicle is discovered to have a factory defect. The buyer may also opt to return a defective vehicle and get a refund of its purchase price and collateral charges such as the vehicle registration fee.

An earlier version of the Philippine Lemon Law filed on July 12, 2010, (Senate Bill No. 1310) was described as “an act providing protection and remedies to buyers of new and used motor vehicles”.

HB 4841 has, thus far, received mixed reviews from car manufacturers and car buyers and owners.

Meanwhile, as the nitty-gritties of the law are yet to be scrutinized, here are more stories the public can actually learn from:

Lucky 7

Five months ago, John Paul T. Seguerra of Cagayan de Oro wrote to Inquirer Motoring to narrate his story with his 2011-model 7-seater SUV. The problem, he said, started when the car began emitting black smoke. His SUV, which had just hit the 8,000-km mark in its odometer, was his service vehicle in Manila.

The smoke belching was persistent enough that he had to go back to his casa a total of seven times to have the problem fixed. “Each time, I came with the same complaint, I got the same procedure from the casa,” he lamented. “Even though I had the oil changed, replaced the air and oil filters, had the EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) valve cleaned, five days later the problem came out again.”

Just last week, Inquirer Motoring got in touch with Seguerra. Thankfully, this was his update: “They’ve already solved the black-smoke problem. They just cleaned the EGR valve thoroughly, not once but thrice.” He added that a casa along Marcos Highway was finally able to solve his problem.

Ian Endangan’s last encounter with a casa in Carmona, Cavite, was five years ago when he had his Japanese sedan’s Mass Air Flow serviced. He bought the car in 2001 at the Quezon Avenue dealership, where he suspected that his car’s steering wheel was changed. His reason for suspicion: “the chipping of faux wood and some scratches on the synthetic leather”. He also suspected that his left-side mirror was changed, too, “due to a rectangular-shaped back reflective material that was also chipped, and the screws attached to the door were obviously moved.” “Maybe that’s why I was rushed into signing the release form,” he mused, in Filipino.

“I felt I was robbed every time I was serviced at the casa. Cannibalizing parts is probably a practice by this dealer when they don’t have the parts. What I did was to buy parts from them, and I had the parts installed at home or at a nearby shop where a mechanic could talk to me directly, with prices a lot lower than the casa. That is the reason I still have the car in good running condition,” said Endangan.

Jimmy M. Maala, who is in the military service, wrote to complain about two dealerships of different brands: a casa at Magallanes and another at Pasong Tamo Extension, “for their very lax performance.”

He claimed that the Magallanes casa did not correctly identify the source of the knocking sound of his SUV. While the SUV stayed with the Magallanes casa for three days, he said the service staff couldn’t pinpoint the problem. He also described the dealership as having “poor customer relations.” He said that “a local mechanic was able to fix it.”

The casa in Mantrade, he said, took three hours to road test his sedan “after having it tuned up and its oil changed.”

Rising cost for sloppy work

Rainier Manlapas is a picture of a model car owner, who sees to it that his two brand-new cars, and even his trusty 12-year-old sedan, get the royal treatment at their casas at just the recommended times.

When his old sedan was up for its 80,000-km checkup, he said, he went to the brand’s casa in Alabang, the one closest to his residence.

“I went through the usual routine of having the service rep verbally enumerating what work was to be done, the parts/oils/fluids to be replaced, the time it would take (I was told to return in the late afternoon), and the estimated cost. I signed the job order, and left. Shortly after I returned home, I got a call from my service rep that from P11,000+, they would have to adjust the cost to P13,000+, explaining this and that as the reason. I said, ‘okay.’ Right after lunch, I got another call from him saying that the amount would have to again be readjusted to P15,000+. Still, I hesitantly agreed. An hour or two later, another call came from the service rep. Now the bill was up to P19,000+. I was quite irked by then, but I agreed just the same because I had no choice. When I got there, I was shocked to learn that the total bill reached P22,000+.”

Rainier said that except for the gas float that was replaced (to fix the inaccurate fuel readings) and which was not part of the 80,000-km regular checkup and parts requirement, there were no  parts nor added services done other than what was originally discussed. He said that the service rep was apologetic and kind enough to give him a little discount. Still, he left the casa feeling like his car was held for ransom.

“Here’s the kicker,” he said, “When I inspected my car before I drove off from their service area, I saw one of my aircon louvers from the ceiling blower lying on the second row passenger seat. I called the service rep’s attention to this, he tried reattaching it but the thing was already broken. I demanded that it be replaced but no action was done. I started a commotion by shouting and complaining, letting other customers hear about the problem.”

He said that a lady who presented herself as the customer relations rep talked to him and said that the aircon was not serviced for the 80,000-km checkup “so it was not touched”.

“I told her that I wasn’t saying it was part of the checkup. I pointed out to her how the car seats (front and second row) were reclined in different positions, the aircon louvers were also set in different directions and the car stereo was set to another station. They must have damaged the louver while adjusting it for their comfort. I demanded that the louver be replaced immediately or I would press charges. Seeing how the other customers were reacting, she had it replaced. I never had my cars done at the same casa branch after that.”

(To be continued)

Share your own funny, frightening or enlightening experiences with your casa. E-mail the author at tsalazar@inquirer.com.ph. Promise, we’ll keep your true identities under wraps, unless you ask us otherwise.


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