THOUGHTS

LEMONS FOR YOUR CAR?

27/10/2021 08:18 AM
Opinions on topical issues from thought leaders, columnists and editors.

By Zati Ilham Abdul Manaf, Khadijah Mohd Najid & Amrullah Nasrul

With the ease of travelling restrictions and people slowly starting to regain financial stability due to the pandemic, an increase by 102% in car sales has been reported since August 2021. Those who sold their cars during the pandemic due to financial concerns are now interested in scouring car showrooms and test-driving car models, signifying the recovery of the global automotive sales industry from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This trend is not only limited to Malaysia. Based on the McKinsey Global COVID-19 Auto & Mobility Consumer Survey, the intention to purchase cars among consumers is close to pre-COVID-19 levels. This global trend is expected to significantly impact the Malaysian automotive market sales after seeing a continuous drop in car sales, affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the implementation of the Movement Control Order (MCO).

Although things are looking bright for the car dealers, has the welfare of the consumers been considered? The government should look into improving the protection accorded to automotive consumers before the market steams into full gear, especially considering the current economic fragility.

Imagine Muthu, a 30-year-old family man, buying a new car to use to go to work and carry his family around. After a few days of using his new car, he suddenly has engine trouble which takes a week and RM2,000 to repair. Upon receiving the car and using it for a few more days, suddenly the transmission has problems which require another workshop visit and another week of repairs. Throughout this time, he must also organise other means of transportation to go to work while waiting for his car. Although this story is fictional, but similar issues happen to consumers every year.

Calls for ‘lemon law’

In reply, repeated calls have been made by the Penang Consumers Association and car enthusiasts to introduce the ‘lemon law’ into our Consumer Protection Act 1999. The same sentiment was also echoed by Sessions Court Judge Mabel Sheela Muttiah in February this year, calling for the government to look into the Lemon Law in providing remedy for purchasers of cars and other consumer goods to compensate for products that repeatedly fail to meet accepted standards of quality and performance. The Sessions Court in that case had awarded a company RM90,000 in damages against a vehicle distributor for the loss of use of a new car.

Originally used as an automobile slang, a “lemon” is usually understood as a newly-purchased vehicle which turns out to have a few or many manufacturing defects which, when combined, devalues the worth or use of the vehicle. Lemon Law is basically a specific piece of legislation which provides protection for consumers against these vehicular lemons and, over time, can be extended to cover other defective products as well. Lemon Law operates to strengthen existing consumer rights, especially for car buyers as defects in vehicles and automobiles are not easily apparent and can only manifest after some time. It would also narrow the gap between sellers and consumers and be of great assistance to car buyers who are usually underprivileged when it comes to knowledge about the purchased vehicle compared to the car sellers/distributors.

Missing piece in Malaysian consumer law

This piece of law is critically missing in Malaysian consumer law. Despite the enactment of the Malaysian Consumer Protection Act (CPA) in 1999 to supposedly provide simple and inexpensive reprisal to the consumers’ grievances, many provisions in the Act are arguably vague in implementation and inefficient to protect consumers’ rights. Various complaints have been recorded by the National Consumer Complaints Centre (NCCC) every year involving potential losses amounting to hundreds of millions of ringgit in value, encompassing issues from dissatisfying products and poor service quality.

Among common complaints are defective products, unsatisfactory sales and repair services, vague scope of warranty, rogue collection methods, faulty accessories/spare parts and many more. The high number of complaints recorded every year speaks volumes of the limited ability of the CPA in protecting consumers and its limited efficiency in dealing with consumer grievances, especially when the purchase involves expensive and costly products like vehicles.

Purchasing a vehicle is a lifetime commitment where, on top of its high pricing, the consumers are burdened by the cost of its maintenance, loan repayment, fuel consumption and toll, all of these substantially affect financial stability and the consumer’s quality of life. These lemon vehicles, apart from being an economic burden to consumers, are also unsafe on the roads and a danger to other road users.

The proposed Lemon Law would hold car manufacturers responsible for the defective vehicle and compel them into repairing or replacing the car.

Muthu could then get a full replacement for his “lemon” car instead of having to continuously repair it. The law would also enable consumers who were inconvenienced by the defect to request for a reduction in price and claim a refund.

Presently, such protection is not available in Malaysia, unlike other countries such as Singapore, Australia, Canada and the United States.

-- BERNAMA

Zati Ilham Abdul Manaf, Khadijah Mohd Najid and Amrullah Nasrul are with the Ahmad Ibrahim Kulliyyah of Laws at the International Islamic University Malaysia.

(The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of BERNAMA)
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