If this doesn’t convince you of our urgent need for an independent car industry ombudsman – nothing will.
Paul and Jo Dale, from Darwin in the Northern Territory, Powershit Ford owners, they reached out to me on the 30th of August – jubilant that they had won their case in the Northern Territory Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
The shining beacon of free speech that is the NT News, owned by founding Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Rupert Murdoch, corroborated Jo Dale’s story.
The Dales were also awarded costs, which is uncommon – with a total settlement of $25,826 ordered by Sally Gearin who presided over the NCAT hearing. NCAT’s cases are capped at a maximum of $25,000. Ms Gearin’s findings include a determination that the total damages suffered by the Dales was $30,921.64.
Sally Gearin found:
“I am satisfied the Applicants have proved their case. They should have been advised of the transmission problems experienced with the TCM when they purchased the vehicle. After the concerns raised were not fixed, it was unreasonable for the Respondents to expect the Applicants to drive a vehicle which was clearly unreliable in its performance. To do so would be to expect the Applicants to risk their lives or damage to themselves and or other road users with the vehicle’s erratic and unpredictable performance.”
Ms Gearin also found that the (quote) “failure to provide a vehicle that is consistently safe constitutes a major failure” under the Consumer Law. She awarded the maximum possible compensation.
The dealer – Red Earth Automotive, which apparently trades as Hidden Valley Ford in Darwin – was thus compelled to pay the $25k (and change) – leaving Mr and Mrs Dale about $5000 out of pocket, albeit burdened by one less shitbox Ford. This is after about 18 months of Powershit ownership hell.
On the 12th of September – less than two weeks after being awarded the maximum settlement available to NCAT, Mr & Mrs Dale learned that they were probably going back to court.
Red Earth Automotive is taking them back to NCAT, and asking the tribunal to reverse its decision. The dealer is seeking the earlier NCAT ruling in favour of the Dales be stayed, for now, and ultimately reversed, and is making an application that the Dales pay the dealer’s $500 fee to file this appeal.
None of this is of course giving me pause to reconsider my view on the ethical landscape inhabited by car dealers, but because the matter is before a court, I am limited in what I can say. I make no comment on the proper outcome, which is for NCAT to determine.
Personal opinion: This action by the dealer seems incredibly petty, and also counter-productive. If they were to pay the compensation as originally determined, they get the car back, they tart it up, they sell it to some other poor, uninformed bastard. They’re only out of pocket the difference between the $25k and what they get for that shitheap when they sell it.
If I were the dealer I would: a) kill myself, and b) carefully consider the real cost of the reputational damage such apparently churlish, vindictive action has on the enthusiasm of people in the market to engage with my dealership.
If you wanted to turn people away, putting a customer’s head in a vice, publicly, is, I’d suggest, a very effective deterrent.
The fundamental asymmetry of you versus a dealer, or you versus a carmaker, is as absurd as it is apparent. It makes the Consumer Law a joke – because you can only get the justice you can afford. It’s simply not a fair fight.
The Federal Government – and in particular Michael McCormack, the minister in charge of consumer affairs – needs to stop playing pocket billiards and sucking up to the car industry’s arsehole lobby group. It’s not helping. Personal opinion.
Here’s a novel suggestion: How about, instead, Mr McCormack gets off his arse and levels the playing field so that ordinary people – you know, the ones who elected him to represent them – so they actually get a fair go over the second most expensive purchase they will ever make, and upon which their mobility depends.
Mr McCormack: Put an ombudsman in place – and preferably not the former chief counsel for Fiat Chrysler, or somesuch. Someone actually independent. I’ll be waiting for hell to freeze over on that. You can contact the minister via his website – michaelmccormack.com.au – let him know what you think. And of course, tell him I said ‘G’day.’