The recent tribulations of Volkswagen owners in relation to quality issues with its direct shift gearbox (DSG) highlights the difficulties owners can face with new vehicles.
I am not sure if readers have been following the problems of Volkswagen which were vigorously pursued by Fairfax and other media in recent months.
Volkswagen have had issues with their DSG for some time. I had already heard about it through friends of mine. They found that their Golf Wagon would not reverse up their steep driveway without shuddering.
The issue came to a head during a recent Coroner’s inquest into the death of Melissa Ryan, a young woman who died at the wheel of a Golf on the Monash Freeway in Melbourne in 2011. It has been alleged that her Golf suddenly lost power, and a truck then drove into the rear of her vehicle. The Coroner considered whether the Volkswagen did in fact suffer some failure leading to a sudden loss of power, or if the accident was due to driver error by the truck driver, or some other cause.
The inquest findings may be delivered later this month.
Reporting of the inquest however led to reports by many of the owners who had experienced problems of power loss. The internet notification of their quality issues is an example of the power of social media.
Volkswagen has now recalled thousands of vehicles in Australia, to carry out repairs to a particular version of the DSG - the seven speed DQ2000 used in Golf, Jetta, Passat and Cady models between July 2008 – September 2011. It had already recalled a number of cars in China and other countries. Ms Ryan’s Golf, however, was a petrol manual. We will need to await the Coroner’s findings in relation to that accident.
It is never easy to take on a car company if you have problems with your vehicles.
Court litigation of this nature is not for the faint hearted. One case involving the purchaser of a motor cycle taking on the manufacturer ended up in the Supreme Court of New South Wales.
The manufacturer of course, has the advantage of having all the technical information and knowledge at its disposal when facing a dissatisfied purchaser.
Recent changes to the jurisdiction of the Magistrates Court have increased the limit of what is called a “minor civil claim” from $6,000 to $25,000. In any claim under $25,000 neither party can be represented by a lawyer at the hearing. This means that someone taking on a vehicle manufacturer at this level will have to represent themselves at the hearing without the assistance of a lawyer except in limited circumstances. A difficult task made even more difficult.
The upside though, is that if you lose a minor civil claim you will not be met by a lawyer’s bill from the other side for the hearing.
I should add that, since 2011 the Australian consumer’s rights have been strengthened. Perhaps the “high point” of consumer laws in this area is represented by the “lemon laws” operating in some parts of the United States. Apparently if there have been three to four attempts to repair a new vehicle, or it is out of service for between 20 – 30 days, you are entitled to a replacement vehicle or a refund.