Tessa R. Salazar

When ‘big brother’ doesn’t have your back

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There is no such thing as the perfect car, nor the perfect assembly line. Even in this age of “unerring” automation, there’s that one bad apple that manages to slip through.

When that happens, the unfortunate buyer gets a double whammy. He or she who parted ways with his or her hard-earned money for a dud, now tries in vain to right what is wrong. The buyer ends up losing money—and more tragically, precious time.

I have received a number of e-mails from such buyers, claiming their cars didn’t perform as expected, or worse, didn’t perform at all right from the get-go.

I’ll share one particular story, just so to show that sometimes, persistence still doesn’t pay even when you’ve invoked your right as an aggrieved consumer with the proper government agency.

Nino G. Mendoza’s story begins on July 17, 2014 when his father purchased for him a brand new sedan (with a 1.5-liter engine and automatic transmission) worth P760,000 from a dealership in Alabang.

His woes began two months later, in September, when the car failed to start. The vehicle was brought to the dealership, where it was diagnosed with a faulty battery.

Five months later, in March 2015, Nino was in Tagaytay and was about to drive back home when the same problem occurred again. Nino called for dealership assistance only to be told that he should hire a nearby mechanic to start the car.

After doing so, Nino brought the car back to the dealership, where it stayed for a month. The dealership said it couldn’t find any defect.

By April, Nino’s family was demanding that the car be replaced, and even filed a case against the dealership and the manufacturer with the Department of Trade and Industry’s Fair Trade and Enforcement Bureau (FTEB).

In May, Nino’s family sent an update letter to the FTEB stating that they had not received any status or notice regarding the case.

Over the next weeks, Nino’s family then engaged in back-and-forth exchanges with the FTEB. Meanwhile, the dealership did all it could to untangle itself from its client.

By mid-June, the family sent its final letter to the FTEB informing the office that “we were forced to accept the unjust and unfair agreement with the dealership and the manufacturer with a certification and a second diagnosis issued by the dealership stating that the vehicle is free from defect … because of the slow handling of our case.”

On August 15, 2016, for the third time, Nino’s car refused to start. The car was again brought back to the dealership. After several days of waiting, Nino said, “the dealership failed to give us an update on our vehicle and to provide a service vehicle on time in accordance to our signed agreement last April 2015. This incident is a breach of our signed agreement and a violation of Sec. 7 paragraph 4 of Republic Act No 10642.”

Because of this violation, Nino’s family filed a new complaint with FTEB against the dealership and the manufacturer because of the violation of the agreement, and for non-resolution of the problem with the vehicle.

But the family didn’t receive any reply from the FTEB. After several weeks of waiting, Nino himself went to the FTEB office in Makati, where he was informed that the complaint he filed had already been dismissed because of his “non-appearance.”

Nino said he was dumbfounded. How could they have “appeared” in the first place when he and his family were not given any notice of mediation from FTEB? He was advised to re-file his complaint with the DTI, which he did.

On Sept. 15, days after filing his complaint with the DTI, Nino called FTEB for updates. The FTEB said that a notice of mediation had already been sent to all parties involved.

Nino, however, claimed that he nor his family didn’t get any notification. He said the FTEB then asked him to file the complaint via e-mail for the new schedule of mediation, to which Nino complied.

On Sept. 26, 2016, after two failed diagnoses on Nino’s vehicle for over two years, the family received an e-mail from the dealership stating that “the car’s piston ring and overhauling gaskets needed to be replaced.”

This was a new problem from a two-year-old vehicle, which, Nino said in resignation, brought more problems than solutions for his family.

“Ever since we filed this case with the concerned government agencies, I have been commuting and walking to the DTI office. It has become very tiring,” said Nino.

I empathize with Nino. I myself have been given the runaround by the FTEB. When I needed to get in touch with the office for an article I was making last September, I was passed on from one office to another.

And up to now, the questions that I sent them two months ago (unrelated to Nino’s case, more on general consumer welfare) are still unanswered.

As with my phone conversation with DTI’s Consumer Protection Group last Nov. 19, the department said it would be “following up” on my request.

P.S.—

Ever since Nino’s car was brought to the dealership in August 2016, Nino says that they haven’t brought it out. “We simply can’t accept the fact that a brand new car would stall several times, and would have so many defects.” Nino says he would rather commute than drive a car that could stall anytime.



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