Taking It Back

Jana Van Zyl of consumer law experts Robertson Teuteberg Kirk explains the reasoning behind what can and cannot be returned.
It seems many consumers are under the mistaken impression that, in terms of the Consumer Protection Act 68 of 2008 (CPA), they have the right to return goods for almost any reason. We recently heard about a case where a consumer wanted to return an item because it was available cheaper from another supplier. The CPA does not provide for such a general right of return. It does, however, set out specific terms that allow a consumer to return purchased goods.
Not all of these are likely to apply to automotive retailers, so let us take a look at a few important return rights that do apply. What is important is that a consumer has the right to return a vehicle if it does not meet the specific purpose for which it was required and as was indicated to the salesperson. If a consumer indicates to the dealer a particular purpose for the vehicle, then it must be able to perform these functions. If it turns out that the vehicle cannot be used for that purpose, the consumer can return it to the dealer within 10 days.
For example: a consumer tells the salesperson that he wants to buy a 4×4 vehicle and there is not a suitable model in stock but the salesperson assures the consumer that a 4×2 fitted with a differential lock will be able to do exactly the same as the 4×4. If it transpires that the vehicle cannot perform the same function, the consumer may return the vehicle in terms of the CPA. Salespeople should take note of these provisions and ensure that, when a consumer indicates any specific purpose, they provide the correct information or correct any misunderstanding on the consumer’s side. Note that this right is not automatic – it kicks in only if the consumer’s expectations were made explicit to the salesperson.
The other potentially onerous provisions for dealers relate to the consumer’s right to return goods found to be defective within six months from the date of purchase or delivery (the latter date of the two). A defect will be present if there is a “material imperfection in the manufacture of the goods” that renders the goods less acceptable than someone could reasonably expect, or a “characteristic in the goods that renders it less useful, practicable or safe” than is reasonably expected in the circumstances. This will be determined case by case, taking all factors into account. The CPA does not prohibit the dealer or manufacturer from running tests to determine the cause of the defect. It cannot be expected that a dealer accepts the return of a vehicle merely on the allegation of a defect by the consumer.
If a consumer is able to return goods for any of the reasons specified in the CPA, the supplier of the goods may in certain instances be entitled to levy a charge for the use of the goods, and to make the goods fit for restocking. So, if a consumer is indeed entitled to return a vehicle, the obligation will be on the dealer to refund to the consumer the purchase price of the vehicle less any entitled charge that it is to make.
Contact Jana van Zyl on 021-671-5423 or email jana.vanzyl@rtk.co.za.