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“I fitted a battery for a customer with a 12 month warranty. The customer came back 8 months later complaining that the battery wasn’t working properly. The customer refused to bring the car back and went ahead and got a replacement battery fitted by BMW. He is now threatening me with legal action if I do not reimburse him the full amount of the battery plus labour costs. What can I do?”
1 – Establish the facts
The first priority should always be to establish the facts of the case. Where you are contacted by a customer, whether you agree with them or not, you need to get as much detail as possible so that the matter can be investigated properly. Ideally the customer should be asked to put their complaint in writing and include any evidence they have.
The more accurate the facts, the better your decision will be.
2 – Is it a warranty claim or a breach of contract?
Where the consumer is claiming under any warranty provided they must comply with the terms of the warranty in order to claim. There is no requirement to warranty any work or any parts. As such a warranty can legitimately require the consumer to return the vehicle or goods to you and place reasonable conditions on the costs covered. If they have not complied with the terms of the warranty there will be no claim under it.
However, when you sell goods or services to consumers you cannot exclude their statutory rights. Any warranty is given in addition to these. Given the recent changes brought in by the Consumer Rights Act 2015 consumer customers may be more aware of their rights. As such, if the parts when supplied were not as described or fit for their purpose etc, then a consumer can sue for up to 6 years, provided they can prove the parts were faulty when you supplied them.
If, after 6 months from the time of sale the customer cannot prove that the goods or services were faulty at time of sale a consumer can only claim under any warranty provided and must comply with the terms of the warranty in order to claim.
As always, what is appropriate will depend on the facts. Don’t forget to carefully document all conversations and to evidence all telephone calls, emails and letters for future reference.
As this is over 8 months old, anything could have happened to the battery. It would be for the consumer to either comply with the warranty terms or prove the battery was not fit for purpose or of satisfactory quality. Investigate their complaint and ensure the costs have been incurred. Write back pointing out it is a return to base warranty and that he is asked to bring it back to you first and deny liability. As he has not complied with the terms of the warranty you have no option but to reject the claim.
Be prepared for potential legal proceedings so consider whether to offer a gesture of goodwill to avoid any dispute.
Lastly, as this advice is general in nature it will need to be tailored to any one particular situation. As an RMI member you have access to the RMI Legal advice line, as well as a number of industry experts for your assistance. Should you find yourself in the situation above, contact us at any stage for advice and assistance as appropriate.
Paul Carroll, Solicitor, Motor Industry Legal Services