My New Car
As consumer experiences go, the purchase of an expensive item can be most dissatisfying when the consumer is pressured or rushed into making a decision and not given all the facts. Fortunately I’m not rich enough to be in this position often. All purchases are much more satisfying if a little courtesy and respect (preferably without being patronising) are included in the sales routine. In 1996 (when my Ford Laser had been stolen once too often) I bought a new Mercedes C180. The transaction was punctuated with smiles, handshakes and a very large bunch of flowers. I could not fault the sales process although at the time I would have preferred a cheaper car and a new kitchen.
A couple of months ago, the long serving Merc, although less than ten years old, had done nearly 400,000 kilometres and inevitably broke down, late one rainy night south of Mundijong, where I waited for the RAC man and later the tow truck. A wonderful friend from Serpentine brought me some coffee and kept me company. I arrived home in the tow truck at 1.30 am (3 hours later). The RAC man diagnosed a problem with the fuel pump so the next day my husband went about changing the fuel filter. The car seemed to go so I drove it into town from Forrestdale on Monday morning. Having behaved perfectly all down the Freeway in peak hour traffic, the car conked out on top of the Narrows Bridge.
My son jumped out and gave me a push over the crown of the bridge and I coasted into the emergency lane. I waited an hour for a tow truck and the car went off to the repairer for a new fuel pump. Incidentally, the repairer told me that “someone” had put the fuel filter in the wrong way round. She warned me that the car might not see the year out without major work to the engine and gear box. The wiring was also of concern. The air conditioner hasn’t worked for years and there were a lot of other small problems. All of this was going to set me back about $15,000 to repair with no guarantee against further problems.
I’d been offered $6000 as a trade in just before the odometer read 300,000 kilometres so to get a different angle on the car’s value (ie not from a car salesperson), I took my almost immaculate looking shiny red car with no tears to the upholstery, ten-stack CD player and external temperature display to the wreckers for a quote. The wrecker man was quite keen and offered $4,750 however as we were just down the road from a Toyota dealer, we stopped for a trade in quote and a look at the used cars. I had driven a hired Toyota Corolla while the Merc was being repaired and was impressed with its comfort, zippiness and economy and having checked the prices in the paper, thought I could get a near-new one (with a warranty) for about the cost of repairs to the Merc and with some bonus petrol savings.
The salesman explained that the Corollas in the yard were all “ex hire” and when I showed some reticence at this he showed me a 2000 Avalon Conquest Sportivo which had just come in and although it had been on the road since May 2001 had done less than 20,000 km and was only $19,000 with a 3 year warranty. He offered me $5000 for
the Merc. My husband was quite keen and I could see that this represented reasonable value but the Avalon has a 3 litre motor and is quite a bit bigger than the Merc. Not really the economical zippy car I wanted. I conceded to pressure from both my husband and the salesman that the Avalon was reasonably good value and with the knowledge that the Merc might break down again at anytime, we went to the office to look at paperwork.
All this happened on a Saturday and I was hoping the salesman would offer to hold the car until Monday so I could think about it, however I quickly found myself signing a sales contract. I asked how long the cooling off period was. There isn’t one on used cars (not even when the car is still in the dealer’s possession). We agreed that because my husband had an appointment that afternoon and I was working on Monday that I would complete the paperwork, finance etc and pick up the car on Tuesday. At the time I wasn’t shown the back of the contract document which, amongst other things, states that the dealer doesn’t have to deliver the car until a month after the contract is entered into (four months for a new car).
Well Tuesday came and wouldn’t you know it but both the salesman and the finance woman had the day off. No one else could help but I could bring in documents so they could get on to it first thing Wednesday. I arrived with docs to a sea of salespersons at their desks all just looking at me. I said to no one in particular “Who should I talk to” and received the response “Are you complaining?” from a man who appeared to be the senior salesperson.
Wednesday (the finance approved), I was told by the finance woman that the car would be ready late afternoon and the salesman would call. Well, he called to say the car hadn’t been detailed because they had to wait until finance was approved before they could start and I could pick it up at 3.30 on Thursday. (When did you ever see a car yard full of dirty cars?) I had now spent from Tuesday to Thursday waiting for the phone, not making any plans and with my husband on standby for his signature.
When 3.30 Thursday came, there was a stack more paperwork to sign including a form which, among other vehicle particulars, clearly stated that the vehicle was not covered by a statutory warranty. We were required to sign it although the salesman assured us the car was covered and couldn’t explain why the form was necessary. Needless to say my husband and the salesman both looked at me as though I was just having a bit of a fuss when I objected.
Vaguely maintaining control, I managed to not stack a full consumer wobbly. When I eventually drove the car out of the yard, I found the speed warning alarm was set to 60kph, the radio was set on a golden oldies station and the fuel tank was nearly empty. The Avalon is a lovely car to drive, but with petrol approaching $1.50/litre I’d really like to drive it less. The three year/150,000km warranty turns out to have a total value of about $1500.
I’m still waiting for the kitchen.
As a consumer representative I frequently attend meetings in various parts of the city at different times of the day. I take the car because I have an eclectic schedule and no access to convenient public transport. I generally avoid shopping, commercial activity and entertainment events in the city because of the sheer headache of the logistics involved. My time is very valuable to me and in high demand so I hate being forced to waste it. I live and work in Forrestdale where the increasing population is evidenced by the vast tracts of bushland being cleared for development, together with masses of domestic and commercial building activity.
Railway construction and Freeway diversions with constantly changing speed limits turn what could be a short, pleasant and uninterrupted drive, listening to the radio or considering a meeting agenda into a rally. Bits of orange lane marker are strewn about where people have been unable to avoid them. They are obscured by 4WDs and larger vehicles. There is a lot of broken glass on the road where people have been forced to merge without adequate signage and speed limits and diversions are unpredictable and often appear to have no bearing on the actual work being undertaken. Of course you also have to look out for the usual clowns who think Freeway means Speedway (they must hate peak hour).
My nearest bus stop is more than a kilometre away, has no parking facilities and is not an express service. There is little chance that I will avail myself of the new Mandurah train line when it opens because it just won’t be the most efficient method of transport for me. No acceptable feeder service from Forrestdale has been proposed and I suspect the “park and ride” facilities will be crammed with the vehicles of early rising daily commuters. Will we really have to get used to increased travelling time into the city or will the roads free up after the rail line opens?
Driving in from the suburbs (particularly in peak hour) and having to find parking is also increasingly time consuming, annoying and expensive in fuel and parking fees. Outside peak hour it takes about twenty-five minutes to drive from Forrestdale to the city. In peak hour this stretches to more than an hour of bumper to bumper with the parking roundabout added on too.
Recently I had a meeting at UWA for the new Consumer Research Centre followed by a meeting of the ERACCC in St George’s Terrace. The invitation to the first meeting blithely stated that parking was available on campus or in Hackett Drive. I arrived on campus early but was half an hour late for the meeting, having spent the time circling the campus in an increasingly familiar stream of traffic. I feel for young students from outer suburbs who may not have the means to use the paid parking facilities and who also have irregular hours and limited access to public transport.
I can usually get a parking spot under the DOCEP building so didn’t anticipate a problem for the second meeting. However on arrival the security guard informed me that the car park was full and that the Convention Centre car park was also full and I might try the Wilson’s facility nearby. Plenty of space, given the rate of $9 per hour. There was no attendant, the pay machine didn’t take notes, only coins and credit cards. The credit card facility was out of order and I only had $10 in coins (anticipated three hour meeting) so I put in my $10 and expected to return to find a parking ticket. Fortunately this didn’t eventuate.
You can probably tell I am exasperated with the whole situation. I want to either drive in 25 minutes to a convenient car park space available at a reasonable rate or have access to public transport which can achieve similar results. This would save me about an hour a day travelling time, a significant amount of fuel and a great deal of stress. Now multiply that by the number of consumers in the same situation and we are talking significant amounts of lost productivity.
The Consumer and the Gyprocker The Consumer and the Gyprocker
The school holidays arrived, late 2006, and it was finally a chance to replace two old plaster-glass ceilings that has been peeling in the front of my Federation home for the last ten years.
With the building boom and inflated home prices, it was difficult to obtain quotes, but eventually I managed to get one from one tradesperson who had been recommended by a cupboard installer. He had recently sold his business because of a marital break-up and said he was now working for himself, a couple of days a week, indicating he was happy to put in false ceilings, estimating the job would take two days. To check his work, I asked him to provide a couple referees and when I phoned they gave good reports about his work and reliability.
Eventually, the agreed start day came and I enlisted my son and his mate to help me clear out the rooms at 6.30 in the morning, and had the electrician arrive very early to disconnect the power. We were all prepared, but the gyprocker didn’t arrive til the following day, and when he came one ceiling rose was smaller than agreed and the other was the wrong design. I renegotiated what was originally decided. On the first day the job went much slower than anticipated, stretching the work to three days. On the following days there were a few more ’hiccups’.
Day two, the gyprocker simply turned up his three year old son, much to my dismay. My son and I spent the day trying to entertain the child and keep him away from the rooms which were not safe. Then, when I slipped out briefly to get milk, the ceiling in the second room was dropped. In answer to my query, I was told the ceiling was uneven and could not take the battens. Twenty years of dust spread throughout the house, a large part settling on my library of books. (Later that week I spent several hours dusting and wiping them over and cleaning out the bookcase.)
On day three, which was my husband’s fifty fifth birthday, the gyprocker arrived late, but childless (after being asked the previous day not to bring his son). The three men worked diligently, but were still trying to finish as darkness fell at 8.30pm. They were keen to complete the job because they were supposed to be somewhere else the following day. My husband, naturally, was anxious to leave for the restaurant where we were to celebrate his birthday. I was left trying to placate everyone, but ended uppleasing no-one.
We did eventually get to the restaurant and everyone relaxed after a delicious meal. However, the next day, the gyprocker’s assistant failed to arrive in the morning to help clean up because his car had broken down on the freeway. By the time he actually turned up, my son and I had washed nearly all the walls and floors.
Day five, I cleaned the books for five hours, then exhausted, sat down in the floor in the lounge room with a cup of coffee, to admire the new ceiling. It was that I noticed the rose seemed to be off centre when lined up with the fire place and the windows. Hoping I was wrong, I climbed the ladder and measured across the room, and sure enough the rose was 12 cm closer to the doorway than it should have been. Wanting to be certain, I asked my son to check, and he confirmed it was off centre. I immediately phoned the gyprocker and told him the bad news. He agreed, that if it was indeed off centre, to fix it. However, by this time, Christmas was only five days away so I negotiated for the work to be remedied late in January when some plastering was scheduled. I couldn’t face another mess!
During January, we survived without power and I phoned the week before to confirm the remedy. The gyrocker returned, and then denied the rose was in fact off centre, but then conceded to 9 cm when I asked him to measure it. At that stage, he said the work could not be remedied successfully and offered me $100. He smooth talked me, saying that it was lucky that from the door it optically appeared to be okay. I quietly phoned a builder friend to confirm that the job could be fixed then indicated that I
would need at least $500 if he wasn’t prepared to do the work. At that stage he capitulated, agreeing to do the job the following week. I raced home from work on the agreed day, but he did not show. At this stage, I was very angry but realised that getting cross was not going to get the rose fixed. We had already had one altercation, when I told him that I was expecting a refund of $500. I renegotiated another day the following week and again raced home from work, only to find no tradesperson. When I phoned his mobile, there was no answer. At that stage, I contemplated contacting the Building Disputes Tribunal, but fortunately, he phoned to apologise, saying he had been delayed in Kalumunda, out of mobile phone range. Once again, we negotiated another day, this time for two of his workers who had been with him a month to attend. I was quick to ask if they were experienced and he reassured me that they would be okay because he had explained the job to them.
Two days later, I once again left work early, without much confidence that anyone would actually ‘show’, and if they did, that they would know what to do. Despite my misgivings, the men arrived on time, remedied the job quickly and cleanly, and then apologised for all the inconvenience caused. I was very relieved!
The next week we had the power put back on and began to use the room again. It still has to be painted but I’m sure this will be simple compared to the problems with the gyprock!
I guess the moral to the story is to be sceptical and thoroughly investigate tradespeople before letting them loose on your home; know your rights as a consumer and don’t allow yourself to be swayed by smooth talking rhetoric.