Toyota letter admits its product is junk

By Frank Chung of

Have Australian customers been taken for a ride? Photo / iStock
Have Australian customers been taken for a ride? Photo / iStock

"THIS product is more expensive than you can get anywhere else, it's probably not right for you, and it will generally make your life more difficult."

Would you buy a product with that sales pitch? Embarrassingly, Toyota has been forced to write to customers saying more or less the same thing.

The letter, a Supplementary Product Disclosure Statement (SPDS) for Toyota's novated lease insurance, is in effect a direct admission that the company has been selling customers "junk" through its dealerships.

Junk insurance, which is often slipped into credit card, personal or car loan agreements, comes in various forms, but generally costs the consumer thousands of dollars for no real benefit.

Earlier this year, the securities regulator released two damning reports into the industry, "Buying add-on insurance in car yards: why it can be hard to say no", and "The sale of life insurance through car dealers: Taking consumers for a ride".

The reports exposed major issues with the practice of selling add-on insurance, which the Consumer Action Law Centre has described as a "get rich quick scheme" for car dealers and finance providers.

Consumer Action estimates Australians have lost at least $70 million through junk insurance, with some unaware they bought the policy in the first place.

The advocacy group has been running a campaign called "Demand A Refund", which encourages consumers who have been sold junk insurance and warranties to complain and get their money back.

Toyota warns its insurance 'is often more expensive'. Photo / Supplied
Toyota warns its insurance 'is often more expensive'. Photo / Supplied

One victim was Queensland woman Lynette Watkin, who was slugged with an additional $2670 in junk insurance - $1375 worth of gap insurance and a $1295 extended warranty - when she purchased a Toyota Corolla Sedan from her local dealership.

Ms Watkin, who runs a cleaning chemical manufacturing business on the Gold Coast, said she had no idea the two policies had been included in her paperwork for the $38,000 car.

"It was never mentioned to us by Toyota," she said. "I didn't ask for the extra insurance [policies], I don't need them and don't want them. It was just sneakily added on."

Ms Watkin initially went to the Toyota dealership to attempt to get a refund but was told to contact the complaints line. She says she never heard back.

It was only after contacting Consumer Action for help that she found the details for Aioi Nissay Dowa Insurance Company, Toyota Insurance's underwriter, who agreed to refund the money.

Ms Watkin has now received the full $2670 refund plus $640 in interest. "If it hadn't been drawn to my attention this would have been ongoing," she said.

"I try to tell as many people as I possibly can, always check when you buy a new car or even a second-hand one. It's very sneaky."

Toyota Insurance issued the SPDS on July 1, adding a new section titled "Risks". "There are risks associated with choosing insurance cover that you need to consider," the new text reads.

It warns that "for insurance policies purchased in conjunction with financing agreements through motor dealers, such as this policy" there are "some things to consider".

They include the fact that "insurance purchased this way is often more expensive than similar cover purchased through other methods".

And that "the types and levels of insurance provided may not be appropriate for you, especially if you have no dependants or already have insurance cover sufficient to meet your liabilities through other policies".

It also acknowledges that "including the premium for insurance as part of the financed amount increases the real cost of the insurance due to the interest payable on the financed amount".

"Please consider if this product is right for you," it finishes.

Consumer Action chief executive Gerard Brody said the letter was "admitting that it's junk".

"We have raised concerns that the sales of this sort of insurance misleads people or takes advantage of them through the sales process," he said.

"I think Toyota are trying to protect themselves by saying this is clearly disclosed at the outset. But in practice we know consumers rarely read complex and lengthy disclosure documents."

To date, consumers have requested more than $230,000 in refunds through the DemandARefund website, and Mr Brody said many had been successful.

"The industry is taking notice," he said. "We're very hopeful they're realising the time is up for these sorts of sales practices."

The group is also lobbying for tougher laws. "We're hoping governments will intervene and change the law to prevent insurance being bundled with personal loans or other products in a way that people are unable to assess the value of the product," Mr Brody said.

Consumer Action says the four most complained about companies are Swann Insurance, AVEA, National Warranty Company and Australian Warranty Network.

The most refunds have been requested for consumer credit insurance (40 per cent), followed by warranties (31 per cent) and gap insurance (29 per cent).

One quarter of consumers who requested refunds said they were unaware of the purchase, 42 per cent said the product was inappropriate, 29 per cent thought the insurance was mandatory, and 24 per cent said they were rushed or pressured into the sale.

Toyota Australia has been contacted for comment.


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