Solid sleuthing by a Tokoroa lawyer led to the discovery that her used Chevrolet had travelled tens of thousands of miles further than advertised when she bought it.
Maryanne Crapp has managed to get her money back on the Chevrolet 4WD she bought from a Cromwell dealer for $23,800 – including delivery costs, in late 2020. It was advertised as having done 75,000 miles, but she later discovered that by 2007 it had travelled close to 121,000 miles, long before it was imported to New Zealand from Japan.
The director of LMC Law in Tokoroa and classic car fan told the New Zealand Herald that the experience showed how difficult it can be for consumers, who might not possess legal knowledge, to fight for their rights.
"I agree that if you do not have a legal background it could be difficult for members of the public to understand their rights as consumers and how to challenge motor vehicle dealers and retailers when they have problems with goods purchased."
Crapp has owned and imported several American classic cars over the years. She owns three, but she had never bought one from a dealer until November 2020 when she bought the 2001 Chevrolet Tahoe 4WD from Southern Wholesale Ltd. It was still going through the compliance process, having recently been imported to New Zealand, when Crapp asked for it be transported to Hamilton before Christmas 2020.
"This was the first, and most likely will be my last, time I buy from a dealer. I certainly didn't expect to have the issues I did."
The Motor Vehicle Disputes Tribunal upheld her right to reject the purchase after she found multiple faults with the vehicle soon after it was delivered and sought help from the dealer she described as initially reluctant to help. Problems included a faulty window that was held up by a block of wood, the windscreen wipers ran continuously, the wires to the alternator were burned and the vehicle could not be started. The dealer did step in to help fix some of the problems.
More significantly, Crapp said in her evidence that the vehicle's odometer reading was much lower than the miles the vehicle had actually done.
Because of the vehicle's problems Crapp took it to a Chevrolet specialist in Matamata, which provided an extensive report related to the vehicle, including a transaction history and service contracts. The report showed that in May 2006, the vehicle had been the subject of recalls, at which time its odometer reading was recorded as 89,993 miles.
Southern Wholesale supplied as evidence a report from Odometer Inspection Services dated July 27, 2020, certifying that the vehicle's odometer reading of 75,203 miles was checked against the official databases in Japan, from where the vehicle was exported to New Zealand in 2020.
The report stated that the vehicle's odometer had been inspected and showed no signs of being tampered with.
A hearing adjournment last September allowed each side to gather more information. Crapp was asked to provide further technical evidence that might show the odometer had been tampered with. She was directed to the United States-based website Carfax, which was commonly used by used vehicle importers from the US.
She told the Herald that to help her case, she did legal research of similar odometer cases heard by the tribunal.
"This was more to confirm how I could strengthen my case to reject the vehicle on the basis the advertisement failed to comply with the vehicle's description.
"I researched how the tribunal assessed the evidence before it and what, if any, conduct by the consumer was taken into account."
Crapp obtained a report from Carfax which had four relevant odometer readings specific to the vehicle she bought, right back to when it was first registered in Michigan in 2000. By June 2007, when the vehicle was recorded as having sold at an auto auction, its odometer showed it had done 120,860 miles.
The tribunal concluded that the vehicle did not comply with its description as recorded in the advertising and the vehicle offer and sale agreement.
Southern Wholesale did not resist a finding that, with these faults, the vehicle was not of acceptable quality.
A spokesperson for the dealer, who declined to be named, told the Herald that the vehicle had been returned to them, and was undergoing extensive repair work.
Crapp said that consumers needed tenacity to take on motor vehicle dealers as they would often just "fob them off" or provide a narrative that was legally incorrect.