“I fitted a battery for a customer with a 3-year warranty. The customer came back after 2½ years with complaints 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 Ford. 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?
When you sell goods or services to consumers you cannot exclude their statutory rights. Where the parts were not as described or fit for their purpose etc, when supplied to a consumer then even 2½ years later they will be entitled to compensation.
If you sell goods or service and provide a warranty you need to see this as 2 contracts (one for the goods one for the warranty). In the event of a fault the customer would be free to claim either under a warranty or claim for breach of their consumer rights.
Where a consumer claims a breach of contract, after the first 6 months it is for them to prove that the issue is a fault for which you are responsible. IF they can, they will be entitled to their reasonable losses and whilst a judge will not be happy if the consumer goes elsewhere, if the battery was faulty when you sold it then you would be liable for the reasonable costs of rectifying the fault.
However, if the consumer cannot prove that the goods or services were faulty at time of sale, they can only claim under any warranty provided. There is no requirement to warrant any work or any parts. As such a warranty can legitimately require the consumer to return the vehicle to you and place reasonable conditions on the costs covered.
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 2½ years old, anything could have happened to the battery. It would be for the consumer to prove the battery any breach of contract, and you are a little safer if you take a hard line. 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.
Motor Industry Legal Services
Motor Industry Legal Services (MILS Solicitors) provides fully comprehensive legal advice and representation to UK motor retailers for one annual fee. It is the only law firm in the UK which specialises in motor law and motor trade law. MILS currently advises over 1,000 individual businesses within the sector as well as the Retail Motor Industry Federation (RMI) and its members.