We are sometimes asked to advise on the thorny issue of the cost of repatriation, where perhaps a car is sold to a customer who leaves the showroom for a pre-planned holiday in sunny climes, excited by the prospect of a long and fun-filled journey in the new motor, accompanied by his wife, six children, the mother-in-law and an incontinent dog.
While it may have seemed a great idea to trail off to Lake Garda without any previous long-distance testing of the new machine, it might look like a triumph of optimism over reality when the car expires at the top of the Stelvio Pass, gasping its last as it splutters to a despairing halt in the middle of nowhere. Invariably when a car breaks down, it is in a mobile telephone dead spot, leaving the owner to wait forlornly in the hope of flagging down another car to send for help. When eventually they are rescued and put up in a local chicken- infested barn while the car is repaired, it is likely that the poor customer will turn his attention to the cost of all this misfortune and who should pay it.
Generally, the Consumer Rights Act requires that where goods fail within the first six months of ownership and that failure can be attributed to a fault present at the point of sale, the customer is entitled to ask that the fault be put right at no cost to him. His three rights (repair, replacement or refund) remain intact, notwithstanding that the conversation has, by force, to take place over a distance of thousands of miles. The test is always one of reasonableness. If the customer told the selling dealer that he intended to go abroad straight away, it was incumbent upon the dealer to make sure car was fit for that purpose and if not, he should have advised against purchase. If there comes a point where a decision needs to be made about whether to repair locally or repatriate the car and family, a balance must be struck between what is sensible, reasonable and most cost-effective, while protecting the consumer’s rights. While you may argue that he should have taken out breakdown cover, the dealer cannot use this as a bullet-proof shield to escape the potential bill.
We very recently had to advise a dealer who sold a Tesla to a certain Mr E Musk of no fixed abode, who complained that his sportscar had suffered an infuriating failure of its in-car entertainment system, which continuously looped David Bowie singing “Space Oddity”. In questioning the wisdom of repatriating the car for repair we recommended that the dealer should take account of the distance he might have to send the RAC to recover it. At the time of writing this, the car was some 750,000 miles away and heading in the wrong direction at 20,000mph!
Ultimately a dealer should not allow repair or recovery costs to become astronomical!