“Unconscionable conduct” – Peak consumer watchdog zeros in on Australian car industry

Peak consumer watchdog zeros in on Australian car industry
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The automotive industry is responsible for more consumer complaints than any other, the ACCC has revealed.

The ACCC – Australia’s peak market watchdog – has announced a renewed focus on the car industry, citing widespread neglect of consumer rights by both manufacturers and dealers. As part of its annual ‘Compliance and Enforcement Priorities’ announcement, the independent government department revealed the automotive sector is responsible for more consumer complaints nationally than any other – and recommitted to its 2015 goal of combating malpractice in the industry.

“Non-compliance with the consumer guarantee provision [by car manufacturers and dealers] continues to be our most reported issue,” a spokesperson for the ACCC told Drive.

Such infringements include failure to uphold warranty guarantees, false or misleading advertising, unscrupulous sales practices, overcharging for servicing, and anti-competitive behaviour (see the full list of previous ACCC investigations and findings below).

“The ACCC has taken numerous enforcement actions in the motor vehicle sector for false or misleading representations and unconscionable conduct by motor vehicle manufacturers, in relation to concerns about non-compliance with the consumer guarantee provisions,” the spokesperson added.

“Reluctance by motor vehicle dealers to provide remedies to which consumers are entitled is to a large extent influenced by the imbalance in their relationships with manufacturers, and simply insufficient confidence that they will obtain reimbursement from manufacturers.”

While dealers blame manufacturers for faults or malpractice – and vice versa – industry analysts have noted consumers are being left worse-off under the status-quo, with neither party taking responsibility for the upkeep of fair and equitable business practices.

When asked what specifically the ACCC will do to combat ongoing malpractice, the spokesperson said: “[We’ll] continue to engage with motor vehicle industries about their compliance, and where necessary, will continue to use the existing law to take action against motor vehicle businesses.

“However, the ACCC also continues to advocate for law reform to improve compliance with both the consumer guarantees and the supplier indemnification obligations.”

The ACCC has previously taken car makers and retailers to court for failure to comply with

guarantee provisions or anti-competitive practices, and in 2021 handed down its 10th industry penalty in six years – with fines now totalling more than $135 million.

“We’ve long taken an interest in the motor vehicle industry because, for most people, it’s the second most expensive purchase after their home,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims told Drive last year.

“We’ve been very concerned about consumers getting mislead in many ways during our renewed focus on the automotive sector … There is a concern that some sections of the motor industry are not giving the proper attention to consumers and to Australian Consumer Law.”

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