A pain in the BMW


Dealership’s sloppy work wrecked owner’s 316i then they slapped him with a R362,000 quote for repairs

On Tuesday 20 September 2016 Rob Wilson of Morningside, Sandton took his BMW 316i, bought new in 2013, to his nearest BMW agent, Sandton Auto, to have a fluid leak fixed. This work was completed under his BMW Motorplan the same day, and early the next morning he set off for Pongola in KwaZulu-Natal, near the Swaziland border, to meet up with some clients.

After travelling about 150km, near Ermelo he noticed the vehicle’s temperature rising and soon a warning message appeared cautioning him to slow down: engine overheating. He immediately called the Sandton Service Advisor, who said he should proceed slowly and try to find some top-up water.  “I stopped and put what water I had into the radiator, but this made little difference to the temperature,” he recalls.

Irate: BMW owner Rob Wilson

He continued driving extremely slowly, constantly phoning Sandton BMW for advice. Phone records show five calls at the time to Sandton Auto’s landline (081 381 3251), in addition to other calls to BMW On Call and the service advisor’s cell phone.

At the first toll booth on the highway he stopped, got a large bucket of water, filled the radiator and waited for the engine to cool down before proceeding on an extremely dangerous section of the N17 before Ermelo, where hijackings and muggings are a common occurrence and signs warn motorists not to stop for their own safety.

The vehicle’s temperature soon shot up again, so he reluctantly stopped to await a tow-truck from BMW Ermelo. Stranded in the early morning on the side of the road in a shiny BMW was unnerving.

When the tow-truck arrived it was discovered that a bottom hose had dropped because they had failed to fasten the hose clamp the previous day in Sandton Auto’s workshop. Wilson’s mood instantly switched from nervous to furious. And those overseas clients waiting for him in Pongola still needed to be taken to O R Tambo Airport to catch their flight back to Germany.

BMW On Call proved problematic so Wilson eventually arranged for one of his own fleet cars (not a BMW) to drive from Johannesburg to rescue him. The visitors were ferried from Pongola to Ermelo at Wilson’s expense and all ended well that day.

Initially BMW Motorplan apologised for the inconvenience they had caused and for their bad service. Paul Mhlanga of BMW Financial Services, in an email of 30 September, apologised for the totally unacceptable service from both Sandton Auto and BMW On Call. He wrote that Wilson could have been “treated much better” with regards to his business being affected by “the failure of your vehicle”.

“We fully agree that the service offered to you was not a true reflection of our standards,” they wrote.

On Tuesday 11 October (2016) BMW Financial Services again apologised for the delay in resolving the matter. They paid for a hire-car for a week, and then gave Wilson a loan-car for a further two weeks. But 30 days later, Wilson’s car remained unrepaired, still parked in BMW Sandton’s yard.

Then an apologetic Paul Mhlanga called Wilson to inform him that someone at Head Office had decided this was a claim BMW didn’t need to settle. A curt note dated 7 October followed, repudiating Wilson’s claim that they repair or replace the car, and pointing out that in the maintenance plan contract he had signed, there was a clause that excluded all claims arising from damage caused should the driver continue driving when the temperature warning light was on.

BMW also demanded their loan-car back. When Wilson refused to return it while his own car remained unrepaired at their garage, they used Tracker to trace their car to Wanderer’s Golf Club and, while he was on the golf course, stole it back.

Ryan Barwell, Operations Director at Sandton Auto, had told him that a new engine would cost about R350,000, plus R12,000 for labour. The car’s estimated value was only R240,000 (if it had an engine that worked). The quote for the repairs then miraculously dropped to around R170,000. Wilson wasn’t happy with that estimate either and had the car towed to an “alternative” BMW repair workshop, where the job was done for R133,155.38 – less than half the original quote from BMW.

Last year Wilson had summons issued out of the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court, suing BMW Sandton Auto for that amount, plus R4,000 – the cost of having the car trucked from Ermelo to Johannesburg.

BMW Sandton’s first response was to apply to court to have the case thrown out as they believed it was “frivolous and vexatious”. The magistrate did not agree.  A trial date has yet to be set.

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