by Collyn Rivers
RV fault issues
The legal situation and your legal rights as a buyer
Many RV owners complain that, when approaching the vendor with after-sale issues, they are told to consult the RV maker. That maker then advises consulting the vendor. Here is the legal situation about RV fault issues – who is responsible? And your legal rights as a buyer. This article by By Michael Eburn Ph.D. explains just who is legally responsible for caravan or motorhome after-sales service. (Dr Michael Eburn is an Associate Professor of Law at a major Australian University.)
The Australian Consumer Law is set out as Schedule 2 to the (Commonwealth) Competition and Consumer Act 2010. A consumer is defined (Australian Consumer Law Schedule 3) as a person who buys goods that cost less than $40,000; or
(b) the goods were of a kind ordinarily acquired for personal, domestic or household use or consumption; or
(c) the goods consisted of a vehicle or trailer acquired for use principally in the transport of goods on public roads.
Almost any new caravan will cost more than $40,000. A caravan is ordinarily acquired, however, for personal, domestic or household use. It is rarely bought for business use, although it could be. Furthermore, a caravan is used to carry goods (i.e. things in the caravan) on public roads. Legally, a caravan buyer is a consumer under Australian Consumer Law.
Who is responsible? Contractual terms
Every sale for consumer goods has contractual terms. These terms include: the product is of acceptable quality, a guarantee is fit for any disclosed purpose. And that goods meet their description. Or are like the sample or demonstration product.
A consumer can look to both seller and manufacturer to remedy product defects. The seller/consumer contract cannot waive the consumer’s rights. The consumer is protected under Australian Consumer Law (section 64).
Manufacturers do not necessarily make every part of their product. Many assemble various components. In this case a caravan. Under Australian Consumer Law, a manufacturer includes:
(a) a person who assembles goods;
(b) a person who holds himself or herself out to the public as the manufacturer of goods;
(c) a person who causes or permits the name of the person. A name the person uses to carry on business or a brand or mark of the person to be applied to goods supplied by that person. A person includes a corporation. See Commonwealth Acts Interpretation Act 1901 section 2C.
A company that sells brand name caravans buys parts from various suppliers. It assembles those parts into a caravan. Then, as the ‘manufacturer’ affixes its brand name to that caravan. If you buy a ‘brand name’ caravan, the ‘brand names’ owner is the manufacturer. Under Australian Consumer Law a manufacturer must guarantee the product.Buyer beware – how vendors may mislead
With RV fault issues – who is responsible? a review of caravan manufacturers warranty policies indicates some appear contrary to Australian Consumer Law. Here are a few examples:
Brand name 1
Brand name 1 ‘agrees to warrant without charge, for a period of one (1) year (or twelve months) from the date of first purchase, any shortcomings in the original materials or manufacture of their product. The “date of first purchase” is considered to be the date of the customer/buyer/owner taking delivery of his or her new caravan from [Brand name1]. This must be with all monies paid and accounts finalised unless otherwise agreed upon by [Brand name 1].’
Defects considered by [Brand name 1] to be beyond reasonable wear and tear.
“Any item supplied by [Brand name 1] as original equipment and which is covered by that original supplier’s warranty only shall include the following: Refrigerators, stoves, ovens, microwaves, hot water systems, solar equipment, air conditioners, transformers, pumps, audio and visual appliances, toilets, awnings. Plus any other accessories or option which may be covered by that original manufacturer’s warranty.’
‘Chassis, tyres, brakes, axles, suspension, bumpers and spare wheels and brackets. Removing and refitting costs of same to enable the performance of repairs under those warranties.’
Brand name 2
Brand name 2 ‘include equipment and fittings, such as cooking appliances, tyres and toilets, which are separately warranted by their manufacturer and not covered by Brand name 2’s Warranty. If necessary, Brand name 2 will help an owner make a warranty claim to these individual component manufacturers’.
Brand name 3
Brand name 3’s RVs ‘include equipment and fittings, such as cooking appliances, tyres and toilets, which are separately warranted by their manufacturer and not covered by [Brand name 3’s] Warranty. If necessary, Brand name 3 will help an owner make a warranty claim to these individual component manufacturers’.
Brand name 4
Brand name 4 ‘manufactures the body of the caravan and the furniture and ensures that all systems relating to electrical, plumbing and gas supply are installed correctly. The workmanship carried out by [Brand name 4] is second to none’
Brand name 4 warrants ‘the items we manufacture, each supplier warrants major components such as the appliances and the chassis separately as they have the expertise in relation to their products. Caravans are complex and incorporate a number of major items provided by other manufacturers with the skill-set to design and manufacture those items. Chassis, suspensions, televisions and refrigerators, for instance, are manufactured separately and carry their own warranties. Brand name 4 installs every item in accordance with the respective manufacturer’s instructions.’
‘The Chassis– warranty on the chassis component is offered by the manufacturer of the chassis. Check with your local dealership to find out the warranty period on your chassis. The caravan chassis is manufactured by [Brand name 5] and covered under the three-year manufacturer warranty as offered by [Brand name 5]. The motorhome or caravan body, furniture and fittings manufactured by [Brand name 5] are covered under the three-year manufacturer warranty as offered by [Brand name 5].’
‘The appliances– refrigerator, air conditioner, television and hot water system, to name a few, all have their own warranty offered by the respective manufacturers of each component; just like a normal home where the home builder generally doesn’t warrant the washing machine for example.’
Here’s what the above ‘Warranties” really mean
Brand Name 1 effectively warranties nothing. As for the statement from Brand Name 5: (that) ‘refrigerator, air conditioner, television and hot water system to name a few all have their own warranty offered by the respective manufacturers of each component; just like a normal home where the home builder generally doesn’t warrant the washing machine for example.’
The home builder doesn’t normally supply the washing machine, but if you buy an apartment that includes prestige fittings the developer warranties those fittings (even if the manufacturer of those fittings may do also).
The buyer doesn’t select the chassis and the veneer, and the other parts used to make the caravan. The buyer buys a complete product assembled by the manufacturer. The concept that the manufacturer, who can choose what chassis, and fridge, and cladding etc to purchase and has contractual arrangements with the suppliers of those products, does not warranty those products is clearly not tenable.
It would be like going to Holden to complain that the lights on the vehicle leak and having Holden say ‘but we don’t make the lights, we just install them’. The lights are part of the car, and the chassis is part of the caravan (as are all the other items supplied with the caravan). While Holden no longer makes cars in Australia (the Holden Commodore was made by Opel), a buyer in Australia looked to Holden as the manufacturer. Its cars are badged ‘Holden’.
The definition of a manufacturer in Australian Consumer Law, plus the right to recover from a manufacturer, means that the warranty terms quoted above are not binding. They may reflect the warranty that the manufacturer offers. They in no way, however, detract from a consumer’s rights. The consumer is protected by the Australian Consumer Law. The consumer can accordingly request the caravan supplier and the caravan manufacturer (but not the manufacturer of the caravan‘s bits and pieces) to remedy defects.
Who is responsible?
The manufacturer, the company that’s name is attached the caravan, and the supplier of the caravan are bound to make good any defect in the caravan including defects in anything supplied as part of the caravan, the fridge, the chassis the veneer etc.
Your first contact should be with the vendor that sold the caravan. If that supplier refuses to accept responsibility, you take the matter up with the relevant Consumer Affairs agency. This must be in the state or territory where the caravan was purchased.
Caravans are made to travel so defects may arise away from home. Where the caravan is manufactured by a company with a chain of dealers – contact the closest dealer. Ask for the statutory warranty service to be honoured.
Your Next Legal Step/s
If the issue is not resolved, consult the relevant Consumer Claims Tribunal (in the jurisdiction where the caravan was purchased). Ask the Tribunal to compel the supplier and/or the manufacturer to honour their statutory obligations.
Summary of RV fault issues – who is responsible?
If you buy a caravan and have an after-sale issue, first approach caravan‘s vendor. That vendor may advise approaching the maker of the faulty part or the appliance. The vendor may advise they are quoting the caravan makers warranty. But warranty terms such as quoted above, are contrary to Australian Consumer Law.
The supplier of the caravan, and the manufacturer of the caravan, are responsible for the selection and installation of all the parts that come with the caravan. Even if they regard the fridge, or stove, or chassis as separate items, the vendor that sold the caravan also sold those parts. That vendor is responsible for meeting the warranties imposed under the Australian Consumer Law.
Where a supplier or manufacturer refuses to remedy a defect a consumer should immediately approach their local consumer affairs department. Seek their assistance to enforce their rights under Australian law.