After years of high-profile complaints, the national consumer watchdog has reportedly begun investigating the maker of Jeep cars.
Fiat Chrysler has been named by media outlets as the subject of an investigation by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) into how it handles consumer complaints.
A spokesperson for the ACCC declined to confirm or deny to The New Daily that Fiat Chrysler was the subject of an inquiry, but did confirm that a specific car brand was under investigation.
The watchdog has become “increasingly concerned” about reports of new car buyers “having difficulty obtaining appropriate remedies”, it said in a statement.
As a result, the ACCC has been investigating issues “in relation to one particular brand in light of complaints received and has been engaging with those consumers and dealing with the manufacturers on the matters”, the statement said.
“The focus of our enquiries is to determine whether claims are being handled consistently with the consumer guarantee provisions and ensuring consumers are not being misled about their rights.”
Unhappy consumers ‘delighted’
The most high-profile critic of Fiat Chrysler has been Ashton Wood, a dissatisfied former owner of a Jeep.
So unhappy was he with the company’s response to his brand-new vehicle’s many defects, Mr Wood publicly destroyed his Jeep Cherokee last year after an online campaign asking for donations.
Mr Wood, who claimed his new vehicle had 21 defects, said he was “delighted” by the news of an investigation.
“It has been a long time coming,” he told The New Daily.
Mr Wood claimed to have bought his faulty vehicle for $49,000 in 2010, and to have been offered $22,500 rather than a replacement or refund after numerous faults.
“I have sent hundreds of unhappy customers to the ACCC website to lodge their complaints, so I know that the ACCC have the numbers they need to prove that consumers are being misled about their rights and to impose fines and other sanctions on Fiat Chrysler Australia,” Mr Wood said.
When contacted by The New Daily last year, a spokesperson for Fiat Chrysler said it would continue to attempt to resolve Mr Wood’s dispute, but seemed to indicate it wanted the matter kept private.
“It is not our policy to conduct negotiations or discussions with our customers in a public forum,” the spokesperson said.
The company then demanded an apology from Mr Wood, who facetiously complied by apologising for ever buying the Jeep Cherokee in the first place.
When contacted by The New Daily, the company’s media spokesperson declined to make any comment on the potential investigation.
‘Lemon laws’ under review
Seemingly in response to growing coverage of vehicle faults, Consumer Affairs Minister Bruce Billson recently ordered the ACCC to review current laws governing the rights of new car buyers.
Known as ‘lemon laws’, these protections have been in place in the US since 1975, but are reportedly weaker in Australia.
Under current laws, a car maker must refund or replace a vehicle with “major” faults, but can decline to do so if it was “minor” faults.
The law should be changed to define a ‘lemon’ as any vehicle repaired at least three times that is still defective, or that has been rendered undriveable for more than 20 days due to a single defect, Consumer Action Law Centre has said.
How to get help
Those unhappy with how their vehicle complaint has been handled by Fiat Chrysler (or any other company) should contact the ACCC.