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Driver wins outstanding parts delay stoush

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A NSW motorist who questioned the roadworthiness of his car after being told to return a rental vehicle and resume driving his own while his insurer’s repairer waited up to six weeks for some outstanding parts has won a claim dispute and been awarded compensation.

Auto & General Services accepted the claim after the accident in October last year and authorised repairs, providing a hire car during the process as agreed in the policy terms.

After three weeks of work on the car, the repairer told the claimant the arrival of a wheel arch mould/guard flare and right-hand step could take 4-6 weeks but advised the vehicle was safe to drive and he could pick it up while waiting for those two remaining parts.

The repairer gave the driver the option to collect his vehicle while waiting for parts, or wait, and he opted to wait. Auto & General’s hire car team – which had organised his hire car for October 13-November 3 - did not agree with this, and on November 1 sent a text message asking him to return the hire car by close of business that day.

Auto & General said the car was driveable while the two parts were on back order, the missing parts did not compromise safety and would not take long to fit once they arrived.

The driver thought this made his vehicle non-compliant with state vehicle standards and did not want to return the hire car because he had concerns that he could not legally use his own on the road without the guard flare. The policy allowed him to keep the hire car until his vehicle was repaired, which it was not, he said.

The man’s tyres were not standard factory fitted tyres and he believed the lack of wheel arch therefore meant he was breaching a NSW vehicle standard that states “the wheel and tyre must be contained within the bodywork or mudguards, including any flares, when the wheels are aligned straight”.

He went to the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) seeking an additional hire car charge of $314 and compensation for the insurer’s handling of the matter.

Photographs showed the tyre protruding from the rest of the vehicle and he said he could be stopped by police and issued with a fine and a defect notice.

“I consider this was a reasonable concern,” the ombudsman said. "I do not consider that the insurer adequately addressed the complainant’s valid concerns regarding breaching the NSW vehicle regulations.”

It awarded reimbursement of his hire car costs and $500 compensation.

"The complainant raised valid concerns about the roadworthiness of the vehicle without the relevant parts,” AFCA said. “The insurer did not adequately address this or take steps to assist with a reasonable solution. This caused the complainant to incur additional hire car costs and to suffer avoidable stress and inconvenience,” AFCA said.

Auto & General argued that as the man was not stopped or fined by police while driving without the required part, this aspect of the complaint should not be considered.

“I disagree. This concern clearly caused the complainant avoidable stress and inconvenience. It also caused him to be charged directly for additional hire car costs,” the ombudsman said.

It was reasonable to expect Auto & General to either sufficiently address the complainant’s concerns so he could be satisfied he could safely drive the vehicle on the road while waiting for the parts, AFCA said, or take steps to assist with an adequate short-term solution, such as finding temporary replacement parts if able, or provide the hire car until the repairs were complete.

“The insurer did not take any of these steps and instead required the complainant to immediately return the hire car, or risk being charged for further use.

“Without adequate discussion with the complainant about why he suddenly needed to return the hire car, despite being given the option to wait for the parts to arrive by the repairer, I do not consider this was reasonable or fair,” the ombudsman said. “It was reasonable to expect the insurer to contact the complainant and to discuss why he needed to return the hire car.”

The man had quickly advised the insurer he was concerned he was not able to legally drive the vehicle on the road without the required parts, but AFCA said Auto & General did not address this at all until it provided submissions months later in January, including a statement from its assessor advising the missing parts did not compromise safety integrity.

“The assessor has not explained how it came to this conclusion considering the regulations,” AFCA said.

See the full ruling here