Normally, consumer forums insist on expert evidence or opinion to establish that a vehicle is defective. However, this procedure need not be followed blindly. The National Commission has ruled repeated visits to the workshop for the same complaints would be evidence to substantiate a manufacturing defect, entitling the consumer to suitable compensation.
Navin Nishchal had purchased a Tata Indica car through Sanya Motors, an authorised dealer of Tata Motors. It had problem in starting the engine, consumed excessive fuel and engine oil and emitted excessive smoke. Soon after the purchase, the vehicle had to be taken to the dealer for repairs.
Yet, the same problems kept recurring, necessitating the vehicle to be taken for repairs. As the defects could not be rectified, Navin contacted the company's customer care manager. The vehicle was taken to the company's workshop, and Navin was told the engine had been changed and he would not face any further problems.
But the problems continued. Navin then sent a legal notice to Tata Motors and its dealer demanding a replacement of the defective car along with compensation and costs.
Since his grievance was not redressed, he filed a complaint before the Delhi District Forum. The dealer claimed he could not be held liable for a manufacturing defect. The manufacturer claimed there was no expert opinion to substantiate Navin's contention.
The Forum held expert evidence was not necessary to establish manufacturing defects as it was evident from the repeated complaints. It directed the firm to replace the car with a new one of the same model with a fresh warranty and also awarded compensation of Rs 10,000 for the harassment and inconvenience to Navin, plus Rs 2,500 as a cost of litigation.
The Tatas appeal against this order and the Delhi State Commission modified it. The Commission directed Tata to refund the cost of the vehicle after applying a depreciation of 10 per cent as Navin had used the car for two years. Further Rs 50,000 was awarded as lump sum compensation for mental agony, harassment, physical harassment and litigation costs.
The Tatas filed a revision petition before the National Commission. Its main contention was the vehicle had not been sent to an appropriate laboratory for expert opinion. It said excess smoke was due to use of adulterated diesel.
The National Commission observed the car had to be taken to the workshop almost every month. A buyer of a new car would not repeatedly take his vehicle to the dealer or manufacturer with flimsy complaints as it entailed expenditure of considerable effort, time and money.
The Tatas claimed its liability under the warranty ended with replacement of the defective engine assembly, the orders for replacement of the vehicle or refund of its price were not justified. The National Commission observed Navin had suffered physical harassment and mental agony as well as expenditure of time and money. This entitled him to be suitably compensated. The Commission set aside the previous orders and directed the company to pay Rs 40,000 as compensation and Rs 10,000 as costs.
It is extremely difficult to get an order for replacement or refund of the price of a defective vehicle, unless there is sufficient evidence to justify such an order. However, laboratory analysis of the defective vehicle is not required to claim compensation.
The author is a consumer activist