Who is legally responsible for caravan or motorhome after sales service?
Many of our rvbooks.com.au readers complain that that when approaching a caravan vendor with an after-sale issue they are told to consult the maker of the item, who often then suggests they go back to the vendor. Here is the legal situation - and your rights as a caravan or motorhome buyer.
Caravan fault issues - who is responsible ?
Here is the legal situation and your legal rights as a buyer
The Australian Consumer Law is set out as Schedule 2 to the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth).
A consumer is defined (Australian Consumer Law s 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.
Any new caravan will cost more than $40 000 but a caravan is ‘ordinarily acquired for personal, domestic or household use’ that is it is not ordinarily purchased as a business acquisition (although, of course, it could be). Further a caravan is a trailer and is used to carry other goods (ie the things in the caravan) on public roads. It follows that notwithstanding the price, the purchaser of a caravan is a consumer for the purposes of the Australian Consumer Law.
In every sale for consumer goods there are terms in the contract; these terms include that the product is of acceptable quality (Australian Consumer Law s 54), a guarantee that the products is fit for any disclosed purpose (s 55), that goods meet a given description (s 56) or are like the sample or demonstration product (s 57). A consumer can look to both the seller and the manufacturer to remedy any defects in the product (Part 5-4). The contract between the seller and the consumer cannot waive the consumer’s rights under the Australian Consumer Law (s 64).
A manufacturer does not manufacture every component of their product, but they put the various components together to create the product, in this case the caravan. Under the Australian Consumer Law (s 7) 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 by which the person carries on business or a brand or mark of the person to be applied to goods supplied by the person.
A person includes a corporation (Acts Interpretation Act 1901 (Cth) s 2C). A company that sells caravans under its brand name presumably buys parts from various suppliers and assembles them into the caravan and then holds itself out as the manufacturer, and affixes their brand name to the caravans. If you buy a ‘brand name’ caravan, then the owner of the ‘brand name’ is the manufacturer and has to guarantee the caravan in accordance with the Australian Consumer Law.
A review of web pages of caravan manufacturers reveals warranty policies that are, in my view, contrary to the Australian Consumer Law. Here are some examples:
[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 name #1] Pty Ltd, with all monies paid and accounts finalized, unless otherwise agreed upon by [Brand name #1] Pty Ltd.
"Defects considered by [Brand name #1 Pty Ltd] to be beyond reasonable wear and tear.
Any item as supplied by [Brand name #1] Pty Ltd as original equipment and which is covered by that original supplier’s warranty only. This shall include:
"Refrigerators, stoves, ovens, microwaves, hot water systems, solar equipment, air conditioners, transformers, pumps, audio and visual appliances, toilets, awnings, and 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]" 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]’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] "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. Caravans 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."
What these 'Warranties" really mean
If one were to take these warranty terms seriously, 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 then of course the developer warranties those fittings (even if the manufacturer of those fittings may also warranty them). Even if that is true a house is not a consumer product and the warranty terms are not covered by the Australian Consumer Law in the way a caravan is.
A person who buys a caravan buys the whole caravan.
The buyer doesn’t select the chassis and the veneer, and the other parts used to make the caravan. The buyer buys the complete product that is assembled by the manufacturer. The idea 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). Further, to continue the example, we know that Holden no longer make cars in Australia. The latest Commodore is, I understand it, made by Opel but a buyer in Australia still looks to Holden as the manufacturer as they are badged ‘Holden’.
These warranty terms are silly and cannot be upheld in light of the Australian Consumer Law.
The definition of manufacturer in s 7 of the Australian Consumer Law along with the right to recover from a manufacturer means that the warranty terms quoted above and taken from various website are simply not binding. They may reflect the warranty that the manufacturer offers but they in no way detract from a consumer’s rights under the Australian Consumer Law and the consumer can look to the supplier of the caravan, and the manufacturer of the caravan (not the manufacturer of the bits and pieces that go into the caravan) to remedy any defect.
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 a defect in any things supplied as part of the caravan, the fridge, the chassis the veneer etc.
The first contact should be with the supplier that sold the caravan. Where a supplier refuses to acknowledge their responsibility, a consumer should not hesitate to take the matter up with the relevant Consumer affairs agency in the state or territory where the caravan was purchased.
Of course caravans are made to travel and the defects may arise a long way from home, where the caravan is manufactured by a company with a chain of dealers - then contact should be made with them in order to get the statutory warranty (not the rubbish quoted above) honoured.
Your Next Legal Step/s
Finally, if no satisfactory resolution is forthcoming, a consumer would need to appeal to the relevant consumer claims Tribunal in the jurisdiction where the caravan was purchased (most often the [Name of Jurisdiction] Civil and Administrative Tribunal – eg ACAT in the ACT, QCAT in Queensland, VCAT in Victoria etc) to compel the supplier and/or the manufacturer to honour their statutory obligations.
A person who has bought a caravan and who has an after-sale issue should, as their first point of call, return to the supplier of the caravan. The supplier may say they should approach the manufacturer of the part of appliance and they may say that because they actually believe the warranty document put out by the caravan manufacturer. The warranties terms, quoted above, are clearly 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 the fridge, or stove, or chassis are seen as separate items the company that sells the caravan also sold those parts and 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 and seek their assistance to enforce their rights under law.
By Michael Eburn Ph.D
(Dr Michael Eburn is an Associate Professor of Law at a major Australian University.)