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Own a car? Read the fine print

By Veeresh Malik, Outlook Money
May 19, 2006 13:20 IST
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Fine print can get you into trouble. Not just with credit cards and telecom providers, but most other consumer activities including maintaining an automobile. Ever checked out what's really written in that mini booklet, printed on the back of the piece of paper the service stations give when you hand over your car?

Read it, and you will be surprised at the one-sided approach that people who claim to be in the service industry take when it comes to keeping their own yard-arm clear at the cost of the customer. They pretty much expect you to be liable for everything and anything that can go wrong. Which involves damage to cars and bikes sent for servicing and repairs. So what do you do?

First, take a close look at the way other people's vehicles are being treated. Skid marks due to wheel spin and excessive braking are a dead give-away. Leave the place right away if you observe staff displaying a lack of respect to vehicles in their charge.

Next, read the documentation carefully. Add a line stating that the vehicle is not to be taken on to a public or private road without your express permission. Add another line that only a licenced employee is to drive your vehicle.

Workshops have no business in this day of advanced diagnostics to go for a "try", and if they must, then you need to be with their authorised staff.

And third, check what additional insurance the workshop carries - accident, force majuere or otherwise. If more of us were to ask about this, then we would not have to worry so much about losing the no-claim bonus in case something does go wrong.

As it did with a reader a few weeks ago, and many more who wrote in after the Mumbai floods in July last year. So, what do you do if your car or bike has been damaged, while in the hands of a workshop?

First, don't play into the hands of the workshop by getting agitated. Whatever had to happen, has happened. It is only the written word that has any tangible value; the rest is usually so much hot air. Just get the facts of the incident documented to the best of your ability, and then leave the vehicle where it is. Take photographs, if you can. Do assume that the local police and insurance surveyors will be inclined to support the workshop more than they support you.

Next, clear the third-party liability aspect by filing a separate report with the local police station - put it in writing that the vehicle was duly handed over to the workshop. This is an important safeguard against possible prosecution at a later stage. Get this receipted, and file a copy with the workshop as well as your insurance company.

Third, insist on the workshop placing minutes of all discussions or meetings, with you, the surveyors, insurers, police, employees, in writing. Find out if the workshop's insurance can be used to cover the difference or the no-claim bonus that you lose. Get a copy of the driving licence of the employee responsible for the accident.

Now what about the value of the poor car or bike, lying crumpled? Here is where being a consumer activist kicks in. If you have access to a good lawyer, then nothing like it. Otherwise, file an additional complaint with the local consumer's forum or with the Ministry of Consumer Affairs. The best part is that you can do this afterwards also, if your first priority is to get the vehicle back on the road. So, build up the documentation, get your wheels back, and then take the bad guys to the cleaners if they've been unhelpful.
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Veeresh Malik, Outlook Money

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