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Motor Insurance
Tuesday, February 1, 2005
The shoddy world of Renault

It is quite tedious ending up with a mistaken purchase — even worse if you’re abandoned to take the knock. They’ve got your money, so why should they worry? A few hundred rands here or there for a faulty toaster or CD player might be OK to forget, but when it comes to the more expensive items, say, a motor vehicle, then it’s simply too much of a knock to ignore.
Indeed the motor-car is probably your second biggest investment (after your house). Buying a dud can have serious consequences for your pocket, sense of well-being, and even your safety. There are also insurance implications because cover could be forfeited if the vehicle were to be found unroadworthy, say, due to factory fault, or poor maintenance. Such factors could even cause a road accident.
Take one Renault Scenic owner, for example, who was fortunate enough to avoid a serious motor accident last year when travelling on the freeway at about 110 kms/hr. “When I indicated to overtake the whole engine cut out, causing a sudden and dangerous fall-off in speed; worse for the fact my steering lost power. The whole engine and electronics shut-down was frightening, to say the least.”
Needless to say he has been trying for a year to sort out the issues but without success. Managing director of Renault SA Roland Bouchara has failed to return any of his five telephone calls. “I am reliably informed that there is a problem with the electronics of the 2002 model Scenics,” says the owner, “but the company has never bothered to inform buyers.”
In another case, a Cape Town lawyer is also tired of his Scenic. “They simply can’t get the electronics right. It’s a disaster.” He says he is so fed up he wants to sell the car, but that he can’t get rid of it unless he writes off about 20% of its retail value.
Personally, I wouldn’t ordinarily write about the troubles I’ve had with airlines, cellphones or the like. But I consider the issues concerning our Renault Grande Espace RXT V6 long wheel-base automatic (bought second-hand in May 2003) in such serious light that they need to be aired in public. In short, if you are thinking of investing in a motor-car, my advice is don’t choose a Renault — you could be sorry.
Renault SA has proved indifferent and unhelpful. According to its Customer Care Consultant Christelle Anderson, the company was not prepared to help us dispose of the vehicle, “because we hadn’t bought it from a Renault dealer.”  This must surely be a smoke-screen because the Renault Scenic owner above did buy his car from a dealer, and Renault SA hasn’t helped him.
It should come as no surprise that after 18 months of frustrations, loss of use, inconvenience and unnecessary expenses with this gaffe of a vehicle, all we want to do is dispose of it. But why should we take a R25 000 knock, and pass the vehicle onto another hapless consumer just to solve Renault SA’s problems?
It has nothing to do with us that:
• the electronic management of the engine and gear-box systems are faulty;
• the rear window spontaneously exploded; or,
• that the tailgate fell off the back (see below).

Evidently, Renault had a factory recall in 2003 for the Espace to refit a new airbag — three years late: so much for safety. Rather more alarming is that, as I discovered recently, the front passenger is able to operate the brakes by pressing down in his foot well! Of all the words at my disposal, ‘shoddy’ is perhaps the most apt.
As for using Renault dealers and service departments, well I have my doubts.
• After an initial service at Renault Menlyn (Pretoria) the brakes were still faulty; the oil and air filters were displaced; some of the hoses were not clamped; and a cowl under the engine was missing;
• After time with Renault Pinetown the door seals remained loose (they still are); the electronics are still faulty; indeed, the garage introduced its own slant on the problem by damaging a computer connector. The replacement for the exploding window was not installed correctly;
• This was fixed by Renault Claremont, but they still can’t resolve the electronic management problems. They did find a hairline fracture in the pump inside the fuel tank, but forgot to reconnect a fuel breather pipe after repairs; and,
• The Renault-appointed panel beater made shoddy work of repairing that tailgate, and it re-used the broken plastic covers. The door has sagged and is now inoperable.

I personally question the quality and knowledge of the Renault servicing network in South Africa. In particular, I doubt few have the expertise to deal effectively with the computer and electronic systems.
What we are left with is a R200 000 shoddy, gaffe of a vehicle: appalling fuel consumption (as much as 30 litres/100kms in town driving); erratic and jerky automatic gear changes; pretty appalling engine performance; intermittent ABS warning lights (though Renault swears there’s nothing wrong); a front passenger brake operating facility (!); and, a jammed rear tailgate.
This last is just mind-blowing. It all started one day when the children were loading their bags for school. A huge ‘crack’ and the tailgate slewed off one of its hinges. Fortunately the other hinge held, saving serious injury to a child (the tailgate must weight all of 80 kgs). Had this happened when the vehicle was in full flight does not bear thinking about.
Renault SA can prevaricate all they like; the fact is the vehicle carries their marque. It is something they should be proud of, not something they evidently wish to ignore. Renault shoots itself in the foot by denying the badge on the car. Certainly the two lots of overseas visitors whom we received during last year noticed; though they were very helpful in loading their bags and cases through the passenger doors onto the leather seats. Inspired by this novel approach to motoring we have even conveyed cement this way. Mr Bouchara should try lifting a 50-kg weight through a passenger door, and up onto a seat.
In all the vehicle has been off the road for about 38 days out of the total 18 months of ownership; and the rear luggage compartment has been unusable so far for about 30 days.
A final concern about buying a Renault, and I suspect, any imported car for that matter, is the supply of replacement parts. One should expect delays in repairs. It took a week to get the rear window replaced; over a week to replace the oxygen sensor, on both occasions, and it took over three weeks to diagnose and replace the fuel pump. Apart from a shortage of stock (especially of the non-service items) you should expect any repairs to be quite expensive. This in turn will affect your motor insurance premiums.
The mid box with catalytic converter costs about R4 500 plus VAT and labour, and the price of the rear window was about R9 000 plus labour.
Finally there is the question of resale value. The local Claremont Mercedes franchise is sitting on a Scenic it traded in because Renault won’t give the company a decent price. Evidently, most Renaults are trading in at about 15% to 20% under book. Poor resale value may be reflecting the state of Renault’s image. This appears to be acknowledged by Renault SA which tells us we should consider ourselves very lucky to get R170 000 (net of commission) for our Espace. That’s R31 000 below trade in price! Furthermore dealers appear reluctant to buy the vehicle in, leaving the owner to cover the finance while it sits on his showroom floor.
It is hard to reach a conclusion other than to say that buying a Renault is not a good idea. After all, isn’t that what the market is telling us?
More generally, should one rather buy a well-known vehicle; one that has stood the test of time, and where there are countless independent service stations and generic parts? Or, perhaps, to be less boring, should one go for the unusual, the exotic, or one boasting the latest designs and technology? Is there a middle ground, where one should buy a fairly common, but upmarket model that is interesting, has all the quality features, but still enjoys a reasonable network of service outlets.
Taking the middle road is probably the answer. The trouble with a car like the Renault Grand Espace, (or read ‘Gaff Espace’) for example, is that it is quite rare; its specific design and technology are not well understood, nor supported. Even Renault downgrades its resale value by about 18%. By Nigel Benetton

Copyright © Insurance Times and Investments® Vol:18.1 1st February, 2005
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