Gavin Foster
Gavin Foster

Is the motor industry killing the goose that lays the golden eggs?

So there you are, an ordinary guy with an ordinary job who wants to buy the best car that you can afford. It has to be reliable and economical rather than have a “WOW” factor, so you’ve pretty well set your mind on a boring new 1.3-litre hatch for R160 000 when up pops a pristine five-year-old 2.2-litre Jaguar XJ diesel with 112 000km on the clock, for just R130 000. You’ve always lusted after a Jag, you know the diesel engine won’t be too thirsty, and you’ll have money left in reserve for any reliability or maintenance issues. Then doubt sets in. You wonder about maintenance and repair costs, so you — or your wife — throw a bucket of water over your passion and buy with your head rather than your heart.

But is that always such a good idea?

My epiphany came about when, after just 42 000km, my 2007 Daihatsu Sirion 1.3’s air-conditioning went on the fritz in March this year. I got a specialist’s quote to replace the compressor with a rebuilt unit for R5 000 and the condenser for R3 300, then on a whim called the agents to price new components, just in case. When the parts guy gave me the news it was all bad. No, said I. I wasn’t looking for a complete second-hand Sirion with a working aircon — I just wanted a compressor and condenser for a low-mileage car. Yes, said he. The compressor alone, for a budget car that cost R99 999 new, would set me back R27 311, and the condenser another R7 852, without labour, filters, oil or gassing. I could buy six brand new 14 500 BTU split-unit air-conditioners for my home, installed, with heating and remote controls, for a total of less than R35 163. The fact that the steering rack and front brakes had already been replaced under warranty at a listed cost of about R25 000 also gave me pause for thought. I made a couple more calls and established that a compressor and condenser for the much-coveted Jaguar cost less than half the Daihatsu’s prices.

Where do they come from with these ridiculous figures?

Before Daihatsu starts complaining that I’m picking on them I should point out that the problem of ridiculous parts pricing being way out of kilter with the value of the car doesn’t apply to them alone. Hyundai sees fit to equip their i20 1.4 Glide, that retails at R186 900, with alloy rims that cost R5 779 each to replace, and a sump for the Nissan NP200 will get you digging into your pocket for R11 000 or so. Toyota sells the sump for their Auris 1.6 XR at a more realistic R1 076, but the gasket, at around R500, is dearer than the Hyundai i30’s oil pan that’ll relieve your wallet of a mere R418. Further useful information for Hyundai owners is that the i30 doesn’t use a sump gasket, but on the downside, a small tube of the goo that helps keep the oil in costs R872 if you’re foolish enough to buy it from the agents — or have your car serviced by them.

Is there any logic in all of this? Even allowing for variations in technology and quality, there are countless alarming discrepancies in parts pricing. An engine sub-assembly (block, crankshaft, big-end and main bearings, connecting rods, pistons and rings) for a 1.3 litre Toyota Auris will see you writing a cheque for about R60k while Ford, on the other hand, will sell you a fully-assembled brand new sub-assembly for their 1.3 and 1.6 Rocam engines as used in the Figo, Ikon and Bantam, for under R12 000. That means that if I’d bought a second-hand older Fiesta instead of the new car I did, I could have replaced the heart and soul of the engine three times for less than the cost of repairing the Daihatsu Sirion 1.3’s aircon just once at the agents. It’s worth noting that the whole kit and caboodle from Ford costs about the same as a Nissan NP200’s sump.

Parts prices are not always dependent upon the new cost of the vehicle, and motorcycle owners are similarly abused. A friend of mine priced a fuel pump for his 2000 Honda VTR 1000 SP1 superbike a year or so ago, and was quoted R10 100 by the agents, who helpfully added that it would take three to four weeks to deliver. He removed the offending component as a sample and took it to Diesel-Electric in Pietermaritzburg, who supplied him with an identical Bosch unit for R680, with delivery within 24 hours.

The franchised dealers will, of course, come up with myriad reasons why customers should deal with them rather than seek reputable sources elsewhere but that doesn’t really wash. Dealerships may be forced by the distributors to sell only their own branded components, but these can very often be sourced from the OEM supplier at a fraction of the agent’s price. And when you discover that VW franchises charge between R700 and R900 an hour for labour, that backyard mechanic suddenly looks like becoming your new best friend.

Manufacturers and importers should really sit up and take notice of what happens in the real world where the customer is supposedly king. While a vehicle is under warranty owners may reluctantly pay outrageous prices for parts and labour because they need to retain the protection of the warranty, but when pricing goes as mad as it has they’ll simply leave and take their chances. It’s time we started voting with our wallets.

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  • Goodness gracious! This Dacia is a Nissan!
    • BuyABeemer

      BMW has known this for years. They look after their brand’s reputation by making spare parts available at reasonable prices. I have owned many BMWs and I always buy parts for them at the agents, because most of the time that’s where they are the cheapest. On the other hand, I would never buy a Ford / Mazda, because their parts prices are absurd. People discover this and junk their cars instead of maintaining them for years. That’s why you see so many 20 year-old BMWs running around and so few 20 year-old Fords.

    • The Praetor

      Yep a wheel bearing for a 2006 VW Jetta around R 2800.00 ex Vat! Same bearing at bearing dealership R 125.00

      The Praetor

    • Mark

      This is a good article. I would also like to know how a toyota made in RSA, costs more here than it does in Oz after being shipped there by sea.

      Food for thought

    • Dave Stroud

      I own a 20 year old Toyota Corolla. My right windscreen wiper stopped working. I went to Toyota. The 12 inch molded plastic part was quoted to me as R2300. I went elsewhere and got it fixed for R100.
      I hate being ripped off.

    • john b patson

      The answer is in each car manufacturer’s relationship with their dealers.
      Time was when the dealer’s share of a new car sale was fairly fixed at around 20%, allowing scope for discounts to clients who haggled — amazingly only a small proportion do.
      Bean counters thought this excessive and started reducing the margin but compensated by raising spare parts costs margins for dealers.
      It has now reached the stage where Dacia (the Renault brand), just gives a flat €100 to the dealer in France for every Dacia Logan sold — the result being that dealers will do back somersaults and run around trees on their knees to sell clients something else.
      Bye the way, early Dacia’s were deliberately equipped with previous generation Renault motors, well tested, easy to service (even the “electronics” can be reset with a tiny bit of knowledge) and for those who can deal with scrap yards, plentiful, very cheap parts.
      Latest models, and I suppose this includes the Nissan bakkie, have new, more expensive in every way, engines.

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    • Elaine

      At last someone is talking about this rip-off. Thank you! To merely DIAGNOSE the reason for the engine light coming on in my German car, the dealership charged a whopping R760. That was with no parts or labour other than time taken to plug it into a computer to tell me that I needed R28 odd thousand rands worth of work on it! I took it to a SupaQuick who had me on the road in hours for a fifth of the price. Watch out, Merc – the news is spreading!

    • http://Bloghome Chris2

      The motor industry is something else! The majority of new vwhicles, I believe, are sold to companies or people with car allowances. The pattern has become established that these buyers buy with a maintenabce contract and trade the vehicle in as soon as this contract expires. The cost, although high, is contained. It remains for the used car buyer to be victimised, particularly, but not exclusively, by the official dealerships. It seems these companies can’t really be bothered about their reputation, because their main market is not affected by the vagaries. Hail to the pirate part industry! And to the entrepeneurs that try and deliver more affordable service! No doubt the unrestricted model availability is counter-productive in terms of service and spares and cost to the country.
      The other matter concerns the cars on offer. When oil was plentiful and cheap the industry offered us rather inefficient and under-powered cars of rather dubious safety. With the majority of vehicles overtaking was strictly a downhill affair. Now that we are supposed to burn less carbon, the industry is promoting almost obscenely powerful machines aided and abetted by motoring journalists. With a speed restriction of 120 km/h, sell them cars that can do double that! What idiocy. Despite ‘improved crash safety’ fatalities here are stiill climbing. Maybe a ban on ‘inappropriate’ vehicles should be considered.

    • Nguni

      A useful and interesting blog, what a change in Thought Leader.. Thanks Gavin!
      I recently bought an outrageously cheap large chinese vehicle, no doubt they will earn it back in spares and service..