Govt should consider introducing Lemon Law for defective products, says consumer group

PETALING JAYA: There are still car owners who are forced to send their rides for multiple repairs even though these vehicles are less than a year old, said a consumers group, highlighting the need for stronger laws to protect buyers as Friday marks World Consumer Rights Day (March 15).

Defects on new vehicles and the subpar quality of automobile parts still form a big chunk of complaints that were received by The National Consumer Complaints Centre, said its chief executive officer Datuk Indrani Thuraisingham.

“We have received a lot of cases where new cars have to be sent for repairs up to 10 times at the service centre in less than a year, leaving consumers frustrated.

“We advised them to go to the Consumer Complaints Tribunal, but the tribunal judge ruled that the car manufacturer to repair it. The consumer said he felt so exhausted and fed up."

Instead of forcing buyers to resort to constant repairs, the government should instead introduce a lemon law which would grant consumers the right to one-to-one replacements or a price reduction for repeatedly defective products.

A lemon law protects consumers who purchase products that have a lifespan of more than six months such as cars, to address the issue of existing damage and to make a claim for the defective product that repeatedly fails to meet the standards of quality and performance.

A consumer may request a reduction in price or a refund under this law.

The United States, Singapore, South Korea, China and the Philippines are among countries that have adopted a lemon law.

A lemon law is just one example of stronger regulations that Malaysian consumers need to protect their rights, said Indrani, who is vice-president and legal adviser for the Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations (Fomca).

Another example is how the Consumer Protection Act 1999, the main law to protect consumers and Malaysia's main consumer protection legislation, is supplementary in nature and dependent on others such as the Contract Act or the Sale of Goods Act.

“When the Act is supplementary, other laws will take precedence, hindering the Act's purpose of providing robust consumer protection.

“It's unlike in India and other countries, where their Consumer Protection Act is a mother of all Acts,” she said in an interview on Thursday (March 15) in conjunction with World Consumer Rights Day.

“In some countries, even furniture is covered under lemon laws, which protects the purchase of household items.”

Another problem is how certain goods and services, such as "wellness" are classified and who has the authority to regulate them.

“For example, the injection of fillers on the face by non-medical therapists, the offer of health-related services or packages by therapists or other non-invasive treatments by non-medical practitioners - are these wellness or aesthetic-related services?

"They can fall under different jurisdictions and make it difficult for consumers to seek recourse,” she said.

The complex network of regulations and oversight further complicates addressing consumer complaints, leaving individuals unsure about where to turn for assistance or redress, she said.

“For example, pawnbrokers fall under the jurisdiction of the Housing and Local Government Ministry rather than the Domestic Trade and Cost of Living Ministry.

“This raises questions about the proper processes and authorities responsible for handling issues related to pawnshops.”

Indrani also said that disputes over house renovations involving unregistered or unprofessional contractors have become prevalent after the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Cases like this often involve contractors who are not registered or had their licences revoked.

“Consumers often remain unaware of the implications of hiring such contractors who fail to comply with Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB) standards.”

Having too many different regulators is also a problem as different agencies and entities can confuse consumers who want to complain.

“There should be regulations in place for industries with vague definitions. Currently, there is a lack of clear guidelines, but discussions and task forces are underway.

"We hope for concrete actions to address deceptive practices, overcharging and other concerns.”

Calling for a comprehensive framework to improve the legal landscape of consumer protection in Malaysia, Indrani said the government should implement "hard" laws.

“A soft law approach has proven ineffective in combating scams and deceptive practices, especially as scammers become increasingly sophisticated.

“These regulations should be fortified by standards, guidelines or codes of ethics. Malaysia faces a significant challenge in dealing with scams, both as a target and as a base for syndicates due to inadequately robust laws.

“To address this, a combination of stringent laws and complementary guidelines, codes and shared responsibilities is imperative to combat scams effectively,” she said, adding that Bank Negara and strict financial regulations are also crucial to the financial well-being of consumers.

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