A MELBOURNE chauffeur who claims he was “poisoned” by exhaust fumes for seven months by his defective car has launched a social media campaign in a last-ditch bid to shame the manufacturer.
Aviram Goldwasser, 48, claims Fiat Chrysler Australia breached its duty of care by allowing him to drive the car, as well as failing in its obligations under Australian Consumer Law.
The father of two says he lost more than $40,000 in income due to not being able to run his business, and has spent nearly $30,000 on legal fees dealing with FCA.
“My business is destroyed, because of Jeep, because of FCA. My health has suffered. I’ve never been to the doctor so many times in one year,” he says in a video posted to Facebook.
Mr Goldwasser claims FCA refused to repair the diesel particulate filter (DPF) in his car, resulting in a dangerous and carbon monoxide leak into the air conditioning system.
“The car was not fit for purpose for seven months, it wasn’t fixed in a reasonable time, and they’ve done nothing to mitigate my losses,” he told news.com.au.
“On top of this, they’ve breached their duty of care for me, my passengers and other road users. There was carbon monoxide in the car.”
However, as in all such disputes, there are two sides to the story.
A spokeswoman for FCA said: “While as a rule, we avoid commenting publicly about individual customers, we will continue to work proactively to ensure that all of our customers have the best possible ownership experience.”
News.com.au understands that the manufacturer’s position is that it has repaired the fault, and even offered him compensation for the days Mr Goldwasser had proven the vehicle was off the road.
FCA’s lawyers have pushed back against the full amount of Mr Goldwasser’s claims of lost income between October 2015 and May 2016.
For his part, Mr Goldwasser is unclear about exactly how much compensation he is seeking, or in what form. “The first thing I want is a phone call,” he said.
Mr Goldwasser purchased the $52,000 2014 Chrysler 300c Turbo Diesel to start his business in May 2014, but says the leak didn’t start until a year later, and wasn’t identified until June or July. He claims it took months of legal wrangling to get the car fixed — or for Jeep to even acknowledge there was an issue.
“Jeep only agreed to fix it after I got an independent report,” he said. “In November I stopped driving completely because the cabin was just full of white smoke and smoke came from under the hood.”
That report, obtained in November from Jeep specialists Poly 4×4, found evidence of a leaking exhaust system. “Exhaust fumes coming directly from this pipe before any filtering,” the report said.
“These exhaust gases are dangerous and contain carbon monoxide. This vehicle is not fit for road use and should not be driven until this issue is rectified. This fault is a major concern.”
Prior to stopping completely, he claims he had been forced to drive clients without air conditioning or with the windows down in winter, often in pouring rain, to prevent the windshield fogging.
After initially denying any fault with the vehicle, FCA’s lawyers wrote in December that “after extensive diagnostic testing, our client’s technicians have identified a leaking diesel particulate filter and exhaust gas recirculation tube, which they believe to be the source of the smell identified by your client”.
“[If] your client elects to purchase a replacement vehicle, that is a matter for your client,” the letter said. “Our client however rejects that the vehicle purchased from its dealership sustained a major failure or that your client is entitled to a replacement vehicle.”
Mr Goldwasser has had the car back since January and resumed driving clients in February. “I’m now driving seven days a week, starting at 5:00am and I don’t get home until late at night, just to cover my debts,” he said.
“I’m driving the car because I don’t have a choice — I still have another $23,000 left on my credit card to pay — but how do I know it’s fixed? I want them to admit they should never have released the car.”
Last year, the carmaker was investigated by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission following a number of complaints from customers over the handling of vehicle faults by FCA and its dealers. That investigation resulted in FCA agreeing to a consumer redress program, overseen by the watchdog.
In June this year, the ACCC launched a broader study into the new car retailing industry following a “high volume of complaints” about defects.
Mr Goldwasser says he has contacted Fair Trading and the ACCC for help. A spokeswoman for the ACCC said it was “not appropriate for the ACCC to comment on an individual dispute between a consumer and FCA”.
“The ACCC is currently monitoring the progress of FCA’s Consumer Redress Program and FCA’s broader compliance with the Australian Consumer Law,” she said.
“More broadly, consumer issues arising in relation to new car retailing, including responses by retailers and manufacturers to consumer guarantee claims is a current priority area for the ACCC.
“The ACCC has commenced a market study which will focus on competition and consumer issues that may be present in the industry.”
As well as FCA, the ACCC has recently investigated Kia and Volkswagen. Kia agreed to amend its terms and conditions of its capped price servicing offer, while the VW investigation is ongoing.