Car workshops and tow trucks go on strike

Penang’s 200-odd tow truck drivers and owners of workshops protesting at a field in Juru this morning. Some 50 trucks have been left parked at the field in a vow not to drive from today until the government intervenes.

BUTTERWORTH: Car workshops and tow truck drivers in Penang began a strike today over car manufacturers insisting that repairs be done only at official service centres.

A total of 35 insurer-panel (or PIAM-registered) car workshops in the state are to be closed with some 200 tow truck drivers staying off the road until a resolution of their complaints.

Many other non-PIAM workshops in the state have also closed, it was learnt, while some workshops in towns near Penang have also done so in solidarity.

The protestors say the car manufacturers’ practice would put them out of business, by voiding the warranties on cars repaired at third-party shops.

Several customer-service representatives of car manufacturers told FMT that repairs carried out by third parties would “most likely” result in the warranty being voided.

“Not just accident repairs, even a simple battery change can void your warranty. Even changing your car speakers, adding audio accessories, or window tint films installed by third-party installers can void your warranty, said Khor Kong Siah, president of the Penang Motor Vehicles Workshop Owners’ Association.

Tow truck drivers handing over their towing licenses to an official of the Penang Motor Vehicles Workshop Owners’ Association.

He said there had been silence from government agencies over their complaints, which had been made over the past 10 years.

Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow has called for cooler heads to prevail and for all to return to the negotiating table, as the tow trucks are very important so that cars involved in accidents can be cleared off the roads to ease traffic.

“Any boycott in the form of shouting out their grievances would not be able to yield positive results,” Chow said. “I hope the government agencies would take note of the issue.”

Tow trucks leaving Penang island to Juru on the mainland to protest against what they called unfair practices of car manufacturers. The tow trucks have been parked at a field in Juru and drivers say they will remain off the road until a resolution is reached.

Workshop owners say manufacturers are enforcing a monopoly on repairs

Khor said nearly all carmakers were now insisting that repairs for even the most minor accident be done at manufacturers’ authorised dealerships.

“This is not happening just in Penang, also in other parts of Malaysia,” he told reporters at a press conference in Juru together with his counterpart Teo Nging Poh, from Sibu, Sarawak.

“Many new car owners are not aware of this fine print, where you are not allowed to get your car repaired outside,” said Khor. “This is a clear-cut monopoly. Consumers must be able to choose where they want repairs to be done, be it minor or major.”

Khor said regular workshops were put at a disadvantage when even minor work had to be done at manufacturers’ outlets.

Car-owners would have to spend more, he said. A repair costing RM200 at an “outside” workshop could cost over RM1,000 to RM2,000 at dealers’ centres. “What if the owners cannot afford to pay? Then they are forced to void their five to seven-year warranties.”

Tow truck drivers have handed over some 200 towing licenses, while about 100 tow trucks from workshops registered with the association have parked in an empty lot in Juru, in protest.

The drivers have agreed to stop their services from today until workshops are allowed to compete for repair work.

A workshop owner, Chan Kok Hoe, said some cars are being written off by insurers as a total loss in view of the high cost of repair at manufacturer-authorised workshops.

He said insurers would refuse to pay when the cost of repair was higher than the market value of the car, usually more than 55% of the market value.

People who could not afford the full cost of repairs would opt to void their warranty so that repairs can be made outside, he said.

“We have cases where the cars are left not repaired and these poor drivers would have to service their car loans, despite not having their cars,” Chan said.

Khor, who is also the vice-president of the Federation of Motor Vehicles Workshop Owners’ Associations, said the problem stemmed from “at least 10 years back”.

Workshop trade groups did not go public with their complaints because of some resistance from workshops that sometimes benefitted from referrals from manufacturer-workshops that lacked a body-shop unit.

‘Silence from government agencies’ says trade association

Penang Motor Vehicles Workshop Owners’ Association president Khor Kong Siah (third from left) with other insurer-panel workshop owners at a press conference today.

Khor said his 122-member association had tabled motions for a protest over the years but had failed to get the numbers. This year an overwhelming number voted to go on strike, he said.

“We have met everybody. Bank Negara, Malaysia Competition Commission (MyCC), and even the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry.

“We told them that what is happening restricts free trade and competition between businesses. These carmakers are taking away all our business.

“We told these government agencies that this is against the spirit of the Competition Act 2010. But there was total silence.

Penang Motor Vehicles Workshop Owners’ Association president Khor Kong Siah.

“What we are doing today is a result of us facing a goliath, which is ultimately the big and rich car manufacturing industry.”

What the manufacturers’ representatives said

FMT had called one of the major carmakers, claiming to be an owner of a two-year-old car which suffered a minor dent on the rear bumper.

The manufacturer was asked if the repairs could be carried out at a local workshop and whether the repair would void the warranty. A customer care executive said it would “most likely” void the warranty if it was repaired outside.

Another manufacturer presented with a similar case told FMT that it was “highly recommended” that the vehicle be repaired at a dealer as it “may void your warranty”, and representatives of two other manufacturers contacted gave similar responses.