What a court ruling against Volkswagen means for consumers with warranty issues

Volkswagen Canada won’t be appealing a small claims court ruling that requires the automaker to pay almost $8,000 to a Nova Scotia man for rust repairs on his vehicle.

Nine Mile River resident Ranulph Hudston took the giant automaker to court after it refused to honour a 12-year corrosion warranty that was part of his new car purchase in 2007. Initially, the company made repairs when rust first appeared in 2014. However, when new rust surfaced in 2017, Volkswagen rejected his claim and said it was not covered by the warranty, even though two technicians told him it was.

“I really don’t think they had grounds to appeal, but I was expecting they didn’t want to let this decision stand unappealed,” Hudston said.

Small claims adjudicator Shelly Martin dismissed Volkswagen’s list of possible reasons for the corrosion, including bird droppings and shoe buckles, and awarded Hudston the $7,886.40 he requested for repairs.

Company spokesperson Thomas Tetzlaff told CBC News that while Volkswagen was not appealing, “we stand by our warranty determinations and will continue to honour the terms of our applicable warranties.”

This picture, showing rust on the passenger side door sill of Ranulph Hudston’s Jetta, was one of the exhibits he submitted to Nova Scotia small claims court in his case against Volkswagen Canada. (Ralph Hudston)

Hudston said that’s disappointing.

“It’s like being told, ‘Here’s your money, now just go away,'” he said.

While Hudston is pleased he won his case, he also wanted Volkswagen to admit they made a mistake.

“They hid behind a stone wall, behaving like a corporation rather than a corporate citizen,” he said.

Tetzlaff said Hudston did not have to take further action to receive the court award.

‘This is a good beacon for others,’ says consumer advocate

George Iny with the Automobile Protection Association (APA) told CBC in November he’d heard from dozens of Volkswagen owners who have also had trouble getting their corrosion warranty honoured. He said Hudston’s work provides a good road map for others to follow because he brought evidence to court from professionals that supported his claim, as well as photographic evidence.

“This is a good beacon for others,” Iny said. “It shows what can happen if you press your claim properly and go all the way to the end.”

Iny said the process for consumers to get a remedy can be long and drawn out and people can get discouraged, so he applauded Hudston for not giving up.

‘Success breeds success,’ says law prof

The small claims court decision may be beneficial to other Volkswagen owners fighting rust battles with the company, said a Dalhousie University law professor.

“The fact that a court has looked at something and made a decision is at least some evidence that there’s merit to the argument, so it’s not binding in any sense of precedent, but it [small claims court] still is a significant and persuasive authority,” Wayne MacKay said.

He said courts are playing a bigger role in consumer rights and that may impact the way companies respond.

“Success breeds success and I think that’s the kind of thing that could happen in a case like this,” MacKay said. “Even with a big car company, if small claims cases start to be a regular thing and successful, then a company is going to pay a lot more attention.”

Hudston said he didn’t want to take Volkswagen to court.

“Having entered into the fight, I felt I was doing the right thing and I think if it helps other people, I’m glad it happened the way it has,” he said.


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