DODGY cars sitting idle in driveways and on front lawns is an all too common sight in the remote Indigenous community of Wujal Wujal.
“The last time I visited I left with three instances of cars that had been bought and broke down soon after,” financial counsellor Zack Wildy said.
“There have been at least 10 cases in the last 10 months from here alone.”
Mr Wildy visits the Cape York township of around 400 residents once a month through his work with the Indigenous Consumer Assistance Network (ICAN).
Located three-and-a-half hours north of Cairns, Mr Wildy said the rise in beat-up jalopies being sold by some Cairns dealerships to vulnerable community members comes down to a variety of factors.
First, a shortage in motor vehicles caused by the global pandemic forced dealers to scramble to find suitable cars to sell.
Then, a spike in damaged cars hitting the market following the New South Wales floods led to more buyers being sold “lemons”.
Mr Wildy said the added pressure of unethical sales tactics used by some dealerships has created a buyers worst nightmare.
“We’re seeing a jump in how dodgy some of the vehicles being sold are,” he said.
“There are repairable write-offs being sent north in varying states of quality to consumers.
“They’re trying to disguise what these vehicles have been through.
“We’re hearing this from other agencies we work with, too. We can say it with a high level of confidence that’s what’s happening.”
Predatory tactics have led to many buyers being ripped off or exploited, Mr Wildy said.
“We’ve seen instances where people have had large sums of money paid out through stolen wages and the national redress scheme,” he said.
“A few dealerships have built relationships with financiers that aren’t adhering to their obligations in providing loans.
“We’ve also got clients being provided credit who probably can’t service those loans.”
A recent investigation by consumer advocacy group CHOICE found several Wujal Wujal residents with cars that broke down soon after their purchase.
Among them, Cedric Friday, who bought a second-hand Holden Captiva with his brother-in-law for $19,000.
“It didn’t last long, just four or five months, got buggered up,” Mr Friday told CHOICE.
“I feel ripped off, I don’t know what to do with this car here now. When you buy a good car it should last you at least five years.
“It didn’t happen with this car.”
In cases where claims have been filed through the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal the outcomes are often less than satisfactory for the complainant, Mr Wildy said.
“Even when determinations are found in favour of clients we’re finding dealerships aren’t following through with compensation or alternative outcomes,” he said.
“Some of our clients have limited means and sometimes lower literacy levels. It’s harder for them to get a fair outcome.
“We need to ensure that those organisations have firm and robust processes and the avenues consumers have to contest purchases ensures they get a fair hearing.
Earlier this year ICAN held a workshop with RACQ in Wujal Wujal to help prospective car buyers know how to avoid buying a bad vehicle.
“That was a really successful event. For people in Cairns we’ve also organised free pre-purchase inspections,” Mr Wildy said.
Consumers seeking financial counselling or advocacy can contact ICAN on 1800 369 878.