Buyers of modified vehicles beware

23.06.22 10:52 AM By Dan

After a costly and vexing experience purchasing a second hand modified van, Greg Kidd offers some tips on avoiding a similar fate.

Not insisting on a pre-purchase RACV inspection of his new Chrysler Voyager was just one of Greg’s regrets.
By Greg Kidd

I am writing to offer some suggestions on how to stop vehicle mobility dreams becoming nightmares. Although I focus on a quest for a used ‘special’ vehicle, some of the sentiments apply to new ones with after-market modifications that unscrupulous entities peddle with their eyes on the NDIS cash cow. 

My quest was based on a half-century evolution from being manually lifted or slid into car seats, to being hoisted in my wheelchair then having it clamped or ratcheted down in the back, where communication, vision or a smooth ride – or all of the above – were compromised. 

I longed for the comfort of a wheelchair-accessible vehicle that was more user friendly for my companions and myself. A day out was not synonymous with a day’s work! 

The second of two VW Transporter vans that had taken me to much of eastern and southern Australia was getting tired, so I found it a good home. With limited finances at my disposal (I’m too old for a NDIS injection) I started looking for a used vehicle that was more fit for purpose. 

My wish list: 

  • Entry and egress via an automated ramp 
  • A wheelchair docking station 
  • The ‘luxury’ of sitting beside the driver 
  • A panoramic view 
After years of being stuck in the back of his old VW Transporter, Greg thought it was time for a van with a docking station, and a proper view.

Dodging three bullets but not a broadside 

My search began in 2019 with an ad in a generic newsletter. A test ride in a Chrysler Voyager station wagon revealed problems with its lowering system and an RACV tester warned about considerable rust in its chassis and abnormal oil leakage. 

Enter a rear-entry VW Transporter van a Yarra Ranges modifier was selling on behalf of someone who they were only updating because of access to NDIS funding. The interior hinted at a different story – one of neglect; the floor and the spare tyre’s vinyl cover were filthy. 

During a test ride, the salesman confided that there may be an occasional smell of diesel. I did not smell it but I did smell a rat! An RACV report identified issues that “could make purchase of this vehicle an uneconomical proposition…” 

The tester believed it had been involved in a major accident and shoddily repaired! 

In early 2020, I inspected two Voyagers, one privately owned and the other represented by a modifier in the Dandenong area. I settled on the second one despite not believing the salesman’s pitch that it had been well maintained by a mechanic relative of a previous owner. 

What I was deceived by was a verbal assurance that, although the wagon was too old to legally attract a warranty, the company would attend to any problems that arose pre-handover and shortly afterwards. The promise included any issues with the installation of a docking station on the front passenger side floor, and a steel docking pin under my wheelchair, plus the automation of the ramp. 

They repaired the new dock, from the entryway of which electrical wiring protruded after only a few trips, presumably gouged out and stripped by the pin that was too long. However, they sidestepped eight issues that manifested after a dubious 30-day Certificate of Roadworthiness (RWC) expired while the mods were underway. 

Despite the numerous pitfalls, Greg's mechanic has assured him he now has a good vehicle.

Mistakes and consequences 

Tantalised by the immanent realisation of my dream, I failed to insist on an RACV inspection and ignored my misgivings. My gullibility led to a support worker and me being stranded at night when the worn out airbags of the lowering system caused a suspension collapse. This and the other seven problems cost almost $4,000 to rectify. 

Picking up the pieces of a shattered dream 

My mechanic assured me I now had a good vehicle. Maybe so, but my disappointment was so intense that I could hardly bear to look at the Voyager let alone use it! Whether it would prove its worth remained to be seen; meanwhile, I faced a battle for redress that I hoped the Victorian Administrative Claims Tribunal (VCAT) would help me win. 

Justice at a price 

Seeing the stresses of dealing with VCAT are beyond the scope of this article, I write only that after a one-year struggle, the company was obliged to pay up. Not the full amount unfortunately but it was a moral victory for me. If he thought his delaying tactics would wear me down, he was mistaken; I would not surrender. 

Tips to avoid a rip-off

Insist on:

  • A pre-purchase RACV check and a modifications evaluation by an engineer.
  • A RWC examination by a tester not used by the vendor and defects fixed before additional modifications are started.
  • A written sales contract.
  • Written justification of any quotes.
  • Whatever warranties you can get.
  • Only pay a deposit if the vendor presses for one but hold back the balance until all work and the presentation are acceptable. 
  • Always trust your gut feelings but never a vendor unless you know them well. 

For more information, contact Naz at AQA (ph: 9489 0777), who kindly assured me I am but one of many victims of predatory modifiers. Don’t be the next!

Author Greg Kidd was instrumental in the early history of AQA, helping to build our newsletter, NewsLink, and our Peer Support Program.

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