So there you are, an ordinary guy with an ordinary job who wants to buy the best car that you can afford. It has to be reliable and economical rather than have a “WOW” factor, so you’ve pretty well set your mind on a boring new 1.3-litre hatch for R160 000 when up pops a pristine five-year-old 2.2-litre Jaguar XJ diesel with 112 000km on the clock, for just R130 000. You’ve always lusted after a Jag, you know the diesel engine won’t be too thirsty, and you’ll have money left in reserve for any reliability or maintenance issues. Then doubt sets in. You wonder about maintenance and repair costs, so you — or your wife — throw a bucket of water over your passion and buy with your head rather than your heart.

But is that always such a good idea?

My epiphany came about when, after just 42 000km, my 2007 Daihatsu Sirion 1.3’s air-conditioning went on the fritz in March this year. I got a specialist’s quote to replace the compressor with a rebuilt unit for R5 000 and the condenser for R3 300, then on a whim called the agents to price new components, just in case. When the parts guy gave me the news it was all bad. No, said I. I wasn’t looking for a complete second-hand Sirion with a working aircon — I just wanted a compressor and condenser for a low-mileage car. Yes, said he. The compressor alone, for a budget car that cost R99 999 new, would set me back R27 311, and the condenser another R7 852, without labour, filters, oil or gassing. I could buy six brand new 14 500 BTU split-unit air-conditioners for my home, installed, with heating and remote controls, for a total of less than R35 163. The fact that the steering rack and front brakes had already been replaced under warranty at a listed cost of about R25 000 also gave me pause for thought. I made a couple more calls and established that a compressor and condenser for the much-coveted Jaguar cost less than half the Daihatsu’s prices.

Where do they come from with these ridiculous figures?

Before Daihatsu starts complaining that I’m picking on them I should point out that the problem of ridiculous parts pricing being way out of kilter with the value of the car doesn’t apply to them alone. Hyundai sees fit to equip their i20 1.4 Glide, that retails at R186 900, with alloy rims that cost R5 779 each to replace, and a sump for the Nissan NP200 will get you digging into your pocket for R11 000 or so. Toyota sells the sump for their Auris 1.6 XR at a more realistic R1 076, but the gasket, at around R500, is dearer than the Hyundai i30’s oil pan that’ll relieve your wallet of a mere R418. Further useful information for Hyundai owners is that the i30 doesn’t use a sump gasket, but on the downside, a small tube of the goo that helps keep the oil in costs R872 if you’re foolish enough to buy it from the agents — or have your car serviced by them.

Is there any logic in all of this? Even allowing for variations in technology and quality, there are countless alarming discrepancies in parts pricing. An engine sub-assembly (block, crankshaft, big-end and main bearings, connecting rods, pistons and rings) for a 1.3 litre Toyota Auris will see you writing a cheque for about R60k while Ford, on the other hand, will sell you a fully-assembled brand new sub-assembly for their 1.3 and 1.6 Rocam engines as used in the Figo, Ikon and Bantam, for under R12 000. That means that if I’d bought a second-hand older Fiesta instead of the new car I did, I could have replaced the heart and soul of the engine three times for less than the cost of repairing the Daihatsu Sirion 1.3’s aircon just once at the agents. It’s worth noting that the whole kit and caboodle from Ford costs about the same as a Nissan NP200’s sump.

Parts prices are not always dependent upon the new cost of the vehicle, and motorcycle owners are similarly abused. A friend of mine priced a fuel pump for his 2000 Honda VTR 1000 SP1 superbike a year or so ago, and was quoted R10 100 by the agents, who helpfully added that it would take three to four weeks to deliver. He removed the offending component as a sample and took it to Diesel-Electric in Pietermaritzburg, who supplied him with an identical Bosch unit for R680, with delivery within 24 hours.

The franchised dealers will, of course, come up with myriad reasons why customers should deal with them rather than seek reputable sources elsewhere but that doesn’t really wash. Dealerships may be forced by the distributors to sell only their own branded components, but these can very often be sourced from the OEM supplier at a fraction of the agent’s price. And when you discover that VW franchises charge between R700 and R900 an hour for labour, that backyard mechanic suddenly looks like becoming your new best friend.

Manufacturers and importers should really sit up and take notice of what happens in the real world where the customer is supposedly king. While a vehicle is under warranty owners may reluctantly pay outrageous prices for parts and labour because they need to retain the protection of the warranty, but when pricing goes as mad as it has they’ll simply leave and take their chances. It’s time we started voting with our wallets.


  • Durban photojournalist Gavin Foster writes mainly for magazines. His articles and photographs have appeared in hundreds of South African, American and British publications, and he's also instigated and researched stories for Carte Blanche. Winner of the Magazine Publishers Association of South Africa PICA Profile Writer of the Year Award in 2008. South African Guild of Motoring Journalists Motorcycle Journalist of the Year (Magazines) 2015/16/17. South African Guild of Motoring Journalists Motorcycle Journalist of the Year (Overall) 2015/16. South African Guild of Motoring Journalists Motorsport Journalist of the Year (Magazines) 2017 - Runner-Up 2015/16.


Gavin Foster

Durban photojournalist Gavin Foster writes mainly for magazines. His articles and photographs have appeared in hundreds of South African, American and British publications, and he's also instigated and...

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