Woman, 88, stranded after Motor Ombudsman failed to rule for 11 months

An 88-year-old motorist was left without her beloved Mini Cooper for a year after the Motoring Ombudsman failed to act on a dispute with a dealer.

Brandy Thomas was left stranded after her car was taken to her local Cooper Cobham BMW, on January 29, 2019, following an amber dashboard warning light coming on.

A dispute arose after the dealer initially told Brandy the car would need £1,500 worth of work, which she said then rose to more than the vehicle’s estimated £3,000 value – and she claims the garage’s actions had made the car worse.

But despite a claim to the Motor Ombudsman in March 2019, Brandy was left waiting with no car but still paying insurance and tax until she got in touch with This is Money for help last month. 

Brandy Thomas’s Mini has been sat at a garage for a year after a dispute over repairs led to an 11 month wait for an Ombudsman verdict (stock image of Mini)

Brandy’s problems with the Motor Ombudsman reflect those seen by some others go to the organisation for help with motoring disputes. 

The Motoring Ombudsman currently has a lowly TrustPilot score of 1.5 stars out of five and social media is littered with complaints about it.

After This is Money chased up Brandy’s case, the Motor Ombudsman finally ended up delivering a verdict – ruling in the garage’s favour rather than the customer’s some eleven months after she approached it for help.

Brandy’s issue initially arose when she was driving to the supermarket in January of last year and she noticed an amber light crop up on her dashboard. 

The car was still working but she contacted her garage to see if they could identify the problem. She was advised it would take ten days for them to collect the vehicle, which caused Brandy problems as she has severe osteoarthritis.

A day after her Mini was taken away to the garage, she got a call from one of the mechanics advising her that the battery was ‘knackered’. 

Even though she was then told that she would have her car back in a few days, Brandy said ‘things then went from bad to worse’.

Her car needed a new cylinder, a new starter motor and a new Digital Motor Electronics (DME) control unit, she was soon advised by mechanics, which would cost £1,500 alone.

Although Brandy agreed to these charges, she claims that the mechanics managed to flood her engine when attempting repairs and she believed had also damaged the starter motor when trying to diagnose the problem, meaning they were responsible for the car no longer working.  

Brandy's Mini: She blames engineers for the failing of her car, saying they flooded the enginer

Brandy’s Mini: She blames engineers for the failing of her car, saying they flooded the enginer

Despite initially agreeing to let the mechanics carry on working on the car, she was later told that it was hopeless carrying on, as the work carried out would now be more than the car was worth, which valued at around £3,000.

The dealer said they couldn’t do anything further and offered to keep it in their garage for the time being. 

However, Brandy was not offered a courtesy car at any stage, despite being a customer of the garage for 13 years. 

Although Brandy agreed to her car remaining at the garage, she said she was under the assumption that this would be a temporary situation, particularly as she went to the Ombudsman in March last year. 

Brandy says she assumed that she would get a response in just a few weeks time. 

Over the period that she was left waiting, she was told multiple times by the Ombudsman that she would receive a final verdict but hadn’t had one by she hasn’t had her car back yet either.  

It wasn’t until This is Money contacted the Ombudsman that action has been taken.

A Motor Ombudsman spokesperson said: ‘We can see from our case file that there was a delay in sending Mrs Thomas’ complaint over to the business due to the large volume of cases being worked on, and unfortunately we did not keep Mrs Thomas adequately updated about the progression of her case during this period. 

‘We apologise once again that it has taken a significant period of time to resolve the case of Mrs Thomas. She can expect to receive an adjudication decision by the end of this week.’

Brandy has now been advised that the Ombudsman has decided to side with the Mini garage, saying: ‘The evidence received demonstrates that the business followed a process to resolve any issues.’

'Knackered' battery: After Brandy's car was taken into the garage, she didn't see her Mini again

‘Knackered’ battery: After Brandy’s car was taken into the garage, she didn’t see her Mini again

The Ombudsman added that the garage has stored her car for free for almost a year and therefore it believed that it has been acting in Brandy’s best interests. 

However, the the Ombudsman dragging its heels also contributed to the garage holding onto the car for so long because 

A spokesperson for Mini added: ‘The cost of repair against the vehicle value was discussed consistently between the retailer and Ms Thomas, who agreed to proceed to pay for the DME fitment.

‘After the DME was fitted the retailer confirmed the repair costs would outweigh the value of the car as a result of a mechanical issue as the cause. A decision was made not to proceed with an uneconomical repair.

‘We can confirm that industry regulator, the Motor Ombudsman, have been engaged to come to an independent decision and today have concluded in the favour of the retailer, Cooper Cobham.’

It added that Cooper Cobham will await a decision from Brandy as to when she will arrange for the vehicle to be collected as it cannot  be stored at the retailer indefinitely.

Brandy has now accepted the adjudication decision, partly due to the ongoing stress it has caused her and partly because she wants to see her car returned. 

Brandy is hoping that she will be able to counteract the Motor Ombudsman's ruling on her case

Brandy is hoping that she will be able to counteract the Motor Ombudsman’s ruling on her case

However, she says that she still believes that when the mechanics were trying to diagnose the problem they damaged the starter motor. She thinks that when they were trying to turn the engine over in a hydrolocked state, it is likely damage was done to the lower engine.  

This is Money contacted Admiral Insurance, which covered Brandy and her Mini, as after she had requested a refund for the months she had paid for her insurance but had no car, she received just £35.72. 

She paid her annual payment of £566.72 in full in November 2018, just two months before her car was to be taken into the garage.  

An Admiral Insurance spokesperson said: ‘We cancelled the policy, when she requested us to on 12 October 2019. The refund was calculated on a pro-rata basis as £35.72 for the remainder of the cover. 

‘We wouldn’t normally backdate the cancellation as the car would still need to be insured unless it’s been declared off road via a SORN declaration with the DVLA. 

‘If we were to backdate the cancellation to January 2019, we’d refund a further £411.45, however, if we do this, it would mean the car would not have had any cover in force from the date we backdate the cancellation to.

‘This means the vehicle will show as uninsured on the Motor Insurance Database. If the DVLA run a check, there won’t be a record of the vehicle being insured during that period and they may send a warning letter, or maybe even issue a fine.’

Admiral added that Brandy had not sent over the required evidence to prove that her car was in the garage when she was still paying insurance.   

Whilst the outcome is not what Brandy hoped for, she is happy now that her car will be returned to her and she can decide what to do with it, without an Ombudsman ruling hanging over her head. 





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