Imported cars have undisclosed touch-up jobs

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Imported cars have undisclosed touch-up jobs

The quality of imported cars sold in Korea is being questioned after a local consumer group claimed that some foreign brands are selling cars at regular prices after touching up scratches or dents that occur during shipping.

According to a report from Consumer Research this week, the number of complaints regarding traces of repainting found on new imported cars is rising. The private consumer advocacy group said 20 cases were reported last year, but 13 cases have already been reported in the first half of this year.

Consumer Research said such touch-up jobs are usually discovered when the car needs repairs after an accident or breaking down. So the incidence of touch-ups might be much more than reports would suggest.

It also predicted the number of cases will grow in the future as imported car sales rise. According to the Korea Automobile Importers and Distributors Association, a total of 89,440 foreign-made cars were sold in the first seven months of this year, a 22.5 percent increase from a year ago.

Since foreign cars are shipped for one or two months, rust, dents or scratches are always possible. Some imported car companies cover the damages with touch-up jobs at their predelivery inspection (PDI) centers, according to Consumer Research.

The group said consumers’ rights are violated because people are purchasing touched up cars at the regular price without being notified. Imported car companies said it’s not their duty to disclose touching up.

“Repainting at a PDI center is one of our processes and under the law we are not obligated to notify customers,” an official from an imported car company said. “Touch-up jobs are done perfectly and almost no cars are brought back to the center after the release.”

Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport officials confirmed that under the law, sellers are not obliged to notify consumers about repainting, but the government is preparing to revise the Automobile Management Act as consumer complaints increase.

Consumer Research said repainting at PDI centers isn’t as durable as paint jobs at a factory. In factories, paint jobs are done at temperatures of around 60 to 75 degrees Celsius (140 to 167 degrees Fahrenheit) and the cars are dried for 30 to 60 minutes. But in PDI centers, it’s difficult to meet those standards.

The consumer group said traces of repainting jobs can easily be discerned when the painted parts are exposed to ultraviolet rays. An owner may have trouble down the line trying to sell the car because prospective buyers may believe the car was in an accident.

Consumer Research said foreign car companies are refusing to pay compensation or give refunds when consumers challenge them on touch-up jobs. The group said this is a violation of rules set by the Fair Trade Commission. Under the antitrust watchdog’s standards for consumer dispute resolutions, if there is a visually noticeable defect on a car when it is delivered, a buyer can get compensation or free repair, a refund or vehicle exchange if he or she files a claim within seven days.

BY JOO KYUNG-DON [kjoo@joongang.co.kr]

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