Automotive Industry, Environment

Here Is Why We Must Call for Transparency and Consumer Protection In The Used Car Market

As Pres­i­dent Ruto’s entourage bat­tles with jet lag upon return­ing from a suc­cess­ful trip to Tokyo and Aichi, I am filled with trans­for­ma­tive sug­ges­tions to safe­guard Kenyan con­sumers of used vehi­cles from the wide­spread vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties they face. Accord­ing to export sta­tis­tics from Japan Cus­toms, from Jan­u­ary 2019 to Decem­ber 2023, Japan export­ed 337,376 used cars to Kenya. Unknown to many, there is an untold sto­ry behind each vehicle.

In Kenya, the grow­ing mar­ket for import­ed used vehi­cles has trans­formed from a mere eco­nom­ic activ­i­ty into a com­plex web of con­sumer exploita­tion, envi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion, and a tick­ing time bomb of pub­lic safe­ty haz­ards. This intri­cate issue, fueled by the lack of strin­gent con­sumer pro­tec­tion poli­cies, has placed Kenyan buy­ers at a sig­nif­i­cant dis­ad­van­tage, nav­i­gat­ing a mar­ket­place rife with decep­tive prac­tices, and obscured vehi­cle his­to­ries. As these vehi­cles flood Kenyan streets, they bring along a myr­i­ad of prob­lems, from con­cealed struc­tur­al dam­ages to tam­pered mileage read­ings, leav­ing con­sumers grap­pling with unsafe, unre­li­able, and painful­ly over­priced automobiles.

The heart of the mat­ter lies not just in the decep­tion but in the sys­temic loop­holes that facil­i­tate it. For instance, the exist­ing pol­i­cy frame­work allows for vehi­cles to be pur­chased and paid for before under­go­ing inspec­tion, essen­tial­ly serv­ing the exporter’s inter­ests rather than pro­tect­ing the importer. This back­ward process opens flood­gates to fraud, with buy­ers often left to bear the brunt of cost­ly repairs and the dire con­se­quences of road accidents.

Adding to the com­plex­i­ty of con­sumer exploita­tion are seri­ous envi­ron­men­tal and biose­cu­ri­ty issues. The wide­spread black-mar­ket theft of cat­alyt­ic con­vert­ers, dri­ven by the high val­ue of met­als like plat­inum, pal­la­di­um, and rhodi­um, not only pos­es theft risks but also sig­nif­i­cant­ly wors­ens air pol­lu­tion. This sit­u­a­tion is aggra­vat­ed by insuf­fi­cient biose­cu­ri­ty mea­sures in line with the Inter­na­tion­al Stan­dards for Phy­tosan­i­tary Mea­sures (ISPM 41), which aim to pre­vent the spread of harm­ful organ­isms through pre-ship­ment clean­ing of used vehi­cles. This over­sight in pol­i­cy not only threat­ens Kenya’s agri­cul­ture and food secu­ri­ty but also deep­ens our envi­ron­men­tal cri­sis, lead­ing to bil­lions spent com­bat­ing pests and dis­eases and hin­der­ing our pro­duce’s access to inter­na­tion­al markets.

This crit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion calls for com­pre­hen­sive pol­i­cy reforms and col­lec­tive efforts from all stake­hold­ers, includ­ing KEBS, indus­try groups like the Motorists Asso­ci­a­tion of Kenya and the Car Bazaar Asso­ci­a­tion, and con­sumers them­selves. I humbly sug­gest that these par­ties fight for trans­paren­cy by requir­ing the dis­clo­sure of each vehi­cle’s his­to­ry. This could effort­less­ly be accom­plished by man­dat­ing an authen­tic trans­lat­ed auc­tion sheet for each vehi­cle, giv­en that 99% of used cars from Japan orig­i­nate from auc­tion hous­es, and odome­ter integri­ty cer­tifi­cates to reveal any tam­per­ing. These mea­sures guar­an­tee buy­ers ful­ly under­stand their pur­chase. Request­ing an authen­tic auc­tion report from a deal­er will high­light the impor­tance of this transparency.

Addi­tion­al­ly, there’s an urgent need for cam­paigns to edu­cate con­sumers about their rights and the impor­tance of vehi­cle inspec­tion doc­u­ments. Cur­rent­ly, the KEBS and inspec­tion com­pa­nies’ web­sites can ver­i­fy the vehi­cle’s chas­sis num­ber’s authen­tic­i­ty but may not pro­vide accu­rate infor­ma­tion on its his­to­ry. This is because issues like odome­ter tam­per­ing and hid­den struc­tur­al faults can occur before inspec­tion, and often, the buy­er has already paid for the car by that time. More­over, it is the exporter who arranges for the car’s inspec­tion and then has it returned for export. This loop­hole allows abus­es unre­lat­ed to KEBS or the inspec­tion com­pa­nies. Imple­ment­ing edu­ca­tion­al ini­tia­tives, along with stricter inspec­tion stan­dards and legal sup­port for fraud vic­tims, could sig­nif­i­cant­ly reduce the risks asso­ci­at­ed with import­ed used vehicles.

As I envi­sion a future where most Kenyans can pur­chase new vehi­cles made right here in Kenya, we must cur­rent­ly nav­i­gate the real­i­ty of our import­ed used vehi­cle mar­ket. Stand­ing at a cru­cial junc­tion, address­ing these chal­lenges demands a unit­ed effort, strin­gent reforms, and unwa­ver­ing com­mit­ment to con­sumer rights. By clos­ing pol­i­cy gaps and fos­ter­ing account­abil­i­ty, we have the pow­er to pro­tect our cit­i­zens’ well-being and pre­serve our envi­ron­ment. Togeth­er, let’s put the wheels in motion as we dri­ve change with every turn. Unakubaliana nami? Think green, act green.

About Dr. Kalua Green

He is the Founder and Chair­per­son of Green Africa Foun­da­tion, an orga­ni­za­tion that was found­ed in the year 2000 that cham­pi­ons Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment in Africa.

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