A man, a jeep, and a battle of rights.
When Teg Raj Singh Sethi walked into the office of the Indian Weekly, he had in his hands the petrol cap of the jeep he was driving. The Wrangler jeep belonged to his brother-in-law. “I stopped to put petrol and the cap broke. I spent 15 minutes trying to put it back,” he laughed. Teg’s luck with jeeps have run out. Or so it seems. Frustrated by the problems of the jeep he last bought, Sethi has come out with a hilarious rap song “I made a mistake, I bought a jeep” turning him into an overnight sensation.
In four days, the video posted on YouTube had more than a million hits. Television channels interviewed him and newspapers wrote about him as he went on to acquire a celebrity status. The rap goes like this, “This is a true story about my experience of dealing with a multinational corporation. I’m going to sing my heart out for you now, man. They won’t bring me down, I work so hard to make my money. But then they sold me a lemon, man… ‘This jeep’s giving me anxiety. I must have bought a citrus variety…” Tinged with humour, Sethi, a disgruntled customer, has a message.
How Sethi, 33, made a video that cost him a neat $8000 is one passionate story but first let’s take a look at his jeep woes. In November 2013, Sethi bought a Grand Cherokee wagon for $60,000. “My wife was eight months into pregnancy and the whole reason I bought the car was because I wanted to provide my family with a safe and reliable vehicle especially since it involved transporting a baby as well.”
However Sethi alleges that problems occurred from the moment they drove off from the car outlet. “There were steering issues. The car was rapidly pulling to the left.” He did a bit of research on his own to find out that these cars are set up for American roads “which are flat whereas Australians roads are a camber. So essentially when you are driving the vehicle you have to counter steer it the whole time just to keep it straight. Imagine the amount of concentration you need to keep the vehicle going straight. If you have a baby in the car, for instance, for that split second if you look away you are off the road and it is dangerous.”
Next, Sethi alleges that the car was constantly losing power. “You will be driving and all of a sudden it would lose power. It happened to my wife and child three times on the highway when it went into what is called the limp home mode. At one point she was on the highway for two hours waiting for the tow truck to turn up. These are the things I can’t take as a consumer.” Next, was the problem of wipers coming on intermittently, and the digital audio radio which did not have an antenna, he rues.
So Sethi went back to the dealer multiple times requesting them to do something about his jeep. But with little help from them and Fiat Chrysler Australia (FCA), who they recommended he go to, Sethi decided he won’t take things lying down from anyone especially from a multi corporation. “After my last contact with the dealership when I was told there will be no refund from either the dealership or FCA, I said I am going to fight. I had to think of something.”
So he sat down with his wife and put forward two options – either they use all their limited resources and try and take legal action, or they spend the money on their domain.
Up to this point Sethi did not have a plan. He was infuriated at what he was going through. So when he was on a business tour flying from Newcastle to Melbourne, he wrote the song “I made a mistake, I bought a jeep”. Next he sang the song, recorded and sent it to his friend L-FRESH The Lion, a popular hip hop artist, who called it “clever”.
Sethi admits he is no rapper but plays around with music as a hobby. With L-FRESH giving him the go-ahead, he wiped off the dust from his musical instruments and turned his living room into one of the best studios. Then he got in touch with two other professional friends Mofolactic and Pav Dharia who specialise in video production. “They had never done this before but they were keen to do it,” he says, adding, “A video of this quality requires money. And why this is a rap song is because we needed to rap to get all the information across.”
Sethi also got in touch with Ashton Wood, the Sunshine Coast man, who launched an online campaign for strangers to bash, break and even set fire to his $49,000 Jeep Cherokee in 2013. The Wood family organised the “Destroy My Jeep” demolition to highlight the need for laws forcing car companies to refund or replace problem vehicles. Wood who features in Sethi’s video has been a strong support for him.
The video has funny skits designed by Sethi and he gets his points across with humour. “It couldn’t be a guy having a rant. It starts off with a bit of seriousness and turns into a comedy. I thought I will capture people that way with the lemon as the central theme.” Interestingly, Sethi says he couldn’t find a lemon costume in Australia and eventually discovered a factory in China that made lemon costumes. “I contacted them and it cost me $275. It’s just funny.”
The video was made in three weeks after Sethi put forward his ideas and the location. “Everything was done in gorilla style.” On November 11, Sethi put up his video on YouTube and within few hours recalls his phone ringing left, right and centre. “People were calling and laughing”. And then the interviews started. The story got traction once a major daily picked it up the next morning, he says. At the time of writing this story, the link had over one million viewings.
But as funny as it is, there is a serious issue to it, reflects Sethi. “At the end of the day, we don’t have a lemon law but a consumer law which is quite vague. In the US, if a vehicle goes back three times with the same fault it is deemed a lemon. In Australia there is no such law. All it says is: if the product is not built for purpose or if it constitutes a major fault or a safety concern, you are entitled to a response. However that is left to the dealer to evaluate. Of course, the company is not going to evaluate, they will run around in circles as they are doing now. We don’t have solid regulatory body like an ombudsman in the automobile industry. Realistically, they need to try bringing some solid laws to protect Australian consumers.”
Asked what he hopes to achieve out of this campaign, Sethi says, “From a selfish perspective, my money, from a non-selfish perspective enough awareness so that we start talking about lemon laws in Parliament at the federal level, especially now that there is no Australian motor industry. If that is something that we can gain out of this, it will be fantastic. The video has hit it from multiple angles but that wasn’t my initial intention. I had a point to make about my vehicle and my problem with this company but it is turning into something much larger than this.”
Sethi’s last contact with his dealer was when he physically went and dropped the car off for their independent inspection. It has been a week and he is yet to hear from them. When the Indian Weekly tried to contact his dealer at Werribee, there was no available manager to give their views.
For now Sethi, who manages an appliance rental business, is handling his new celebrity status rather well. “It was never my intention to become famous,” he laughs, adding, “I need to get back to work and my normal life, my phone has not stopped ringing and it is coming from various places.”
By Indira Laisram