Lemon Law – When Customer Service is Anything But…

Posted by Sergei Lemberg, Esq. on September 12th, 2008

“Responding to an Absurd Claim from a Customer” was the title of a recent article on the CIO Today site. The article discussed customer service agents’ appropriate and inappropriate responses to customers who they deem have “absurd” complaints.

As anyone who has been through the hassles and headaches of a lemon vehicle knows, your complaints are anything but absurd. Nevertheless, they are often met with resistance, silence, or argumentativeness by so-called “customer service” agents.

It seems to me that, especially when it comes to auto manufacturers and dealers, they train their customer service representatives to dismiss or fend off complaints, rather than to help consumers resolve issues about defective vehicles. This is especially true when a vehicle might qualify as a lemon. At that point, it seems as though the customer service reps are trained to employ a variety of stalling tactics, in the hope that the consumer will either give up, or that the window of opportunity for filing a Lemon Law claim runs out.

The moral of the story? When it comes to customer service, lower your expectations, and don’t let their lack of response dictate whether or not you pursue your Lemon Law rights under the law.

Consumer Electronics Lemon Law? Long Overdue

Posted by Sergei Lemberg, Esq. on August 14th, 2008

Raleigh-Durham’s WRAL recently highlighted a growing gap in consumer protection: the lack of coverage for consumer electronics. In a story posted on its website, WRAL’s “5 On Your Side” team reported on a woman who bought a lemon laptop computer that repeatedly crashed, lost documents, and had random non-working keys. Although the woman had an extended warranty, and sent the computer in for repair four times, the problem still wasn’t fixed. Thanks to the efforts of WRAL reporters, the woman received a refund, but her case points to the larger problem of big investments in electronics and bigger problems.

Although the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act covers all purchases over $25, and most state UCC laws also provide consumers with some protection, there’s a growing movement in several states to enact Lemon Laws specifically for personal electronics.

This year, New Jersey Assembly member Nilsa Cruz-Perez led the charge once again to pass “The Consumer Electronics Warranty Lemon Law,” which would have covered electronic items valued at $250 or more. (A similar bill had been introduced in the previous legislative session but wasn’t enacted into law.) On May 5, 2008, A-1002 was voted out of the Assembly Consumer Affairs Committee, but it was never brought to a full vote of the Assembly.

When the bill got out of committee, Cruz-Perez issued a press release, saying in part:

“Many consumer electronics, like cell phones and computers, have evolved from flashy gadgets to necessary investments in everyday life,” said Cruz-Perez. “Consumers who make investments in devices that can cost as much as an automobile should be afforded the same protections against defects and malfunctions we give to new car buyers.”

The bill would regulate consumer electronics warranties, extended warranties, and service contracts to provide a uniform set of consumer protection standards that include:

* Replacement of any electronic device that cannot be repaired within three attempts with a device of equal value and condition;

* A full refund of the total purchase price for any electronic item deemed defective;

* For stores advertising in-home service of electronics, dispatch of a service technician within 72 hours of receipt of a service request;

* The certification of the condition of any electronic device, in writing, by the warranty holder and a retail representative before the device is sent away for repairs;

* Honoring warranties despite cosmetic defects incurred with normal use;

* Honoring warranties even if the cost of repairs would exceed the purchase price of the device;

* Requiring manufacturer’s warranties to take precedence over extended warranties and service contracts and;

* Requiring extended warranties and service contracts run consecutively with any existing manufacturer’s warranty.

There is also momentum in Pennsylvania to enact consumer protections for personal electronics that are similar to the state’s Lemon Law. If such a law is signed into law, it won’t be a moment too soon.

Getting Straight Answers About Car Problems

Posted by Sergei Lemberg, Esq. on June 17th, 2008

When your car inexplicably stalls or overheats, or when you just know that something’s not right but can’t put your finger on it, you’re often in a quandary. Taking your car into the dealership or to a mechanic you picked out of the Yellow Pages can feel like a crapshoot. Are they trustworthy, or are they going to try and sell you repairs that you don’t need? Even when they show you old parts or a computer readout, it’s human nature to wonder if it’s all smoke and mirrors, as though they’re counting on your ignorance in order to jack up the cost of the repairs.

Austin Davis over at My Honest Mechanic  sums up the issue succinctly when he describes a woman who thought she had a transmission problem:

Our conclusion was a bad spark plug wire, but what should I tell her? She was prepared to pay me big bucks to fix her “transmission problem,” so would she be happy to pay me $250? Shouldn’t I be able to tell her ANYTHING as long as the car was fixed, and I saved her BIG bucks? I would be a hero to her if I fixed the car for only $250, and she would never have to know it was only a bad spark plug wire. No, of course I really didn’t do this, but I would not be so sure she would not have been taken advantage of elsewhere.

Although Austin claims that his expertise is “looking over the mechanic’s shoulder and monitoring quality control,” he’s really a consumer advocate – someone who helps people like us navigate the maze of auto repair and other vehicle issues. His site provides consumers with a wealth of information on a wide variety of topics – everything from common car repair issues to pictures of car parts to road trip tips.

Best of all, you can submit questions and Austin will answer them in his trademark no-nonsense style. He’s a straight shooter and a wonderful resource for anyone who has faced car troubles and not known where to turn.

VW Recalls Only the Latest in the Carmaker’s Shenanigans

Posted by Sergei Lemberg, Esq. on June 13th, 2008

Over on the cars.com blog, Kicking Tires, David Thomas passed along a recall alert for the engine control modules on VW’s 2009 Tiguan compact SUV and 2008 Passat wagons. Apparently, the problem can cause an engine surge, and VW says owners should take their vehicles in for an inspection and possible replacement as soon as possible. In the meantime, new sales are at a standstill until dealers are able to inspect the modules.

My take on it? Dave, in Kicking Tires, you hit the nail on the head. Volkswagen isn’t known for its reliability, and this latest recall is the last in a long line of VW problems. Here’s a sampling of VW recalls for 2008 models:

• VW GTI, Jetta, R32, and Rabbit – Headlights can’t be adjusted, and could cause reduced road visibility, thus increasing the risk of a crash (340,000 vehicles potentially affected)
• New Beetle – The wrong glue was used to attach roof spoilers, meaning they could come loose or fall off the car and create an obstacle to other vehicles or hit a person outside of the car
• Touareg – A faulty fuel supply line could lead to a gas leak, which could cause a fire.

Recalls for 2007 included more headlight problems (GTI, Jetta, R32, and Rabbit), brake lights that could stop working (New Beetle), inoperative windshield wipers (Passat), and brake power assist problems that could lead to a crash (Passat and Passat Wagon).

Consumer complaints about 2007 models piled on to the recalls. Subframe bolt failures, braking problems, faulty fuel pumps, power train malfunctions, and a myriad of electrical system problems plagued 2007 VWs.

Worst of all? Volkswagen is notoriously uncooperative when it comes to settling Lemon Law cases. Nevertheless, we were able to help two of our clients to get Lemon Justice. In one case, a 2008 VW Jetta had a variety of electrical problems. After our client returned her vehicle to an authorized VW service center five times during the first two months of ownership, we were able to settle her case for $4,000.

In another case, our client had a 2007 VW Rabbit that had problems starting. After taking the car in four times, VW was finally able to resolve the problem. Our client had no problems with the vehicle for three months, but with tenacity, we were able to get VW to compensate our client with $3,000.


Chrysler Calling All Lemon Car Owners!

Posted by Sergei Lemberg, Esq. on May 11th, 2008

shooting-fish-in-a-barrel.gifThe Consumerist recently wrote about Chrysler’s cute new undertaking to get serious about quality.  That’s all news to us and to Consumerist too.  Pretty soon, each of Chrysler’s top 300 executives will get on the phone and call a customer who recently bought a Chrysler, Dodge or Jeep vehicle and ask a simple question: “Having any problems?”  Cars.com’s Kicking Tires blog wrote about the same topic as well, though the Consumerist’ sceptical tone is more along the lines of my personal opinion.

I could give them a few numbers to some of my lemon law clients, but my hunch is that they won’t have any problems finding dissatisfied customers.  It’s sort of like shooting fish in a barrel, I suppose. 

Get this, though… the execs are going to call one customer a day every day until Chrysler chairman and chief executive officer Bob Nardelli (freshly dumped by Home Depot) is satisfied that if his customers have troubles, their problems will be fixed. Nardelli, by the way, is going to make the calls, too.

I say, dude, you’ve got to be kidding me. How about you start with designing and manufacturing quality products, instituting strict quality controls, training mechanics to fix problems, and just generally, why don’t you start making good, reliable transportation.  That would be where I’d begin.  Forcing your execs to talk to customers is just a PR gimmick, nothing more!