Is Toyota’s Floor Mat Problem the Tip of the Iceberg?

Posted by Sergei Lemberg, Esq. on October 22nd, 2009

Complaints of auto defects leading to sudden acceleration are nothing new, but the recall of 3.8 million Toyotas has led some investigative reporters to some unsettling conclusions. According to the Los Angeles Times, automakers and safety experts are questioning whether there are inherent design flaws in vehicles that prevent drivers from taking appropriate action when unexpected acceleration occurs. They cite the Lexus ES 350 as an example. With its push-button start system that relies on the combination of a handheld device and a dashboard button, the Lexus doesn’t make it easy for a driver to do what seems like a no-brainer when a car is accelerating out of control: shut off the engine. The button has to be held down for three seconds once the car is moving – something most drivers wouldn’t know, and which can seem like an eternity when the car is careening.

Other sophisticated electronic components and design elements can create a confusing or no-win situation for a driver. It’s can be difficult to shift a vehicle into neutral, and the vacuum pressure drop when the car’s throttle is fully open makes power-assisted brakes worthless.

Washington State Residents Called to Action

Posted by Sergei Lemberg, Esq. on October 21st, 2009

Seattle-Tacoma’s News Tribune recently reported on a coalition meeting of lawyers and experts who say that auto fraud in Washington State is careening out of control. In addition to the horror stories of consumers who were ripped off by auto dealers and financiers, the story highlights some startling statistics. Attorney Victoria Cherniak was quoted as saying, “Consumer Reports found that of the totaled cars involved in fatal accidents, 20 percent were rebuilt and put back on the road, and 30 percent of those rebuilt cars had the totaled disclosure removed from the car’s title.” It was also noted that creditors gave dealers kickbacks totaling almost $475 million in 2007.

The coalition is urging Washington residents to contact their state legislators and demand additional consumer protections, such as a lemon law for used cars, minimum safety standards, a cooling-off period for buyers, and requirements that dealers inspect vehicles and disclose defects.

Pioneering Lemon Law Legislator Dies

Posted by Sergei Lemberg, Esq. on October 20th, 2009

The Los Angeles Times reported that Robert Beverly, a California Republican who served in the state legislature as both an assemblymember and a senator, passed away recently at his Southern California home. Beverly, along with Democrat Al Song, were at the leading edge of crafting laws that protect California consumers, including the Song-Beverly Act that created the state’s lemon law.

4.5 Million Ford Vehicles Subject to Recall

Posted by Sergei Lemberg, Esq. on October 19th, 2009

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last week alerted owners of Ford vehicles about a fire hazard involving an additional 4.5 million vehicles in the latest in a series of related recalls.

Including last week’s announcement, there have been a total of eight safety recalls involving approximately 16 million Ford vehicles equipped with a faulty cruise control deactivation switch manufactured by Texas Instruments. Visit www.SaferCar.gov for more information on these previous recalls.

The switch can leak hydraulic fluid, overheat and then burn, potentially causing vehicle fires even with the ignition turned off and the vehicles parked and unattended.

“These hazardous cruise control switches pose a safety risk even while the cruise control is not in use and vehicles are turned off or unattended. I urge consumers to pay attention to this warning and bring the affected models in to have them repaired as soon as possible,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said.

The latest recall involves a total of approximately 4.5 million vehicles, including:

* 1995-2003 model year Ford Windstars
* 2000-2003 model year Ford Excursion diesels
* 1993-1997 and 1999-2003 Ford F-Super Duty diesels
* 1992-2003 Ford Econolines
* 1995-2002 Ford Explorers and Mercury Mountaineers
* 1995-1997 and 2001-2003 Ford Rangers
* And 1994 Ford F53 motorhomes

The safety agency warned consumers to be on the look out for certain warnings of possible imminent fires, including cruise control systems that stop working or can’t be activated, brake lights that stop working, brake lights and ABS warning lights illuminating on the dash board, or not being able to get the vehicle out of park.

All owners of recalled Ford vehicles should immediately make appointments with their dealers and not park their vehicles in garages or near homes until repairs are made.

Revisiting Oregon’s Lemon Law

Posted by Sergei Lemberg, Esq. on October 12th, 2009

Oregon’s Register-Guard recently published a story reiterating Oregon’s lemon law, and underlining the importance of understanding the requirements of your state’s lemon law when pursuing a claim.

According to Oregon’s law, a vehicle must have been purchased in that state until January 1, 2008, after which time a vehicle could have been purchased in another state. The car must have been purchased for personal or family use. In order to qualify as a lemon, the defect has to occur within one year or 12,000 miles, whichever comes first, and four repair attempts must have been performed. You must also notify the manufacturer in writing for a final repair attempt. The state requires arbitration, if the manufacturer participates in a third-party program, after which time you’re eligible to sue.

The article doesn’t mention that Oregon has one of the most restrictive lemon laws in the country. Other states have more consumer-friendly lemon laws, and many are in the process of further liberalizing their laws. It’s also important to remember that, even if your vehicle doesn’t strictly fall within your state’s definition of a lemon, a lemon law attorney can often convince a manufacturer to cough up a cash settlement or a buyback.