Wednesday, November 30, 2011

How to Avoid a Bad Car (or Truck)

In today's post, I'm going to take a different approach.  Instead of helping you to deal with a bad car or truck, I'm going to help you avoid buying one in the first place.  After all, it's better to avoid a problem in the first place, isn't it?

First, I'll talk about a few vehicles that I have found in my practice have a high percentage of problems, then I'll show you how to research cars yourself before you buy one.

Known Bad Cars and Trucks:   This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are a few vehicles that I have found to be problematic.

Ford Diesel Trucks.  Ford F-250, F-350 and F-450 trucks with "Super Duty" diesel engines have been known for years to have major problems.  Usually starting at around 30,000 miles or later, the engines start to have major failures in the turbocharger and other systems that frequently strand their owners.  Since most people buy these trucks to haul large trailers or boats, a breakdown is a serious problem.  Ford has now changed the engine, and I haven't had any clients come to me with 2011 trucks, so this may not be a problem in the future, but it's probably too soon to tell.

BMW High Pressure Fuel Pump.  Recent model BMW's with a component known as the High Pressure Fuel Pump (HPFP) have been having major failures with that pump, resulting in the car breaking down.  Ultimately, BMW North America recalled these vehicles.

BMW 745.  The 2002 model of the BMW 745 had major electrical problems.  You would not, of course, at this point, encounter this except as a used car, since the problems seem to have been solved in later years.

Mercedes S Class.  Recent models of the Mercedes S and some other classes, have had major problems with their Airmatic suspension system.  This is a hydraulic, computer-controlled system that is intended to automatically adjust to respond to road conditions.  Unfortunately, my clients have recounted numerous stories where they have walked out to their garage in the morning to find their very expensive German car "listing" to one side.  This has turned out to be a very difficult problem to diagnose and repair because of the complexity of the system.  The same is true of their "ABC" or Automatic Body Control suspension system.

How to Avoid a Bad Car or Truck:  The most important rule here is to buy with your "head" and not your "heart".  If your approach to car shopping is to go down to the dealer and let the salesman talk you into buying a car, or you buy a car because you've "fallen in love with it", then you are asking for problems down the road.  Instead, be methodical, and do research.  First, figure out what you really need in a car or truck.  Next, develop a list of vehicles that meets those needs.  Next, research that list.

Researching:  The internet gives you a number of great tools for this task.  One approach is to go to your favorite search engine, such as Google, and type in "[make and model of vehicle] complaints".  You'll be amazed at all the different user forums that exist out there for fans of different vehicles.  They can be a great source of information.  Another source is the NHTSA site:  You'll find a wealth of information there.  If you go to the "Vehicle Owners" tab, there are several research tools there that you can use to locate complaints and recalls.  Look around the site and you'll learn a lot.  The Kelly Blue Book site, can provide you with a great deal of help, not just the value of vehicles.  It can actually help you pick the list of candidate vehicles, and get reviews on those vehicles.  Consumer Reports is also a great resource.   You have to pay for a subscription to be able to access the reviews, but it's well worth the price.

One last suggestion--try hanging out around the customer lounge at the dealership that sells the cars in which you are interested.  I can't tell you how many of my clients have told me, after they bought a Lemon, that they were talking with other owners while they were waiting for their most recent repair, and found out they were having the same problems.  Why not get this information before you buy the Lemon?

The Bottom Line:  Do your research before you buy, choose the car or truck that your research tells you is the best bet, and then stick with that decision.  This isn't going to guarantee that you won't get a Lemon, of course, but at least you'll avoid the known Lemons.

I'll have a new topic for you next time.  In the meantime, be sure to check out my websites When Bad Cars Happen to Good People and San Diego Lemon Law.

See you next time!

© 2011 Douglas C. Sohn

Doug Sohn is a San Diego attorney specializing in Lemon Law cases.  He is a native of San Diego and lives in the North County with his wife, Cheri, and 3 of their 5 children.  Cheri also works with Doug in the practice.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

What About My RV?

In today's post, I'm going to talk about RV's, recreational vehicles, also known as motorhomes or coaches.  Does the Lemon Law apply to RV's?  Yes, but differently than it applies to cars and trucks.  The law treats an RV as two different pieces--the "chassis" part and the "coach" part, and treats those two different pieces differently.  Here's the actual language from the statute:

"New motor vehicle" includes the chassis, chassis cab, and that portion of a motor home devoted to its propulsion, but does not include any portion designed, used, or maintained primarily for human habitation.

"Coach"? "Chassis"? What?:  This is an unfortunately, and to my mind, unnecessarily, complex part of the law.  When you study how an RV is manufactured, you will find that there is typically one company that manufactures the parts that make the whole thing go down the road--frame, engine, transmission, wheels, steering, etc..  Some of this is obvious, and some not so much.   The engine is obviously part of the chassis, the instrument panel, not so obvious.  Once this part of the RV is completed, it is then sent to the coach manufacturer, which then manufacturers and installs the rest of the RV.  Not too bad?  Unfortunately, it's not that simple.  Often, there is a crossover between the two sections.  The airbag suspension might be installed by the chassis manufacturer, but the controls installed by the coach manufacturer.  To make matters worse, the coach manufacturer sometimes temporarily disconnects a coach component and then re-installs it--sometimes negligently.  The bottom line is that, for any problem with an RV, you are going to have to carefully analyze what part or parts are involved, then figure out who made it and installed it.  Why bother?  Well, for one thing, as I said, there are different coverages under the Lemon Law.

Lemon Law and the Chassis:  California Lemon Law provides the same coverage for the chassis or "propulsion"  portion of the RV as it does for any car or truck.  One of the most important aspects of this, in my experience, is that you cannot be forced to accept a replacement vehicle, instead of getting your money back.  Why is that important?  Let's assume you've had the kind of experiences that many of my clients have had, which involves a several hundred thousand dollar investment, costing thousands of dollars a month, that was supposed to provide you with a great vacation experiences.  What you got, instead, was something that spends most of its time at the dealer repair facility, and, in between, may have stranded you during your attempted trips, ruining your vacation time.  How interested would you be in getting another one of these?

Lemon Law and the Coach:  The remainder of the RV is treated as a non-vehicle by California Lemon Law.  You have protections under the law, but one of the key items that is missing is your right to insist on getting your money back.  Coach manufacturers can, and usually do, insist on giving you another RV in exchange for your lemon.  Are you going to be happy with this?  See above.

Warranty Coverage:  Another issue that frequently comes up with RV's is warranty coverage.  Even assuming your RV doesn't have problems enough to qualify as a Lemon, there are still going to be things that break, and you're going to want to know if there is warranty coverage.  On a car or truck, this is typically a simple matter--the manufacturer provides you with the only warranty.  (There are limited exceptions, such as tires.)   If the engine in your Chrysler malfunctions, you take it to the Chrysler dealer.  If the radio in your Chrysler malfunctions, you take it to the Chrysler dealer, etc.. The RV is a different animal.  In fact, I look at an RV as a product produced by a committee.  (Old joke:  What does a horse designed by a committee look like?  A camel!.)  Remember that huge case of papers you got with the coach?  Take a look (you probably haven't until now) and you see that there are perhaps dozens of different warranties and instruction booklets, all dealing with different parts of your RV, from the coach to the engine to the microwave.  If any of these items breaks, you may very well have to go to that specific manufacturer to get it fixed or replaced--unless the warranty has run out.

Keep in mind that warranties on RV's are traditionally very short.  A typical motorhome warranty is only one year, so immediately take it to the dealer if you even think there might be a problem.  It's common for the coach dealer to say it's an engine problem, and the engine dealer to then say it's a coach problem, so you may have to be persistent and advocate for yourself.  Be sure you get complete service records.  You can read about that in my previous posts, but apply the rules even more strongly for your RV.  Many RV dealers do not create repair records that are as good as you are used to seeing at a car dealership, so you may have to insist that they write everything down.

Of course, this all assumes that all of these manufacturers are still in business.  Many of the RV manufacturers have gone out of business the last few years, taking your warranty into oblivion with them.

The bottom line: if you think you may be having a problem with your RV, review your warranties carefully, take action immediately, advocate for yourself and stay on it until the problems are fixed or you've gotten to the point where you need to see a Lemon Law lawyer.

I'll have a new topic for you for my next post.  In the meantime, you can get more information from my websites San Diego Lemon Law and When Bad Cars Happen to Good People.

See you next time! 

© 2011 Douglas C. Sohn

Doug Sohn is a San Diego attorney specializing in Lemon Law cases.  He is a native of San Diego and lives in the North County with his wife, Cheri, and 3 of their 5 children.  Cheri also works with Doug in the practice.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Warranties and Warranty Coverages

The topic of today's post, "Warranties and Warranty Coverages" is important for several reasons.  First, as I've talked about in earlier posts, one of the elements of a Lemon Law claim is a warranty.  Second, if your car or truck needs to be repaired, you need to know if the repair will be covered by warranty or if you're going to have to pay for it. There are a lot of different things called "warranties", so I'm going to try to clear this up for you.

New Car Warranty:  Besides that "new car smell" and a big monthly payment, one of the things you got with your new car or truck was a black plastic folder full of manuals.  You should read them, particularly the warranty booklet.  The warranty that came with your car provides coverage for certain things for a certain period of time.  What and when are questions that are answered by looking at that warranty booklet (which is why I said you should read it).  A typical warranty actually has several different types of coverages:

Bumper to Bumper:  The first type of coverage is what is called "bumper-to-bumper" coverage.  Its coverage is pretty much what it sounds like--everything.  Except--for the exceptions.  Read the warranty booklet carefully to see what exceptions it provides.  A common example is tires, which come with their own warranty from the manufacturer.  How long does it run?  Your booklet should tell you that.  This will be the shortest warranty period of the different coverages.   A common warranty period is "3/36" or three years, 36,000 miles, whichever comes first.

Powertrain:  Usually, there is a separate, usually longer, coverage for the "powertrain" of the vehicle.  The manual should define this for you, but it typically includes the engine, transmission and differential.   Again, check your manual to find out the time and mileage limitation on this coverage.  I have in front of me a warranty manual for a 2008 Ford F-350 from one of my files, and it provides for 5 year/ 60,000 coverage for the powertrain.

Engine:  There are some vehicles that have a separate, special warranty for the engine.  The diesel F-350 is one example.  The 6.0 liter and 6.4 diesel engines have a separate warranty coverage that runs 100,000 miles, but requires a $100 deductible after the main coverage runs out.

Used Cars:  You will be happy to hear that, even though you bought a used car, it may still be under warranty.  The original manufacturer's warranty goes with the car, so if the coverage period has not expired, you still have the same coverage the original owner had.  However, check the owner's manual for any special rules.  Chrysler products, for example, have had warranty coverages that only apply to subsequent owners if they fill out the right form and pay a fee within a certain time after they buy the car.  Your used car may have other warranties, as well:

Used Car Warranties:  Used car dealers sometimes provide warranty coverage on the cars they sell.  Here, even more than with new cars, you have to read the warranty.  They are typically very limited both in time and in what they cover.  Because of this, it's really important that you take the vehicle back to the dealer at the first sign of a problem, before the warranty runs out.  These warranties also may require you to have the work done by the dealer who sold you the car.  This can be a problem if they don't have adequate service facilities.  These are all things you should find out before you buy the car.

Certified Pre-Owned:  The "Certified Pre-Owned" or "CPO" label is frequently used to attract buyers.  However, this is where you have to be really careful to find out exactly what you are getting, and there are different types of CPO programs.  First, there are manufacturer Certified Pre-Owned programs.  The warranty that you get with such a vehicle is much like a new car warranty, is backed by the manufacturer itself, and gives you the same Lemon Law rights as a new car warranty.  However, don't assume that a CPO vehicle is any better than any other used car.  They will tell you that the dealer "carefully inspects" each of these cars and trucks, but I have found that is not always true.  If you suspect you have a problem with the car, take it right in.  Don't assume that there can't be something wrong with your "carefully inspected" vehicle.  Second, there are Certified Pre-Owned programs through the dealer itself.  These vary widely in the quality of the vehicles and coverages.  As always, read carefully what coverages are actually being given.  Here, even more than with the manufacturer's CPO programs, this is no guarantee of a higher quality used car.  Fortunately, California has enacted laws that provide some protection from used car dealers that use the "Certified Pre-Owned" label fraudulently.

Service Contracts:  Dealers will usually try to sell you something called an "extended warranty" or "service contract".  The first thing to know is that this is not a warranty at all, particularly for Lemon Law purposes.  The next thing to know is that this is a contract and (1) is limited to the coverages specified in the contract, and (2)  is only as good as the company that provides the coverage.  It is more like an insurance policy than a warranty.  Many of the companies that provide this type of coverage go out of their way to deny coverage when your car actually starts having problems, and the contract has more exceptions than coverages.  Again, there are some service contracts sold by the manufacturer, like the Ford ESP, and they tend to be more valuable.  Some of them, though, are little more than a scam.  Keep in mind these are very high-profit items for the dealer, so be skeptical about their sales pitch.

As you can see, this is a complicated area.  The most important point I can make, however, is that you need to read the warranty, and it is better to read it before you need it, and even better still if you read the warranty before you buy the vehicle.

I'll have a new topic for you for my next post.  In the meantime, you can get more information from my websites San Diego Lemon Law and When Bad Cars Happen to Good People.

See you next week!

© 2011 Douglas C. Sohn

Doug Sohn is a San Diego attorney specializing in Lemon Law cases.  He is a native of San Diego and lives in the North County with his wife, Cheri, and 3 of their 5 children.  Cheri also works with Doug in the practice.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Here are my Top 10 Signs Your Car or Truck May Be A Lemon:
1.   You have to bring your car or truck back to the dealer for the same problem, over and over.
2.   Your car is in the shop more than it’s in your garage.
3.   You’re beginning to miss your trade-in, the one you got rid of because you were worried it would start breaking down.
4.   Your friends are starting to ask you, “Why are you driving a different car every day?” because you’re always in a loaner.
5.   Your vehicle stalls or breaks down.
6.   Your car or truck has to be towed in to the dealer, particularly if it’s more than one time.
7.   You no longer feel safe driving it.
8.   Your service advisor recognizes you and your car as soon as you pull up.
9.   Your service advisor recognizes you and your car as soon as you pull up—and starts shaking his head.
AND, finally, the top reason (but don’t expect this). . .
10.               Your service advisor tells you, “You know, I think you’ve got a lemon here.”

Now, what do you do about it?  The most important thing is to make sure there is a clear record of the problems you are having.  The most important source of that record is the service department’s repair records.  Unfortunately, you can’t just assume the dealer is going to do this job for you.  There are several reasons why this may be true.  One, is that service advisors and mechanics are only human, and they’re trying to write down something that you are explaining that you have experienced.  This can lead to inaccuracies.  The other reason is that they are trying to put into mechanic’s terms what you are describing in your own language, and they’re trying to guess what the cause of the problem might be.  Finally, dealership personnel are often aware of the Lemon Law and sometimes feel they need to protect the manufacturer from potential Lemon Law claims.  Since those claims are strengthened by records of repeat problems, sometimes it appears that service advisors avoid describing the problem you are reporting with the same words on second and third visits.

What’s the solution?  You need to insist that they write down the problem you are describing in your words, and with the same general words each time (assuming you are experiencing the same problem again, of course).  You’ll find more details in my blog posts, below.

See you next week!

© 2011 Douglas C. Sohn
Doug Sohn is a San Diego attorney specializing in Lemon Law cases.  He is a native of San Diego and lives in the North County with his wife, Cheri, and 3 of their 5 children.  Cheri also works with Doug in the practice.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

How to Choose a Lemon Law Lawyer--And What Questions to Ask

Last week I explained what paperwork you need to gather up before you see your attorney.  Now that you've done all that, it's time to make an appointment to see the lawyer.  How do you decide what lawyer to see?  That's the subject of today's post.

Experience counts.  One of the most important factors to consider is whether the attorney in question has significant experience in Lemon Law cases.  Believe it or not, this is actually a specialized area, with a lot of what the law calls "traps for the unwary".  A lawyer who has never handled a Lemon Law case, or not very many of them, is at a definite disadvantage.  First, he may not be able to give you a realistic assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of your case.  (I'm going to use "he" instead of "he or she" for simplicity's sake.)  This is bad for two entirely different reasons.  He may overestimate your case and get you involved in a claim, or even a lawsuit, that you aren't going to win.  On the other hand, he may tell you don't have a case when you actually do.  Second,  he may not know to ask for all the money you are entitled to get back.  Third, he won't be known to the manufacturers and their attorneys.  This is a small legal community, and the folks on the manufacturer's side know the experienced Lemon Law attorneys, and will try to take advantage of the ones who aren't.

Questions to Ask the Lawyer--Experience.  First, how many years have you been in practice?  If you're not comfortable with this type of question, look them up on the California State Bar website, or on Avvo.  The Avvo site will also tell you how much of their practice they devote to Lemon Law, which is another question you should ask.  Another important question, that only the lawyer can answer for you, is, "How many Lemon Law cases have you taken to trial?"  They should at least have tried one, and at least have won one.   Keep in mind that most Lemon Law cases settle, so most attorneys have not tried very many of these cases, and usually it's the more difficult cases that get tried so a low success rate isn't necessarily a bad sign.  If the attorney has never tried a Lemon Law case then that is a bad sign, however.  Not only does he need to know how to try a Lemon Law case, but the other side needs to know that he does.  This makes it more likely that he will be able to settle the case.

Once you've chosen an attorney to see, there are questions you will want to ask at the first meeting.

Questions to Ask the Lawyer--How Much Will I Get Back?  The basic concept of the Lemon Law is that the manufacturer buys back your car or truck.  However, there are a number of factors that go into this calculation.  Ask the lawyer to give you an estimate of what you will get back.  In some cases, pursuing a Lemon Law case does not make good economic sense for you.

Questions to Ask the Lawyer--What are the Fees and Costs?  California's Lemon Law provides that the manufacturer has to pay the fees and costs, that's one of the great things about this law.  Because of this, your lawyer typically does not ask for you to pay any of the fees or costs.  Also, the fees are typically based on an hourly rate, and not a percentage of what you get paid back.  A different arrangement is usually made for what is called "civil penalty" amounts.  This is like punitive damages, but is limited a maximum of two times your damages.  Most Lemon Law attorneys take a share of this bonus money in addition to their hourly rate, since it is bonus money, and not easy to get.  Make sure to get this explained to you.

Questions to Ask the Lawyer--How Much Time Will this Take?  This is actually a very difficult question, and there's not usually any really reliable answer, because you never know what the other side is going to do.  However, the attorney should be able to tell you how long it is going to take him to send your demand letter out, or to file suit, depending upon his approach.  After that, as I say, the timetable is unpredictable.  Once you find out how long it is going to take the lawyer to take his first actions, you will be better prepared.  Yes, "these things take time" is what lawyers typically say, because, unfortunately, it's true.  However, if the lawyer is too busy to get to your case within a reasonable time, you may want to find somebody else.

Questions to Ask the Lawyer--Who's Going to be Handling My Case?  The attorney you meet may not be the one actually handling your case.  You are entitled to know who is going to be representing you, and how to get in touch with them to find out what is going on.  It's not uncommon in larger firms for more than one attorney to be working on a given case, but you should be told who is "in charge" of the case.

What Do I Do if I'm Unhappy?  Let's assume you like all the answers you get to these questions, and hire the attorney.  What happens if, later on, you feel that you aren't getting the service you deserve?  Go talk to the lawyer!  You are always entitled to talk to the attorney representing you--they're working for you.  I suggest an in-person meeting because that gets the best results.  Telephone calls and, particularly e-mail, don't always convey what you are trying to get across and can give the impression that you are being unreasonable.  Go see the lawyer, tell him what your concerns are, and see if you are satisfied with the answers.  More often that not, this is all it takes because there has simply been a miscommunication.  If this doesn't solve the problem, you are always free to find another attorney to represent you.

There you are!  You've taken all the right steps to get the best results in your Lemon Law case.  Best of luck!  

In my next posting, I'll be talking about a new Lemon Law topic, so be sure to check back.  In the meantime, be sure to take a look at my website:

See you next time!

© 2011 Douglas C. Sohn

Friday, November 4, 2011

"Getting Ready to See Your Lemon Law Lawyer"

The next step in the Lemon Law process is "Getting Ready to See Your Lemon Law Lawyer".  First, you may ask, "Do I need to have a lawyer help me with this, or this is just shameless self-promotion on Doug's part?"  Actually, it's not, and you do.  The unfortunate reality is that you are far more likely to get what you are entitled to under the law if you have an attorney representing you.

More importantly, this isn't going to cost you anything.  Before you toss this into the "too good to be true" basket, let me explain.  The California legislature realized that consumers were not going to be able to effectively pursue their rights under the Lemon Law unless they hired an attorney, and that it did not make economic sense to spend the thousands of dollars on attorney's fees in this type of case.  Because of this, it was made part of California Lemon Law that the manufacturer (Ford, Mercedes, etc.) was required to pay any attorney's fees and costs incurred by the consumer.  In other words, when you hire a lawyer for a Lemon Law case, it won't cost you a dime!

Now, getting back to what you need to do to get ready to see the lawyer.  The most important thing is to make sure you have all the necessary paperwork.  I break this down into three categories:

1.  Ownership Documents. This would start with your purchase contract and everything else you were handed that night you left the dealership with the keys to your beautiful new car clutched in your trembling hand.  (Usually because of low blood sugar after the four-hour ordeal that is car buying.)  Next would be anything having to do with any loan you have on the car.  (Loan application, letter from the loan company at the start of the loan, monthly statements, coupon books, cancelled checks, that sort of thing.)  Next, the current registration and any registrations before that.  Next, receipts for anything you added to the vehicle, after-market items such as stereos, custom wheels, trailer hitches, etc.  Finally, all the owner's manuals, warranties and other booklets.  These are typically in a black plastic folder in the glove compartments, and usually you haven't looked at them since the salesman handed them to you along with those keys we started out with.

2.  Service Documents.  These are the documents that are going to tell your lawyer whether or not you have a case.  Included are all the repair documents you ever got.  As I explained last time, usually, when you take your car or truck to the dealer, they give you one set of paperwork, frequently called a "work order" that shows that you left your vehicle with them and what you said was wrong with it.  When you pick up your vehicle they will give you a "Repair Order" or "Invoice", showing what they did to try to fix it.  You need to bring both documents for every time you took your car in.  Didn't keep them?  Then you have to go to the dealer and ask for copies.   Don't let them give you a "summary" or "history".  You need full copies of all the work orders and repair orders, and you're entitled to them.  As always, be "polite but firm".  Of course, if you've been following my advice, you already have these.  You also need copies of any maintenance work you've have done, whether or not done at the dealer.  This would include oil changes, brake replacements and tire replacements.

3.  Everything else.  Gather up any letters or e-mails you may have sent or gotten about the problems with your car.  Also, any logs, notes or memos you may have made about the problems.  If you took a video of your beautiful new car being hauled away by the tow truck or any video or pictures showing the problems, bring those.  I've had clients bring in pictures of the warning lights shining on the dashboard, and they were very effective.  (And, yes, I've been brought the tow truck pictures!)  Our slogan around here is, "If it's on paper and it has anything to do with your car, bring it!)"

Have everything on this list?  It may take some time to gather it all together if you haven't been putting it in a file as you go along.  (Assuming your crystal ball failed to alert you when you bought the car that you'd be seeing a Lemon Law attorney years later.)  But your efforts will pay off when you go to see the lawyer.

Next time, I’ll tell you how to pick a Lemon Law lawyer.

In the meantime, for more pointers, see my website:

See you next week!

© 2011 Douglas C. Sohn

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

“Your Lemon—Making a Record”

Last week, I talked about what a “Lemon” was—not a piece of fruit in this case, but a piece of junk, your new car or truck that the dealer can’t seem to get fixed.  This week, we’re going to talk about your first step in getting that lemon bought back.

The first thing to do is to make sure that you’ve made a record of the problems with your car or truck.  In this case, the only record that really counts is the set of repair records kept by the dealer.  I’m going to be talking strictly about new car dealers, because that is the best source for these types of records.  You can have warranty work done by independent mechanics, but it makes a better impression if all of the records we’re going to be talking about come from an actual new car dealer for your type of car—Ford, BMW, Lexus, etc..

Rule Number 1 in making in a record is “more is better”.  There is no set number of times you have to take your car or truck in for repairs, but the more times you have taken it in, the stronger your case is.  The best sequence is, (1) take in for repairs, (2) drive the car long enough for it to be clear the problem is still there or has come back, then (3) take it back in immediately after that.  Sometimes you drive out of the service department and see the problem is still there (that warning light is still on, or the engine still runs rough, or whatever the problem is).  In that case, it’s perfectly okay to turn right around and have them try again.  Sometimes the problem seems to be fixed, but it comes back weeks or even months later.  That’s okay too.  Take it back in as soon as that happens.

Rule Number 2 is, “if it’s not written down, it doesn’t count”.  The record is only what is actually in the written records at the dealer.  You can tell the man or woman in the service drive (usually called a “service advisor”) about a dozen different problems, but if he or she doesn’t write them all down, it isn’t part of the repair history.  Here’s where you may have to stand up for yourself.  If they aren’t writing down all of the problems you are having with the car, politely, but firmly, insist that they do.  Don’t be put off by the “Let’s take one problem at a time” approach.  If there are ten things wrong with the car, make sure they write all ten things down, and don’t leave the car until they do.  The reason is this--if you take your car or truck in for repairs and don’t have them write down one of the problems, this becomes what I call a “negative record”.  In other words, the manufacturer may say that the car must not have been having that problem at that point or you would have complained about it.

Rule Number 3 is, “be clear and specific and consistent”.  When you explain to the service advisor what the problems are, make sure you are as clear as you can be as to what you are experiencing.  You’re probably not a mechanic, so don’t worry about trying to diagnose the problem—that’s their job.  It’s okay to say, “When I’m driving on the freeway, and I push on the gas, the car seems to hesitate before it speeds up”.  You don’t have to try to guess if that is a transmission problem, an engine problem, or whatever.  Be sure to tell them what it does, when it does it, and how frequently.  That covers the “clear and specific” part.  The “consistent” part means that you need to use the same description each time.  Why?  Because part of what you need to show is that you are having the same problem over and over.  If you are describing it different ways different times, it’s going to look like different problems, like they fixed one problem and a different one came up, and that’s not going to help you prove that you have a lemon.

Rule Number 4 is, “keep the records”.  After you’ve gone to all this trouble to make sure you’ve made a clear record of the problem—make sure you get that record and keep it.  Before you leave your car, the service advisor is required to give you a copy of the service record, usually called a “work order” that shows that you left the car with them and what you complained about.  Before you sign anything, make sure you read it over to make sure it’s complete and accurate, following the rules I gave you.  Also check to make sure the mileage is correct, because that’s part of making a clear record, too.  Take that piece of paper with you, and keep it in a file you are going to make that has all of the records about your car.  When you pick up the car, they are required to give you another piece of paper, usually called a “Repair Order” or “Invoice” that tells you what they’ve done to your car.  Make sure you get that, and keep it too.  If you have any questions about what they’ve done to your car, ask them, and make sure you’re getting an explanation you can understand.  Make a note, on a separate piece of paper, of the date, time and mileage on the car when you picked it up.  Don’t write on the service documents themselves.  

Remember, if the problem comes back, take it back immediately.

What’s next?  The next thing is getting to ready to see the lawyer, and I’ll tell you about that in my next blog.

See you next time!

© 2011 Douglas C. Sohn