Making Use Of Lemon Law
Making Use Of Lemon Law
When Karen Powell stopped her new Ford Windstar and shifted it into "park," the automatic sliding door suddenly flew open.
Staff photo by Amy Dragoo Chrissy, holding a bottle of lemon juice, David and their mother, Karen Powell, sit in the Ford Windstar they had replaced after seeking protection under the PA Lemon Law.
Powell's two young children were with her at the time, and the experience badly frightened them all.
Mystery door openings were just a start with Powell's 2000 red Windstar. The car also needed new brakes, the back windshield wipers didn't work and front-axle trouble was also brewing.
"The car was in all the time for repairs," Powell, an artist who lives in West Whiteland, said.
She couldn't drive the car for 72 days while it was being repaired and she finally sought protection under Pennsylvania's Lemon Law.
Windstar manufacturer Ford didn't get off the dime until Craig Thor Kimmel, Powell's attorney, contacted the car maker about Powell's situation.
Eventually, she got back the $6,000 in car payments she'd already paid, less $500 for mileage.
Today, Powell drives a 1995 Plymouth Voyager and has no problems with it.
Kimmel & Silverman, the law firm that represented Powell, handles 24 percent of all U.S. vehicle Lemon Law cases.
Consumers who buy lemons on wheels are protected by two laws, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act of 1975 and Pennsylvania's version, which passed in 1984.
Pennsylvania's law is one of the older laws on the books and "is getting a little long in the tooth," according to Kimmel.
Still, state law protects consumers when they buy a lemon. Here are some features of Pennsylvania's Lemon Law:
- Consumers are protected for 12 months or 12,000 miles.
- The consumer must make three unsuccessful attempts to repair the car before it qualifies as a lemon. Protection under the Lemon Law can also kick in if a consumer can't drive the car for 30 days or more because it's in sick bay.
- A consumer then can contact an attorney, who will pursue a claim under whatever laws or regulations apply: Lemon Law, breach of warranty, unfair trade practices or consumer fraud.
- Much like a detective, an attorney then reconstructs your vehicle's history. Among the questions to be answered: Was the car damaged when it was delivered? Were repairs attempted by your car dealer? Does this model have known defects? How much did the manufacturer pay on a warrantied repair?
- Under the federal Magnuson-Moss Act, consumers have six years from the first time the problem surfaces to report a problem. This long statute of limitations is in effect because "people are basically cooperative and want things to work out with their vehicles," Kimmel said.
- The Pennsylvania law applies only to cars that consumers buy; the federal law also extends to leased vehicles.
Attorneys such as Kimmel & Silverman require no retainer. That's because the law requires the manufacturer to pay an attorney when a claim is successful, either out-of-court or after a court case. About six cases in every 100 eventually go to court.
As for what you can do to protect yourself from a possible lemon:
- Research the car you want to buy through reliable, unbiased sources."Consumer Reports" is a good place to start.
- Research the manufacture.For instance, Kia claims 5 percent of all U.S. vehicles sales but, at Kimmel & Silverman's practice, accounts for 15 percent of all Lemon Law cases, Kimmel said.
- Document everything.Each time you bring in your car for repairs, make sure that these visits are recorded separately, rather than grouped together, and that problems are accurately written down on the repair order.
- Ask about TSBs (Technical Service Bulletins). These are manufacturers' instructions that alert dealers about defects in certain models. Many dealerships don't tell consumers about these unless pressed.
- Don't be afraid to use the chain of command when you complain. Keep copies of every letter you send, and notes of every phone call you make.