Daniel J. Sernovitz, Staff Writer for Reporter Online.com, 2002
Many consumers are ill-equipped to handle the tactics of dealers who insist there is nothing wrong with their vehicles.
Delaying inspection appointments and issuing empty promises to replace or refund defective vehicles are just two in a war chest of tactics manufacturers use to avoid admitting the vehicles they sold are lemons, according to attorney Craig Kimmel.
The Ambler-based consumer advocacy firm of Kimmel & Silverman maintains a Car Complaint Index of the top 25-defect-inclined vehicles of the year to empower motorists to battle those manufacturers.
The key, Kimmel said, is to: "Always expect what you paid for and don't take anything less. Insist on perfection and don't settle for less."
Topping the 2002 Car Complaint Index, based on information reprinted from The Ultimate Car Book and the Center for Auto Safety, is the Mazda MPV minivan. The minivan, which Mazda has since redesigned and remodeled, generated complaints from more than 10,000 consumers who cited varying problems, including a fuel smell from the air conditioning unit, squeaking in the rear brakes, oil leaks and problems with the check-engine light, according to the advocacy firm.
There are many more, said Kimmel, whose law firm has helped about 19,000 motorists in the region get refunds or replacements from the manufacturer that created them.
"We've probably seen just about every type of problem with about every type of car there is out there. There are a lot of cars out there that are problem vehicles, either through design or because dealers don't know how to fix them," he said.
Although new vehicles come with a warranty, Kimmel said it is difficult at times to get manufacturers to honor those warranties.
Common tactics, he said, include postponing inspection appointments and promising but never following through on those promises to give the owner a replacement or refund.
"It's actually worse than fighting city hall," he said.
In one case, he said, a manufacturer tried to argue it was the consumer's fault because he was not insistent enough on getting a refund or replacement. As evidence, he said, the manufacturer presented about 30 invoices for work done to the vehicle.
"They do try to use your reasonability against you," he said.
Kimmel suggests consumers take three steps to fight back. First, he said, is not to simply settle for such defects. Second, he said, is to explain the problem as clearly and precisely as you can to a mechanic. If the problem is not corrected after two or three attempts, he said, the third technique is to contact the manufacturer, tell them your expectations, and set a deadline for when the problem should be remedied by. If it is not fixed by then, he said, consumers should contact a lawyer for assistance.
For more information visit the Lemon Law Web site, which has been honored by the American Bar Association.
Click the link to see the latest Car Complaint Index.