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Now Auto Leasers Can Make Lemonade

Erie resident Ron May thought his 1999 Mazda B3000 pickup truck was a great vehicle, except for one not-so-little problem.

"Every time I leave the house and go down the hill and it shifts from first to second gears, it feels like the transmission is going to fall off. The truck shakes and it makes a real bad noise," said May. "I've had it in the shop at least eight or 10 times for that problem." "What I would like to do is just hand them (Mazda) the key and say thank you very much and be done with it," May said. If he had bought the truck, he might have been able to do just that under the state's Lemon Law.

But May didn't buy the truck. He leased it, and the state's Lemon Law left people who leased vehicles out in the cold – or at least it did until today.

A new law that gives Lemon Law protection to people who lease cars and trucks takes effect today and attorney Craig Kimmel, a Lemon Law specialist, said May and others who have been in his position are why the new law is needed.

Kimmel, who founded the Philadelphia Law Firm of Kimmel & Silverman 10 years ago, quoted figures from the R. H. Polk Co. that show 20 percent of all new cars in Pennsylvania and 26 percent of all new light trucks are leased now instead of purchased.

"Manufacturers treated them differently," said Kimmel. Car buyers who got a "lemon" had a way to get relief, but those who lease vehicles faced a tougher time.

Kimmel's law firm specializes in Lemon Law cases. Its Web site is www.lemonlaw.com. Its toll-free telephone number is 1-800-536-6652. Kimmel is also a legal consultant to the state House Consumer Affairs Committee and has been working on this upgrade of the Lemon Law for more than four years.

May called Kimmel's firm after seeing one of its advertisements and the company was able to get him some relief under federal consumer laws. The attorneys and car company negotiated a $4,500 payment to settle May's claim under the federal laws. May said that is nice, but he still has the lease and the worry that the transmission will fail, and the truck is now past the warranty period.

If May leased the truck today, he could have expected the protection of the state's Lemon Law, which says people who buy a new car may be entitled to another car or a refund of their purchase price if their car has a substantial defect that first occurs in the first 12 months or 12,000 miles of ownership and can't be fixed in three attempts; or if the car is out of service for 30 or more calendar days due to the problem.

Also, the law requires car manufacturers to pay the consumer's legal bills and court costs if the consumer wins.

"We have heard the horror stories about the car that never really worked right from day one, and no one can figure out why," said state Rep. John Evans of Edinboro.

Evans introduced a Lease Lemon Law bill in the state House at the same time that state Sen. Stewart J. Greenleaf of Montgomery County introduced one in the Senate.

Greenleaf's Senate bill was the one that made it through the legislative process first and is the one signed into law. But it did not include some of the provisions that Evans' bill did, and Evans and Kimmel said their job will not be done until those missing provisions are added. One such provision would "brand" the title of certified lemons to make sure that future car buyers know they are getting a car that was classified as a lemon.

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