You bought a brand new car. It has a problem: let’s say it “consumes” oil between oil changes. And the dealer simply refuses to work on the car, saying the condition is normal. Is there anything you can do? Yes.
This is a more common problem than you might imagine. I get calls from consumers who bought brand new cars that do disturbing things. Cars consume oil, shake, make weird noises, shift funny and so on. Consumers bring them to the dealer. But sometimes, dealers will refuse to work on the car after the first or second visit. “That’s normal.” Or, “The manufacturer is working on this. We’ll call you when they have a fix.”
As we know, filing a claim under the Lemon Law requires your car to remain defective after a certain number of failed repair attempts—often three or four—but what happens when there is no attempt to begin with? Or the dealer refuses the attempts necessary to meet the threshold? T
he statute actually counts how many times the vehicle “has been subject to repair.” It is more broad than “actual repair attempt.” I would argue that any time you bring the car in and present it for repair, it has been “subject to repair.” Any other interpretation would mean dealers could simply refuse repairs and negate the effects of the law.
So, if a dealer refuses to actually work on your car, ask them to fill out a repair order, which indicates that you brought the car in. They can note “No work performed at this time,” and then add whatever excuse they are currently shoveling to consumers. Most dealers I have dealt with will do this. If they refuse to even do that, I would pull out a cell phone and take a selfie of yourself in the service area with the car.
You’ll have dated evidence that you were there with your car. At the very least, they can’t deny that you brought the car in.
Interestingly, dealers often are annoyed by how manufacturers deal with these kinds of problems. Since they (the manufacturers) don’t know how to fix these problems, they won’t authorize the dealers to do any work. So the dealer’s hands might be tied. Many of these dealers will even tell consumers this: “We’d love to help but the manufacturer won’t authorize the work (or hasn’t found the solution yet).” Since the manufacturer is the one who buys a car back under the Lemon Law, dealers often don’t mind throwing them under the bus.
I’ve had clients protest—they feel silly bringing the car in knowing they will be turned away without any work being done. I tell them to put up with it and get the proper number of repair visits. Or, take it to a dealer you haven’t been to yet. The more the merrier!
You might feel silly now but it beats the silly feeling you get later when you find out your car’s problem is not fixable and you are outside the time frames of the law.
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Steve Lehto has been practicing law for 23 years, almost exclusively in consumer protection and Michigan lemon law. He wrote The Lemon Law Bible and Chrysler’s Turbine Car: The Rise and Fall of Detroit’s Coolest Creation.
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