What to Do When You Find a Car Defect on Vacation
National Lampoon's Vacation begins with Clark Griswold picking up a new vehicle from a car lot in preparation for his cross-country road trip. Of course, the sketchy car dealer had performed a bait and switch on poor Clark. And, instead of driving the top-of-the-line model he had promised his kids, he ended up with a vehicle that even people in the early ‘80s viewed as ugly.
What Clark didn’t know is that there are laws to protect people from buying a car that doesn’t function properly. But what do you do when you detect the problem with your new vehicle while you are on vacation?
Contact the Dealer Immediately
This cannot be stressed enough. Do no wait to contact the dealer. If you spend too much time thinking about what to do, you could end up costing yourself quite a bit of money.
There are no federal buyer remorse laws in the books, and the federal “cooling-off rule,” which protects people from high-pressure sales does not cover car purchases. With this said, some dealers may be scared of bad reviews and take care of the problem, whether they are required to or not. It doesn’t hurt to ask.
Some states offer Contract Cancellation Option Agreements, where the consumer can pay an extra fee for the right to return the car for a full refund within two days of purchase. This agreement is usually available for used cars that cost less than $40,000.
The best-case scenario is that the dealer will stand behind their product, whether state law requires them to or not.
Put simply, if you wait too long, you can plant seeds of doubt that a legitimate problem exists. Instead, contact the dealer and document your phone calls. This way you have immediately created a paper trail that could help you if it comes down to the need for legal assistance.
Contact the Manufacturer
The dealer may ask you to contact the manufacturer. The so-called “lemon laws” (more about this later) say that the auto manufacturer is responsible for the vehicle instead of the dealer.
Again, after you’ve called the manufacturer, document the call. Be sure to write down
who you spoke with
what you said the problem was
what solutions the manufacturer offered
If you purchased an extended warranty, you might be required to have the work completed by a certified mechanic for your car’s make and model. Of course, when you are on vacation, you may have a difficult time making this happen.
Keep Careful Records
Keep the records from the purchase of your car. Record the total price you paid for the vehicle, the down payment, and the number of monthly payments you made. If you had a trade-in when you purchased your new car, record the amount the trade-in was worth at the time.
Keep careful records of when the car problem started. Record the mileage of the car and the driving conditions when you first encountered the issue. Keep maintenance records. Gather estimates from certified mechanics. If you paid for repairs, keep accurate records of when they occurred and how much they were.
Also, keep track of other expenses you encounter from being without your vehicle. For example, if you were planning on going on a road trip, but you had to rent a car to complete your journey, make sure you keep all those receipts. Keep track of how much you paid for Ubers, taxis, and public transportation during the time you were without your vehicle.
Learn about Lemon Laws
Although information online seems contradictory, there is consumer protection or lemon laws in every state. The criterion varies by state and whether or not the vehicle is new or used. Most lemon laws only protect consumers who purchase new cars, but some will cover used cars if they come with an express written warranty.
A new vehicle lemon law often requires that the manufacturer repurchase the vehicle that has a defect if they are unable to repair it within a reasonable amount of time. The number of days that are deemed appropriate for repairs varies among the states. The dealerships have no responsibility for repairing or replacing new cars covered under these lemon law laws.
Learn How Much You Can Receive from a Buyback Offer
One would think that lemon laws would assure that the consumer receives the exact amount paid for the car as a refund. However, some state's laws are not that generous. For example, in Pennsylvania, the manufacturer can deduct ten cents per mile up until the problem started from the full amount of the vehicle. Some laws say that the manufacturer does not have to refund you the amount you paid in sales tax. But, there are forms that you can fill out to receive a refund of this money from the state.
A car is a significant purchase. And, it should last you a significant amount of time. If it doesn’t than someone needs to be held accountable. As a consumer, you should feel safe when you are making a large purchase. And more importantly, the company selling you something should stand behind its product. It’s sad that on occasion this is not the case when it comes to vehicles.
It’s nice to know that you are protected though. There are lemon laws and lemon law experts out there who can help you.
Since state laws vary so widely, the best thing to do when you discover that you have purchased a lemon is to reach out to an attorney who specializes in such cases. While almost everyone would rather avoid a lawsuit, sometimes they are appropriate and necessary. Don’t end up with a lemon. Know your rights.