One common problem my clients encounter is that a dealer will tell them they are imagining problems with their new car. Whatever it is doing – albeit unusual – is not a “defect.” It is just one of the beautiful quirks of a brand new car. What should you do at this point if it happens to you?
In the last 23 years I have spoken to thousands of new car buyers and most of them have had problems with their cars which were well-documented. The engine exploded, the transmission failed. Cars stall unexpectedly or do not start in the first place. But once in a while I hear from someone who says, “My car does something odd and the dealer says it’s normal. I don’t believe it is because the last 10 cars I had did not do this.”
There are a couple simple things you can do to help yourself in this situation. Let’s say the car has a vibration at a certain speed. It bugs you and you have never had a car vibrate like that before but the dealer employees – all of them – say that this is normal and you are losing your mind. Or, that’s what they will say if you keep bringing the car back in.
First, realize that dealers make money performing warranty work on your car. So if they can find an excuse to work on your car, they will. That they are not jumping on this does indicate a problem of some sort. This explains why I often hear from consumers that the dealer did try to fix the problem once but then refused to work on it beyond that. Either way, let’s say they worked on it once or simply refuse to work on it at all. What now?
Take it to another dealer. A lesser-known fact outside of the industry is that there are good dealers and there are bad dealers when it comes to warranty work. I can even tell you which dealers in my area are the ones with the good electrical guys and which ones have the good engine guys. And they are often not the same dealer. More than once I’ve had a rep from a manufacturer tell me to have my clients with engine issues go to one particular dealer.
So it might just be that the dealer you are working with does not have expertise in that problem. Go to another dealer and ask them to work on it. If they do, great. If they say it’s imaginary or normal, then you know a little more. It might still be defective but it might be that the dealers all know of the problem and they legitimately do not know how to fix it.
At this point, I would suggest you check with NHTSA. Here you can look up recalls, complaints and investigations. There have been many widespread problems that manufacturers have chalked up to “normal” which really meant: “Many of these cars have this problem but we do not know how to fix it.” See if that is the case. Tip: If this is the case, other cars like it will have the same issue. Ask the dealer to take you out in another car like it and demonstrate the non-defect.
Then, finally: Find an independent mechanic you trust and ask him/her to test drive your vehicle. In their opinion, is the condition normal? Keep in mind that here you are simply looking for an assessment of the condition – not a repair. After all, if the dealers cannot fix it, there is no reason to believe someone else could fix it. If the independent mechanic says it is a problem then you are vindicated. Which is nice morally but what about your car?
At this point I would advise you to take it back into the dealer and demand that they look at it again. Tell them an independent mechanic verified the concern. (Or that the NHTSA website listed information that might fuel your argument). Even if they refuse to work on it, demand that they give you a repair order to document that you brought it in.
Pile up a few of those and you will have a lemon law claim. In most states, the lemon law requires that the vehicle have a defect or condition that impairs the use or value of the vehicle. And a weird, incurable condition that a mechanic verified counts. Even if the dealer refuses to work on it. After all, if a buyer in an arm’s-length transaction would point to the problem and want to lower the price of the car, the defect is devaluing the car.
The moral of the story? Don’t let the dealer convince you that you’re crazy. Leave that to the professionals.
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Steve Lehto is a writer and attorney and 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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