Philadelphia Pennsylvania Consumer Protection Blog

Are robocalls legal in the United States?

If you feel that you've been a victim of a scam by a business or individual, then you may want to get to know the United States' Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Bureau of Consumer Protection (BCP). The BCP there to conduct investigations and stop unfair, fraudulent or deceptive business practices.

For example, there is a major uptick in robocalls that you may have noticed. These are random numbers calling your phone multiple times a day. They are generally automated, and when you answer, you'll end up speaking with a robot.

That tip to talk to the "fleet manager" may not be a good one

Are you looking for the right vehicle at the right price? Of course you are. Everyone wants a good deal when buying a car. It seems as though the auto industry is one of the last places where bargaining still happens, and let's be honest, it can be fun.

However, auto dealerships are aware of this fact and will exploit your need for a deal any way they can. Perhaps you have heard that dealing with a "fleet manager" will get you a better price because he or she doesn't work on commission, so they don't care about trying to up the price. Sadly, this is often just another scam.

Should you buy an extended car warranty?

Nobody wants to be hit with a surprise repair bill for their vehicle, but that doesn't mean that you should spring for an extended repair warranty for your car. Most of them probably aren't worth what they cost.

There are some legitimate extended repair warranties guaranteed by the manufacturer. However, vehicle repair warranties are seldom offered directly from the manufacturer. Those that aren't tend to come with a lot of restrictions and a cost that exceeds their value -- if they get used at all. According to Consumer Reports, 55% of the people who buy them never use them (and even fewer say they would buy them again).

What's a curbstoner?

There's nothing illegal about selling your car through a private sale -- as long as you aren't running an illicit car dealership.

"Curbstoning" occurs when dealers pretend to be private sellers offering their used vehicles for sale to the public. In reality, they're operating a "curbside" lot of used cars. They just want to avoid having to comply with pretty much every regulation or law out there that's designed to protect consumers.

How do totaled, flood-damaged vehicles get to car lots?

It may be early spring, but those in Pennsylvania and across the mid-Atlantic know that the long hurricane season is just around the corner. Heavy rains and flooding can cause tremendous damage to homes and other property, and that damage is not always visible right away. In fact, it is not unusual for vehicles to sustain serious and even dangerous damage during storm season. Sometimes, a consumer may unknowingly purchase a flood-damaged vehicle.

Even if Pennsylvania does not face flooding this year, it may shock you to know how high the chances are that you will encounter a flood-damaged vehicle if you are looking to make a purchase. The sad fact is that vehicles totaled by flooding frequently find their way back onto car lots, and consumers often pay the dangerous price.

How do you spot a flooded car?

Water damage is one of the worst things that can happen to your vehicle. Once a car has been in a flood, the odds are good that it will never be "as good as new" again. However, that won't stop used car dealers from snapping them up for pennies on the dollar and transporting them well away from the flooded areas and reselling them (at a much higher price) to unsuspecting consumers.

How can you spot the signs that a car has been water-logged in the past? Here are some clues:

  1. The dealer has a large lot of vehicles that have salvaged titles or says that the original titles have been lost. That's usually an effort to keep consumers from seeing that the car was purchased as salvage-only and rebuilt.
  2. Check the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System. Even if the dealer has a clean (looking) title, you have to be wary. Some states have pretty lax regulations, and that makes it possible for unscrupulous dealers to "wash the title" before they resell a damaged vehicle.
  3. Check Carfax for flood damage. If the original owner never declared the damage to their insurance, the Carfax report won't show it However, it can show you if there were floods in the areas where the car has been. The free flood damage checker will give you the odds that any given vehicle has been in a flood.
  4. Finally, do a careful inspection. Look at the carpets for damage and see if you smell mold. Look for waterlines on the car's lights and reflectors that were never cleaned away. Check under the hood for mud, and look in the bottom edges of door panels where debris can settle and be overlooked during cleaning. As always, be suspicious of any signs of rust.

4 common lies your car dealer may tell you

Cars are expensive, so consumers often look to the only expert at hand when they're purchasing for advice: their car dealer.

See the problem? The person you may be trusting for information about a vehicle has an invested interest in making that sale to you, so their honesty may be tested by their desire to make an income.

Are you sure you purchased your vehicle?

When you visit any of Philadelphia's auto dealerships to find your next vehicle, you may intend to own it after your final loan payment. You did not intend to "rent" the vehicle for a while and then return it to the dealership as would happen in an auto lease agreement.

You went through the process of choosing a vehicle, going back and forth on the price and negotiating financing terms before driving your new vehicle off the lot. However, at some point, you discovered that you did not actually purchase the vehicle, but instead entered into a lease agreement. How did that happen? After all, that's not what you thought you agreed to and certainly isn't what you wanted.

Why is a car dealer telling me to ditch my old loan?

New cars, these days, are very expensive -- and it's almost impossible to trade in a car that you still owe on without going upside down on the next loan.

Well, some car dealerships have developed an innovative "solution," if you're willing to take a big risk: They're telling consumers to stop paying their existing car loans and ditch their old cars back to the banks that financed them so that they can afford the new car loan that they want or need.

Ford to buy back thousands of defective Fiesta, Focus vehicles

Pennsylvania owners of Ford Fiesta and Ford Focus cars could receive thousands of dollars in compensation for faulty transmissions in the vehicles. On March 5, a federal judge approved a class-action settlement that orders Ford Motor Co. to repurchase some of the affected vehicles for up to $22,000.

According to an attorney with nonprofit consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, which represented consumers in the lawsuit, the settlement agreement could cost Ford up to $500 million. In the lawsuit, Ford owners claimed that their 2011-2016 Fiesta and 2012-2016 Focus cars with dual-clutch "Powershift" transmissions were prone to "shuddering, slipping, bucking, jerking" and other problems, including premature internal wear and sudden acceleration. A July 2019 investigation by the Detroit Free Press found that the automaker knew the transmissions were faulty from the beginning but sold them anyway, leaving consumers to foot the bill for expensive repairs.

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