Philadelphia Pennsylvania Consumer Protection Blog

How to avoid buying flood-damaged vehicles

Each year, thousands of cars are damaged by hurricanes and floods across the U.S. While many of these vehicles are totaled and destroyed after their owners receive their insurance settlement, a significant portion are resold at used car lots and auto auctions in Pennsylvania and across the country. Worse, some sellers attempt to hide a vehicle's flood history from potential buyers.

According to consumer advocates, there are a number of ways car buyers can protect themselves from such scams. First, buyers should always purchase a car's vehicle history report and title to make sure it hasn't been flagged as "flood damaged." Next, they should carefully inspect the car's interior and trunk to see if there are any signs of water damage, such as rust, mud, mold, mildew and water stains. They should also check the gauges for any signs of water damage and test all electronics to ensure they're working.

HB-26 would extend lemon law protections to motorcycles

The Pennsylvania Automobile Lemon Law provides consumers with legal remedies if they purchase unsafe or defective new cars, but the legislation does not apply to new motorcycles. Rep. Pam Snyder thinks that this situation needs to be addressed, and she has co-sponsored a bill that would give motorcyclists in Pennsylvania the same legal protections that drivers enjoy.

Snyder points out in a co-sponsorship memo that modern motorcycles are sophisticated machines that can be expensive. Motorcyclists in Pennsylvania would be able to seek a refund or a replacement in certain situations if House Bill 26 is passed by the legislature and signed into law. The existing lemon law provides these remedies if dealers are not able to adequately repair or remedy a defect that substantially impairs a vehicle's safety or value during the first 12 months or 12,000 miles of ownership.

Will an auto dealership really pay off your current car loan?

If you had the chance to lower your car payment, would you take it? Probably. Who wouldn't want to save some money and have a great car too?

The problem is that the remainder on your current auto loan is more than dealerships are telling you its worth. Enter the dealership who promises to pay off what you owe on your current vehicle regardless of how much it is.

Protecting your credit history

Many people living in Pennsylvania and around the country are not aware of how their credit score and history can impact their day-to-day lives. Credit card companies, bank lenders, insurance companies, employers and landlords regularly check credit scores before deciding to work with an applicant.

Unfortunately, many people are unaware of negative information on their credit reports. You may have had the experience of attempting to apply for an apartment, a credit card or a job only to be informed that you have been disqualified because of your credit.

SEC wants to curb illegal debt collection activities

Pennsylvania residents who are struggling with overwhelming debt will likely know that debt collectors can be extremely persistent and aggressive. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act places strict rules on lenders and prohibits unfair, deceptive or abusive collection practices, but finance companies often skirt these rules and seek to insulate themselves from the consequences by engaging the services of third parties to pursue unpaid debts on their behalf. This was the conclusion reached by the Securities and Exchange Commission after reviewing consumer complaints submitted about bill collectors.

The independent government watchdog referred to the behavior of debt collectors as unscrupulous. The agency backed up this observation by citing examples of consumers being threatened with violence or other criminal acts for not making payments on their debts as agreed. The collection companies hired by lenders also used obscene language, made contact at inconvenient times and threatened to inform others, such as employers and family members, about unpaid debts even though they were not parties to the loan agreements in question.

Be prepared if buying a used car at an auction

When buying a vehicle, many Pennsylvanians overlook the possibilities, and potential pitfalls, of a car auction. Some find it a rewarding experience by getting a car at a low price, while others may get stuck with a clunker that may never be road-ready.

The key, if you decide to look for a car at an auction, is to be educated about the process and be prepared to walk away if you are unsure of making a deal. Pennsylvania lemon laws only apply to new cars, and there are no federal laws that require sellers to disclose flaws, damage or recalled vehicles.

Should you buy a car with a "rebuilt" title?

Buying a car is a major purchase for most people. Unless you have the cash lying around, you are committing to making payments on one for a number of years. You want the best deal possible for your money, and the salesperson's job is to reassure you that the vehicle you choose is in good condition.

Depending on your financial situation, you may need to look at a used car instead of a new one. When you do this, you usually end up with the issues that the prior owner had with the vehicle. In some cases, that means that the vehicle was rebuilt after an accident.

A default may trigger repossession

Many Pennsylvania residents may be surprised to learn that repossession of property is entirely legal under certain conditions. Even if the debtor faces financial difficulties, the creditor can assert its rights to payment. This could lead to a vehicle or another piece of property that hasn't been paid for being lawfully taken.

The right to repossession is triggered when a debtor becomes delinquent on a regularly scheduled payment. To be enforceable, a written security contract (payment agreement) must be signed by the debtor. It identifies the specific property that is the collateral for the debt. Once there is a delinquency, the creditor typically contacts a third party repossession agent to capture the property. Afterward, the property is usually sold to repay the debt and cover legal costs and fees.

Judge says expert testimony not needed in lemon law case

Car buyers in Pennsylvania may pursue remedies under the state's lemon law if their vehicle develops a problem during the first year of ownership or 12,000 miles that dealers are unable to repair. The issue must affect the vehicle's value or operation, and dealers are given three opportunities to remedy the problem. Automobile manufacturers often mount vigorous defenses in these cases and may deny that a problem exists when a consumer's claims are not backed up by expert testimony. However, an appeals judge in Massachusetts recently said that a stack of repair bills was evidence enough.

The case involves a consumer who purchased a Ford F-150 pickup truck in 2010 that developed problems after covering just 1,461 miles. Ford's attorneys argued successfully in Superior Court that the case should be dismissed because the consumer did not provide proof from a recognized automotive expert that the pickup truck's issues significantly impaired its safety or market value. They also argued that a supercharger fitted to the vehicle was an unauthorized repair that absolved them of any further liability.

What is Pennsylvania’s Lemon Law?

It’s every driver’s worst nightmare. You finally replaced your aging vehicle with something much nicer, a new car. Yet, three months later, you end up having to bring it in for a transmission problem. And even though the dealer fixes it, a couple weeks later, you are having transmission problems again.

What are you supposed to do now?

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