Philadelphia Pennsylvania Consumer Protection Blog

Mercedes must pay over $400,000 in Lemon Law case

When people in Pennsylvania and around the country buy new cars, they have legal protections if the vehicle is defective. The federal government and the states have lemon laws, which provide protection for customers who have purchased defective vehicles that continue to fail despite multiple repairs within the warranty period. In one recent Wisconsin case, auto manufacturer Mercedes-Benz was ordered to pay over $400,000 to a woman after it refused to refund her when she made a claim under the Lemon Law.

In 2013, the woman leased a new Mercedes C300 sedan and experienced ongoing transmission problems that were never fixed despite multiple repairs. After the car's transmission continued to fail, the woman sought a refund under Wisconsin's lemon law, which requires a manufacturer's refund within 30 days. The woman had paid $7,058 and sought a full refund, but Mercedes offered only $572, and no deal was reached. Instead, Mercedes deposited the $572 with the court and filed suit to make the woman accept only this minimum payment.

Know your rights in case of auto repossession

People in Philadelphia may see auto repossession as one of their worst nightmares, leaving them without the car that is so critical to work, education or family life. Some people dealing with the threat of repossession may feel as if they have no rights at all to hold on to their vehicles. However, you do have rights, and legal support can help you to protect your rights in these cases, before your car is taken away.

If a repossessor comes to take your car away, you can tell him or her to leave. When the repossessor refuses to leave, he or she is violating the law. In addition, auto repossessors are prohibited by consumer protection laws from entering enclosed buildings or properties without consent, damaging your property or vehicle, using force or threats to obtain the car, refusing to leave when requested, physically touching you, talking with neighbors about the repossession or lying about having a court order. They are also barred from calling the police or threatening to call about a repossession issue.

How reliable are car history reports?

Buying a car is a big commitment. Even a used car can be a large investment so you want to make sure the car is in good condition. Used car reports like Carfax and AutoCheck are handy in determining previous accidents and the condition of used cars.

But how reliable are these reports? Are they completely accurate?

Odometer fraud can leave buyers with lemons

According to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, the annual cost to consumers of odometer fraud in the auto industry is between $4 and $10 billion. Odometer fraud is illegal under both federal and Pennsylvania law. When a person buys a vehicle, the seller must provide a disclosure, in writing, of the number of miles registered by the vehicle's odometer. If the mileage displayed by the odometer is not the vehicle's correct mileage, the seller is required to make a statement on the title reflecting the discrepancy.

An odometer might be tampered with in different ways. One common example occurs when unscrupulous dealers try to sell a vehicle after rolling the odometer back, which is resetting it to display a lower-than-accurate mileage. Auto dealers might engage in such tactics to increase the resale value of cars on their lots; online sellers might buy a high-mileage vehicle and then attempt to resell it quickly, for a higher price, after resetting the odometer.

Autonomous vehicles raise questions about the scope of lemon laws

Vehicle owners in Pennsylvania have lemon laws in place to protect them from products with ongoing automotive defects that cannot be resolved. These consumer protection laws generally apply to hardware issues, such as a faulty transmission that defies repair efforts, but modern vehicles increasingly have software issues. Autonomous and partially autonomous vehicles rely on software to manage their autopilot features. These new technologies might require consumer protection laws to expand their scope.

Currently, lemon laws require manufacturers to replace a vehicle or reimburse the owner. To qualify as a lemon, a vehicle must undergo three or four unsuccessful repairs within a certain amount of time. The repairs must address the same issue. Separate issues cannot be grouped to pursue consumer protection. A lemon law might also relieve someone of a problem vehicle if the vehicle was unusable for over 30 days within a short time period.

Vehicles and defects

Car owners in Pennsylvania should be aware that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration may recall a vehicle if there is a manufacturing or design issue that makes the vehicle unsafe in some way. When this occurs, owners of the recalled vehicles can go to dealerships and have the defective parts replaced or repaired at no cost.

In some states, it falls on the dealerships to notify vehicle owners of recalls. In several states, the manufacturers, even in states in which doing so is not mandatory, will notify consumers. However, there are many vehicle owners who will not be notified of pending recalls and must depend on the NHTSA and its website, which has a record of all pending recalls.

Consumers have rights to information when buying used cars

Used cars often present good value for consumers in Pennsylvania, but people should exercise due diligence when considering the purchase of a used vehicle. A trustworthy private seller or dealership will willingly share information about a vehicle's past. People even have the right to contact a former owner when investigating a used car.

Ideally, a seller will offer a free vehicle history report to interested buyers. These are generated from services like CarFax and AutoCheck. These companies gather information from insurance claims and police reports to identify histories of accidents or damage caused by other issues like a flood. Buyers should avoid vehicles with water damage because of the likelihood of future electrical problems. Individuals may also purchase these reports when they are unavailable from a seller. Prices for the reports start at about $30.

Extended vehicle warranties: How to spot a scam

Buying a vehicle can be a stressful decision. Not only is it expensive, but the mechanics of how the car runs and will hold up over the next few years is difficult to predict and, for the average consumer, impossible to understand.

It’s no surprise, then, how the extended warranty can seem appealing. Here’s someone telling you that there’s this list of things that you won’t have to worry about if something were to fail. And for anyone with experience with cars, things are going to fail.

Dealer Fraud: Civil Jury Verdict: Pacifico Ford Guilty of Fraud

I am happy to report a Dealer Fraud trial success. On Monday, April 2, 2018, a civil jury in Philadelphia found that Pacifico Ford had fraudulently misrepresented a vehicle sold to my client, had acted outrageously, and imposed punitive damages. The jury found that Pacifico Ford had committed fraud and violated the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law.

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