Keep track of the name of every person you speak with along the way, noting the date and time of each conversation and what was said. Keep a copy for yourself and submit another to the person who writes up your service order each time you drop off the car. This record not only proves that you’re serious but gives the mechanic more information to better diagnoses the problem. A repair history can also be used as evidence if you end up in mediation or in court.
DEALERSHIP OR INDEPENDENT SHOP?
If your car needs a repair and is still under warranty, go to a dealership. For older, out-of-warranty cars, a dealership may still be the best place if the repair likely involves electronic systems or if you’ve been happy with past service. Independent shops, however, may be less expensive. Word-of-mouth is a good way to find one you’ll be satisfied with. Or go to a reliable auto-parts store and ask for a recommendation. Check the name against the list of AAA-approved facilities at www.aaa.com . And call your local Better Business Bureau to see whether the shop has had complaints. The BBB recommends using shops that display certification such as an Automotive Service Excellence Seal, which indicates that some or all technicians have met basic competency standards in certain areas.
TALK TO THE RIGHT PERSON
If tile service writer doesn’t seem to understand the problem with your car, ask to speak with the mechanic who’ll be doing the work. If the mechanic is unable to solve the problem or address it to your satisfaction, speak with the service manager.
A SECOND OPINION
Still no satisfaction? Consider getting a second opinion from another dealership or an independent repair shop. You’ll have to pay a fee (get an estimate first) for the diagnostic work. If you get a different diagnosis, discuss the findings with the original mechanic. Progress still slow? Move up the chain of command.
THE MANUFACTURER’S LOCAL REP
This step and the next step apply to dealerships. A local representative of the manufacturer, sometimes called a district manager, may have the authority to approve additional repairs, reimburse you for expenses and, in some cases, buy back a vehicle. If the rep can’t help, he or she can direct you to someone who can. Call the manufacturer’s customer-service department to find the representative in your area. The phone number typically appears in the owner’s manual and on the manufacturer’s web site.
If the district manager can’t or won’t resolve things to your satisfaction, Contact the automaker’s customer-relations department. Most have a formal system for handling complaints, which you should seek out before choosing another option.
INDEPENDENT SHOPS: NEXT STEPS
Those dealing with an independent repair shop should take a slightly different approach. If the shop has a national affiliation, such as with a tire or oil company, or a retail chain, complain to the organization’s home office. Your local Better Business Bureau may also be able to help). Or you may want to go further.
If you bought the vehicle from a franchised dealer, you may he eligible for mediation through one of several dispute resolution organizations. The programs are not legally binding for the consumer. So if you receive an unsatisfactory decision, you can still take the manufacturer to court. But the programs are typically not legally binding on the dealer, either. In cases of used cars that come under state lemon laws, if the panel decides in your favor it can make the automaker reimburse you for repair expenses, buy back the vehicle, or both. Most cases will be handled by AUTOCAP, the National Automotive Dealers Association’s Automotive Consumer Action Program (www.driversseat.com/f_consumerautocap.html ). Consumer representatives must make up at least half of the mediation panel. Among major manufacturers, only Ford and the Chrysler arm of Daimler-Chrysler operate their own dispute resolution boards, for cars under warranty only. Each party presents its side to the panel in writing. Ford’s program allows the consumer to rebut the manufacturer’s statements. The board’s decision is binding for the manufacturer but not for the consumer. For more information on those programs, call the manufacturer’s customer-service department.
Should you suspect that your car’s problems stem from defective workmanship or materials, consider filing a claim against the automaker with the Business Bureau s Auto Line program. BBB’s Auto Line staff will first try to negotiate an agreement between you and the manufacturer. If that fails, the case will move to arbitration. Auto Line uses an arbitration panel of community volunteers who are trained and certified by the BBB. The panel’s decision is binding only for the company and does not affect your right to sue. For information call 800-955-5100 or check out www.bbb.org/complaints/bbbautoline.asp .
In small-claims court, you can
resolve disputes involving small-to-moderate amounts of money, usually without
an attorney. Dollar limits vary by state, but they’re typically about $7,500.
1he clerk of your local small-claims court can give you details and tell you
how to file suit.
Disputes involving more money must go to a higher court. Civil cases like these can be complex and expensive, so pursue all other avenues before taking that step. Consult your local bar association or the Center for Auto Safety, a nonprofit consumer-advocacy group at www.aotosafety.org for a list of lawyers’ that are an expert in this area.
How long should components last?
State and federal lemon laws give new-car owners the right to a refund or a replacement vehicle when a dealer is repeatedly unable to repair a major defect that occurs within a year or two of the sale. Laws vary from state to state, but they typically require the consumer to attempt to obtain repairs a minimum number of times and provide written notice to the dealer or manufacturer before pursuing a claim. Some states require fewer repair attempts in cases when the defect is safety-related.)
For more information, visit the Center for Auto Safety’s web site at www.autosafety.orq . You’ll find synopses and complete versions of each state’s lemon laws, as well as tips on how to make a successful claim. For those seeking legal counsel, the National Association of Consumer Advocates, www.naca.net , and the Center for Auto Safety maintain lists of attorneys who specialize in lemon-law cases. When properly maintained, major vehicle components, such as the engine and transmission, should last without major failure (including failure of the engine head gasket, crankshaft, or pistons) for at least 10 years or 100,000 miles. Automakers such as Hyundai, Isuzu, Kia, and Suzuki have power train warranties of 10 years or 100,000 (Or more) miles. Many can now go up to 200,000 miles without major breakdown. If major premature failure occurs because of a defect, CONSUMER REPORTS believes that manufacturers should offer free repairs or at least help pay for repairs. Catalytic converters and other emissions equipment must by law last at least 8 years or 80,000 miles (whichever comes first), or you are entitled to a free repair.
SAVINGS / MAINTENANCE
Service your car on schedule to help prevent costly problems later on.
Shop around for quotes on routine maintenance. Prices can vary significantly.
Make it clear to the dealer that you want only those maintenance services performed that are listed in the owner’s manual. Many dealerships create their own recommended maintenance schedules for new vehicles, which are often larded with unnecessary and expensive work.
Keep tires correctly inflated and rotated on schedule to avoid premature wear.
Change oil only at the vehicle manufacturer’s recommended intervals. Lube shops often push more frequent service.
Don’t spend extra money on synthetic oil unless your car calls for it.
Consider doing simple procedures yourself, such as changing oil and coolant.
When you wash your car, clean the rubber wiper blades. They’ll last longer.
Don’t pay extra for premium gas if your car calls for regular.
Have your vehicle looked at as soon as you notice a strange noise or small change in its operation.
Get a quote before any service work is done.
Consider having simple procedures done by an independent repair shop, which may be cheaper.
Keep records of repairs. Such proof may
help you get more money for your vehicle when you sell it.