Automobiles

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Most Common Problems

  • Lemon car: Have you been sold a defective car and the dealer/manufacturer refuses to fix, refund, or replace it?
  • YoYo sales: Have you been given a final loan contract and then, after driving away, were asked to come back and sign a new contract with higher interest rates or a larger down payment?
  • False advertising: Did you get lured to the dealership with deceptive advertisements and were then told the deal was not available and sold a different, more expensive car instead?
  • Finance problems: Did the dealer undervalue your trade-in, conceal optional add-ons during the negotiations, or inflate the invoice?
  • Repossession: Was your car repossessed without your creditor notifying you ahead of time?

Know Your Rights!

There are many laws to protect consumers from auto fraud. Below you will find short summaries of the protections offered under various laws.

Federal Odometer Act: This Act prohibits tampering with a vehicle’s odometer.

Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act: This Act is used when a supplier, warrantor, or contractor fails to comply with a written warranty, implied warranty, or service contract.

  • For example, you can use this when a vehicle manufacturer does not honor a warranty or when a dealer does not honor a service contract.

State repossession laws: State repossession laws convey how a car should be repossessed.

  • There cannot be a breach of the peace when the car is repossessed, meaning that the car repossession company cannot use physical force, threaten you, or remove your car from a locked garage without your permission.
  • You may be able to buy back the car by paying the full amount you owe or even bidding on the car in the auction.
  • In some states, you can get your car back if you reinstate your loan and pay repossession costs.
  • The sale of the car must be done in a “commercially viable manner,” meaning that it is not sold for way below market value. This matters because you will be held accountable for the difference (deficiency) between the sale price and what you still owe on the loan.
  • In some states, the creditor must tell you if they are keeping the car or are planning to put the car up for auction. If there is going to be an auction, they must tell you when and where the auction will take place.

State lemon laws: Lemon laws deal with cars that have been in the repair shop multiple times for the same substantial problem. Every state has its own lemon law. Each one is a slightly different. Some states (Colorado, Indiana, New Mexico, and North Dakota) have weak lemon laws and consumers may decide to pursue federal lemon laws instead. Learn more: U.S. Lemon Motor Vehicle Laws: What You Need to Know To Protect Yourself.

  • For a substantial defect, the manufacturer should refund or replace a defective new car if it has not been fixed after four tries. 
  • For a safety defect, the manufacturer should refund or replace a defective new car if it has not been fixed after two tries or if the car is out of service for 30 days, within the first 12–18,000 miles/12–24 months.

Truth in Lending Act (TILA):  Before a loan is processed, TILA requires that lenders disclose their interest rates and other information pertaining to the loan. TILA is supposed to help you shop for the best auto financing rate. A lender’s failure to provide this disclosure in a timely or accurate manner may provide you with a legal claim. Learn more about your TILA rights.

Unfair, Deceptive, or Abusive Acts or Practices (UDAP): UDAP protects you from unfair, false, or deceptive acts, including false advertising when you buy a product.

  • Dealers, repair shops, or lenders cannot misrepresent information relating to the vehicle, such as not disclosing that the car had been previously wrecked or padding a bill of sale with unauthorized repairs.
     

Contacting an Attorney

Search our Find An Attorney directory to find a NACA attorney who handles auto issues in your area.

Lemon Law Complaints
If you want to contact an attorney or prove that there has been fraud, you should keep track of the following:

Repair Record: Keep close track of the number of repair attempts and the time the car is out of service. Submit a written, dated list of problems to the dealer each time the car is in for repairs (keep a copy). List the symptoms your car has: for example, "stalling" instead of "check carburetor."  It’s best to note the exact problem that brought you to the repair shop. This establishes a record of what problem was addressed even though the dealer may work on different parts in attempting to fix the problem. Insist on getting a copy of the repair order that lists the symptoms described, repairs done, any parts replaced, and the time the car was in the repair shop.

Notice Required: You must follow your state's notice requirement before you are entitled to a refund or replacement. Where written notice to the manufacturer is required, send a certified, return receipt letter stating your vehicle's need for repair to the manufacturer's consumer relations office and to the nearest zone/regional office listed in your owner's manual or warranty booklet. Make sure you send this notice by the time you take the car in for the repair attempt that qualifies it as a lemon. Give the dealer a copy of this letter when you deliver the car for repair; keep a copy.

Your Refund or Replacement: After you believe your vehicle qualifies as a lemon and you have followed the above steps, ask the manufacturer for a refund or replacement. You may have to pay a small offset for use of the car, but no more than for the mileage up until the first repair attempt, which qualified you for the lemon law. If the manufacturer has a valid arbitration program that is incorporated into your written warranty, you may be required to go through arbitration to get your refund or replacement.

*Please note that your right to sue may be limited by arbitration clauses. For example, many state laws require you to arbitrate lemon law claims before filing a law suit.

Additional Resources

For information about Hurricane Sandy vehicles or other salvage vehicle issues, please contact The National Salvage Vehicle Reporting Program (NSVRP) at http://www.nsvrp.org/ or http://www.vehiclehistory.gov/.

Download the helpful brochure How to Avoid Auto Fraud (also available in Spanish; please contact us to obtain the Spanish version).

The Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) offer excellent resources for consumers on auto fraud.