A Lemon Law Case is Dependant on the Existence of Repair Orders

What's the big deal with repair orders? Here's the short answer: No repair orders, no lemon law case. Just to be sure you really understand, I'll say it again: No repair orders, no lemon law case.

The Latin phrase cui bono applies here. It means, "To whose benefit?" If you, the vehicle owner, don't bother to get repair orders for your visits to the dealership, does this benefit you? No, it does not. If you have to get an attorney to handle the lemon law, is he or she helped by no repair orders? Not only no, but hell no. Does the dealership and, by extension, the manufacturer benefit? Absolutely!

Let's do a quick review of the steps that should occur up to and before a lemon law case begins.

1. You buy a new car with original warranty, or a used car that still has warranty, or had warranty when the defects started.

2. You begin to have trouble with the transmission. You take it in to be repaired one, two, three and four times and it doesn't get repaired.

3. Each time you bring your vehicle to the dealership for repairs, you are given a repair orderthat describes what defects you stated were wrong with your vehicle. After the repairs are complete you are given a document that fully describes the repairs done, what parts were replaced, and whether they were covered by warranty or not.

4. You tell the dealership, or the manufacturer's area representative, that you think the car is a lemon and you want your money back or the vehicle replaced.

5. They say no, they can fix it, or your case lacks merit or whatever deceptive method they can employ to avoid being responsible for their defective product.

6. You seek the services of a Lemon Law attorney.

7. The first thing the attorney asks for are copies of ALL of the Repair Orders written by the dealership for service or repairs of your vehicle. The key is "reasonable opportunity to repair" defects. How do you prove it? You prove it with the Repair Orders.

8. When the attorney receives the Repair Orders, they are reviewed and an assessment of your case is made. If the facts meet the various tests of the Lemon Law, services will be offered and the case will proceed.

These eight steps are very basic. This is what would happen in the better of all possible worlds. In the best, you'd never be in this mess in the first place.

Lately we have been seeing a disturbing trend on the part of dealership personnel. There seems to be a concerted attempt to avoid giving consumers an Repair Order when their vehicles are brought to the dealership for repairs.

Their reasons for this illegal behavior run the gamut of lies. We have seen repeatedly every one of the following kinds of repair order mischief.

NO R.O.S GIVEN

Service Writers say, "You're not paying for the repair; you don't need a repair order."

  • Dealership representatives say, "The computers are down."
  • They also say, "We'll mail the repair order or fax it to you."
  • The Service Writer says, "We don't have time to write everything down now."
  • Dealership representatives say, "We didn't do any repairs, so you don't need a repair order."
  • Dealership representatives say, "Come back in 30 days, make a claim on your extended warranty." [This often happens with used vehicles and is done to keep the dealership from having to pay for a warranty repair during their 30-day warranty.]
  • Remember, the dealership wants to justify more repair attempts.
  • When a dealership repair representative is sent out to the consumer's home or roadside where the vehicle has failed – this happens a lot with RVs – the technician does not provide an Repair Order and somehow the next time you go to the dealership no mention is made of the missing Repair Order
  • Dealership representatives say, "Keep driving the vehicle, there's nothing wrong with it; it's still in its break-in period. Come back after you have driven it a thousand miles."
  • The consumer takes the vehicle to the "convenience drop-off" after the facility has closed and is told to come pick it up in the morning. No R.O. has been written.
  • With boats, motorcycles and RVs, frequently no Repair Order is written at all. They give no excuse; they simply don't do it.

With RVs we often see where the dealership tries to keep a repair order open for the items that haven't been repaired. It's a method by which they can minimize the number of repair attempts.

R.O. ALTERATION

When the consumer gets the Repair Order not all of the repairs are listed, and those that were listed have been subtly altered to make a repeating defect appear to be a several different defects.

Dealership representatives say, "Oh, that's not a defect, we'll cover that as part of regular service."

The dealership "mistakenly" notes the in and out dates incorrectly, or notes the mileage in and out incorrectly.

The above list is far from complete. I am betting that if I polled our readers, they could add significantly to this list.

As a matter of fact, we would welcome your stories of Repair Order Mischief. They will be added to a booklet we have planned for the subject. Send your stories to: donald@normantaylor.com.

There is so much dishonesty, so much harm, and so little responsibility.

THE BUREAU OF AUTOMOTIVE REPAIR

Here are the facts. There are laws that cover what is required of repair facilities and the writing of repair documents in California.

They are really quite specific and they sure as heck don't include any of the behavior noted previously. The document, "Write It Right," created by the Bureau of Automotive Repair, spells out the detailed requirements/methods and laws that govern ALL vehicle repair facilities inCalifornia.

The B.A.R is your way to get compliance when the dealership tries some kind of Repair Order hocus pocus.

There are two bodies of law which relate to what is expected of a repair facility that obeys the law:

Code section 9884.9 and the California Code of Regs., section 3353.

With regard to all of the mischief noted, if one looks on page 22, titled FAQ, of the BAR document referred to on the previous page, you will find a list of the reasons why vehicle repair facilities may have their registration revoked.

Ninety percent of the mischief noted is listed as a reason why the repair facility can have its registration revoked. Also the repair facility may be subject to Penal Code Section 551, (Fraudulent Acts).

What's the simple conclusion? Each and every day, unscrupulous dealers are lying and defrauding their customers, the very people whose trust they should be making every effort to retain.

At our most charitable, we might say that it happens because dealership personnel are poorly trained. At our least charitable, we have to conclude that dealership personnel are intentionally attempting to undermine the foundation of a potential Lemon Law claim. The behavior you experienced regarding your repair orders is the result of training. That's correct; service personnel are taught how to play games with your car and with your head. This is an actual quote from a service writer at a large car dealership:

"If you can't fix their car, fix their head."

It's despicable and it is obvious that it cannot occur without the full knowledge of management at all levels and of course, the manufacturers. Remember, when it comes to the Lemon Law, the number of repair attempts is important. If something is done to alter this number, ask yourself, cui bono? To whose benefit?

There are so many good sources of consumer information.

One website should be on every Californian's favorites list. It is the site for CONSUMERS FOR AUTO RELIABILITY (C.A.R.S.) at http://www.carconsumers.com

This is the site for the organization founded by consumer activist Rosemary Shahan. We at Norman Taylor & Associates admire her single-minded strength of purpose.

"In 1979, Rosemary Shahan marched in front of that dealership for five months. People sympathetic to her cause stopped on the street to tell her their own auto repair horror stories. Shahan realized she wasn't alone…thus was born the citizens' movement that begat today's 'lemon laws.'

"Regardless of what method you use for lemon-aid, you can thank Rosemary Shahan and her fellow citizen activists for badgering dealers, manufacturers, and state officials to do the right thing by putting lemon laws on the books that now provide recourse for us all."

—Motor Trend, October, 2000

Don't allow callous dealership personnel to manipulate you, lie to you and steal your rights.California has excellent laws for the consumer. Learn about them; it could save you a lot more than a car payment.

Donald P. Ladew Staff Writer

Norman Taylor & Associates

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