Don't Back Off if You're Driving a Lemon

A recent story in the Los Angeles Times Business Section reports that Toyota Motor Corporation—who recently issued the biggest vehicle recall in history—has now disclosed a number of dealings with safety issues that show efforts to keep such issues from consumers at large. For example, the company discovered during a routine test on its Sienna minivan in April 2003 that a plastic panel could come loose and cause the gas pedal to stick, potentially making the vehicle accelerate out of control. They quietly redesigned the part and by that June every 2004 model year Sienna off the assembly line came with the new panel. The company did not notify tens of thousands of people who had already bought vans with the old panel, however.

Toyota also revealed a number of settlements with drivers complaining of unexpected acceleration that, while the individual cases were handled with buybacks or other remedies, the public at large was never notified. It was also revealed that in at least one of these cases, the dealer attempted to place the blame on the driver instead of the vehicle.

Such tactics—while never expected from a company like Toyota with their reputation for quality—are not new at all.

“Manufacturers and dealers put many consumers through what I refer to as ‘the gauntlet,’” said leading California lemon law attorney Norman Taylor. “In dealing with a defective vehicle and what could potentially be a recall, they use deception, delay and occasionally fraud.”

Taylor understands such tactics extremely well. He has been a California lemon law specialist since 1987, and he and his firm, Norman Taylor and Associates, have handled over 8,000 cases for consumers with a 98 percent success rate.

“This gauntlet typically begins when a vehicle owner arrives the second time for a repair of the same defect,” Taylor explained. “The threat of it being a potential lemon sets off alarms at the dealership.”

A number of deceptive tricks can then ensue, including trying to convince the driver it’s their fault, altering the repair order to show something different than the actual problem, explaining to the owner that the vehicle was designed to operate that way, and many more.

It is quite likely that Toyota was following the path that many manufacturers take in avoiding a vehicle recall.

“Manufacturers will do almost anything to avoid a recall,” said Taylor. “A recall will affect hundreds of thousands or even millions of vehicles and cost the manufacturer dearly. The cost is also to the manufacturer’s reputation.”

The consumer suspecting he or she is driving a lemon can avoid “the gauntlet” and many of these problems by contacting a qualified lemon law attorney right away.

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