Secret Warranties, Recalls, and Lemons
What are "Secret Warranties"?
Sometimes a manufacturer makes a design or production mistake on a motor vehicle. If dealers report a number of complaints about a certain part or vehicle, the manufacturer may allow dealers to repair the problem at no cost to you even if the warranty has expired. A service bulletin notifies the dealer of the problem and how to resolve it. Because these free repairs are not publicized, they are called "secret warranties." The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (www.nhtsa.dot.gov) maintains a database of service bulletins filed by manufacturers.
What is a "Recall"?
If you have a problem with a vehicle that is a safety hazard, check whether the manufacturer has recalled your vehicle. Click on Recalls at www.nhtsa.dot.gov or call NHTSA at 1-800-424-9393. Hazards that aren't listed should be reported to your dealer, the manufacturer of the vehicle, and NHTSA. Use the agency's toll-free Auto Safety Hotline at 1-888-327-4236 or visit its web page for details on other reporting options: the Internet, fax and mail. There is no set number of reports needed before NHTSA will look into a problem. If a safety-related defect exists, the maker must fix it at no cost to you--even if your warranty has expired. The company may also be asked to conduct a product recall.
What is a "Lemon"?
If you have a vehicle with a unique problem that just never seems to get fixed, you may have a lemon. Some states have laws concerning lemons. They may require a refund or replacement if a problem is not fixed within a reasonable number of tries or you haven't been able to use your vehicle for a certain number of days. Contact your state or local consumer protection office to learn whether you have such protections and the steps you must take get your problem solved. If you believe your car is a lemon:
- Give the dealer a list of the problems every time you bring it in for repairs.
- Get and keep copies of the repair orders listing the problems, the work done, and the dates that the car was in the shop.
- Contact the manufacturer, as well as the dealer, to report the problem. Your owner's manual will list an address for the manufacturer.
- Help other consumers avoid purchasing your lemon by registering it at www.safetyforum.com.
Another source of information concerning these topics is the Center for Auto Safety (www.autosafety.org). CAS gathers information and complaints concerning safety defects, recalls, service bulletins and state lemon laws. You can reach CAS by phone at 202-328-7700.