Consumer Law

  Airlines

 

  • What is Aviation Law?
    Aviation law governs the operation of aircraft and the maintenance of aviation facilities. Both federal and state governments have enacted statutes and created administrative agencies to regulate air traffic. Using its constitutional authority to regulate interstate and foreign commerce, Congress may enact laws pertaining to air navigation. There have been several federal enactments along these lines: The first was the 1926 Air Commerce Act which provided, among other things, for the certification and registration of aircraft employed in interstate or foreign commerce. The statute was amended in 1938 by the Civil Aeronautics Act that created the "Civil Aeronautics Authority," a five-member panel with the power to regulate all aspects of aviation within federal jurisdiction. Later, the five-member panel was changed to the "Civil Aeronautics Board" and most of its power was transferred to the Department of Commerce. Then the Federal Aviation Act was passed in 1958 establishing the Federal Aviation Agency. There have been several subsequent acts passed by the federal government regulating aviation such as the Airport and Airway Development Act of 1970 and the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978. The main source for aviation law is federally based. States are prohibited from regulating rates, routes or services of any air carrier authorized under the Federal Aviation Act to provide interstate air transportation. States are not prohibited, however, from enacting consistent laws, or from altering existing remedies under state law.
  • What about Aviation Accidents?
    Aviation accidents occur in a variety of different situations. While the most common aviation accidents are those involving commercial airlines, many accidents occur with private airplanes, as well as commercial and private helicopters. A general overview of aviation law can inform passengers of their rights in cases of accidents involving all types of aircraft. The leading causes of commercial airline accidents include engine failures, controlled flight into terrain, approach and landing, loss of control, runway incursions, and weather (including turbulence). Private or "general" aviation accidents find their causes in controlled flight into terrain, weather, pilot decision-making, loss of control, and runway incursions. Depending on the circumstances surrounding the accident, the investigation is conducted by one or more of the following agencies: National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI). But, accident investigations may also involve foreign or local authorities or the Departments of Justice, State and/or Defense. Agencies such as the American Red Cross, Department of Health and Human Services and Federal Emergency Management Agency may also be involved in providing services to victims and their families. Depending on the circumstances of any given crash, other agencies may also be involved.
  • What is The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)?
    The National Transportation Safety Board ("NTSB") is an independent federal agency charged with investigating every civil aviation accident in the United States. Its jurisdiction also includes trains and other vehicle accidents as well. The NTSB also issues safety recommendations aimed at preventing future accidents. The NTSB maintains the government's database on civil aviation accidents and conducts special studies of transportation safety issues of national significance. The NTSB also provides investigators to serve as U.S. representatives in aviation accidents overseas involving U.S. - registered aircraft, aircraft or major components of U.S. manufacturers or where requested by foreign governments.
  • What is Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)?
    Most people know that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) investigates federal crimes, but what would they have to do with aviation accidents? The FBI investigates the possibility of sabotage or some other criminal act that may have contributed to an accident. Though the FBI is consulted in many aviation disasters, they take over jurisdiction only in rare cases where the accident is the result of criminal acts.
  • Who should I Call after an Aviation Accident?
    If you are someone you know has been involved in an aviation accident, the agency to call is the NTSB. All aviation accidents are reported to the NTSB. The phone number for the NTSB Communications Center is (202) 314-6100. The NTSB will be able to provide some information, and to the extent answers are available, direct you to the resources you need. An experienced aviation attorney can help you gather critical information quickly. This article provides general information about aviation law, what agencies are involved in investigating aviation accidents and the phone number of who to call immediately after an aviation accident. However, this article is not a substitute for qualified legal counsel. If you or someone you know has been involved in an aviation accident or if you have questions about aviation law, immediately consult with a qualified aviation attorney.
  • Can an airline refuse to transport a disabled passenger?
    Since the Department of Transportation implemented new Air Carrier Access rules in March of 1990, the general rule is that American carriers may not refuse to transport a person simply because of the person=s disability. However, there are exceptions. For instance, a carrier may refuse transportation if it is unable to seat the passenger without violating the FAA Exit Row Seating rules or if transporting the person with the disability would endanger the health or safety of other passengers. Also, on a plane with fewer than 30 seats where there are no lifts, boarding chairs or other devices available to assist mobility impaired passengers, the airline is not required to lift a person onto the plane by hand. If you feel you have been a victim of airline discrimination due to your disability, you should first attempt to resolve the issue with the airlines Complaints Resolution Official (CRO). If that fails, you may choose to file a written complaint with the Department of Transportation using this form.
  • Can an airline limit the number of disabled passengers it carries on a single flight?
    No. Since the Department of Transportation implemented new Air Carrier Access rules in March of 1990, American carriers may not limit the number of disabled persons on a single flight. However, a carrier may refuse transportation if it is unable to seat the passenger without violating the FAA Exit Row Seating rules or if transporting the person with the disability would endanger the health or safety of other passengers. Also, on a plane with fewer than 30 seats where there are no lifts, boarding chairs or other devices available to assist mobility impaired passengers, the airline is not required to lift a person onto the plane by hand. If you feel you have been a victim of airline discrimination due to your disability, you should first attempt to resolve the issue with the airlines Complaints Resolution Official (CRO). If that fails, you may choose to file a written complaint with the Department of Transportation using this form.
  • Can an airline require a person with a disability to sit in a specific seat?
    An airline cannot require a person with a disability to sit in a specific seat or to be excluded from any seat except as required by the FAA safety rules. Such rules, for instance, limit seating in exit rows to those persons who are best suited to operate the emergency exit and help in case of an evacuation. A traveler may be excluded from certain seats in cases where the passenger`s involuntary behavior could compromise the safety of the flight and the safety problem can be mitigated to an acceptable degree by assigning the passenger a specific seat rather than refusing service. Or where the seat desired cannot accommodate guide dogs or service animals.
  • Must an airline supply an electrical hook-up for a respirator?
    Carriers are NOT required to provide a hookup for a respirator to the aircraft`s electrical supply. However, if the carrier chooses to provide such accommodation, it may require 48 hours advance notice and a one hour advance check-in. The airline may also impose reasonable, nondiscriminatory charges for this optional service. If you feel you have been a victim of airline discrimination due to your disability, you should first attempt to resolve the issue with the airlines Complaints Resolution Official (CRO). If that fails, you may choose to file a written complaint with the Department of Transportation using this form.
  • Must an airline provide carriage of an incubator?
    Carriers are NOT required to provide carriage of an incubator. However, if the carrier chooses to provide such accommodation, it may require 48 hours advance notice and a one hour advance check-in. The airline may also impose reasonable, nondiscriminatory charges for this optional service. If you feel you have been a victim of airline discrimination due to your disability, you should first attempt to resolve the issue with the airlines Complaints Resolution Official (CRO). If that fails, you may choose to file a written complaint with the Department of Transportation using this form.
  • Must an airline provide accommodations for a passenger who must travel on a stretcher?
    Carriers are NOT required to provide accommodations for a passenger who must travel on a stretcher. However, if the carrier chooses to provide such accommodation, it may require 48 hours advance notice and a one hour advance check-in. The airline may also impose reasonable, nondiscriminatory charges for this optional service. If you feel you have been a victim of airline discrimination due to your disability, you should first attempt to resolve the issue with the airlines Complaints Resolution Official (CRO). If that fails, you may choose to file a written complaint with the Department of Transportation using this form.
  • What if I require an attendant and there are no more seats available on the plane?
    If there is not a seat available on the flight for an attendant, a person requiring an attendant will be denied boarding. If the person with a disability holds a confirmed reservation and is denied travel on the flight for this reason, the passenger with a disability is eligible for denied boarding compensation. For purposes of determining whether a seat is available for an attendant, the attendant shall be deemed to have checked in at the same time as the person with the disability. If you feel you have been a victim of airline discrimination due to your disability, you should first attempt to resolve the issue with the airlines Complaints Resolution Official (CRO). If that fails, you may choose to file a written complaint with the Department of Transportation using this form.
  • Can a person with a disability be subjected to special search procedures at the security screening?
    A traveler with a disability is required to undergo the same screening as any other person. If the traveler passes through the security system without activating it, the person shall not be subject to special screening procedures. Security personnel are free to examine any assisting device that they believe is capable of concealing a weapon or other prohibited item. If the traveler is not able to pass through the system without activating it, the person will be subject to further screening in the same manner as any other passenger activating the system. If a hand held device is still not able to clear the traveler, he or she may request that any further screening be done privately. If the traveler requests a private screening in a timely manner, the carrier must provide it in time for the passenger to board the aircraft. If you feel you have been a victim of airline discrimination due to your disability, you should first attempt to resolve the issue with the airlines Complaints Resolution Official (CRO). If that fails, you may choose to file a written complaint with the Department of Transportation using this form.
  • What is The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)?

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is responsible for civil aviation safety, including developing safety regulations, and certifying pilots and aircraft. The FAA operates the nation's air traffic control system and through the World Wide Web provides real-time flight delay information. The FAA was originally designated the Federal Aviation Agency when established by the Federal Aviation Act of 1958. The present name was adopted in 1967 when the FAA became a component of the Department of Transportation. The FAA’s major functions include:

o        Regulating civil aviation to promote safety and fulfill the requirements of national defense;

o        Encouraging and developing civil aeronautics, including new aviation technology

o        Developing and operating a common system of air traffic control and navigation for both civil and military aircraft;

o        Research and development with respect to the National Airspace System and civil aeronautics;

o        Developing and implementing programs to control aircraft noise and other environmental effects of civil aviation;

o        And regulating U.S. commercial space transportation.

  • Is the airline required to furnish an attendant if a passenger requires one?
    No. As a practical matter, the airline might designate an off-duty employee who happened to be traveling on the same flight to act as the attendant or seek a volunteer from among other passengers on the flight. However it is not the airline`s responsibility to find or furnish an attendant. Even if the carrier does locate an attendant, that person would not be required to provide personal service to the passenger with a disability other than to provide assistance in the event of an emergency evacuation.
  • Can an airline require advanced notice of a passenger`s disability?

Carriers may require up to 48 hours advance notice and one hour advance check-in from a person with a disability who wishes to receive any of the following services:

o        Transportation for an electric wheelchair on an aircraft with fewer than 60 seats;

o        Provision by the carrier of hazardous materials packaging for the battery of a wheelchair or other assisting device;

o        Accommodations for 10 or more passengers with disabilities who travel as a group;

o        Provision of an on-board wheelchair on an aircraft that does not have an accessible lavatory for persons who can use an inaccessible lavatory but need an on-board chair to do so.

  • Can the airline require that an attendant accompany a person?

Yes. The following persons may be required to have an attendant:

o        A person traveling on a stretcher or in an incubator (for flights where such service is offered);

o        A person who, because of a mental disability, is unable to comprehend or respond appropriately to safety instructions from carrier personnel;

o        A person with a mobility impairment so severe that the individual is unable to assist in his or her own evacuation from the aircraft;

o        A person who has both severe hearing and severe vision impairments that prevent him or her from receiving and acting on necessary instructions from carrier personnel when evacuating the aircraft during an emergency.

The passenger and the carrier may disagree about the applicability of one of these criteria. In which case, the airline can require the passenger to travel with an attendant, contrary to the passenger`s assurances that he or she can travel alone. However, the carrier cannot charge for the transportation of the attendant.

  • Can the airline require a medical certificate from a disabled passenger?

A medical certificate is a written statement from the passenger`s physician saying that the passenger is capable of completing the flight safely without requiring extraordinary medical care. A medical certificate can only be required in limited circumstances, such as:

o        Where the traveler is on a stretcher or in an incubator (where such service is offered);

o        Where the traveler needs medical oxygen during flight (where such service is offered);

o        Where the traveler has a medical condition which causes the carrier to have reasonable doubt that the individual can complete the flight safely, without requiring extraordinary medical assistance during the flight; or

o        Where the traveler has a communicable disease or infection that has been determined by federal public health authorities to be generally transmittable during flight.

The airline cannot mandate separate treatment for an individual with a disability except for reasons of safety or to prevent the spread of a communicable disease or infection. If you feel you have been a victim of airline discrimination due to your disability, you should first attempt to resolve the issue with the airlines Complaints Resolution Official (CRO). If that fails, you may choose to file a written complaint with the Department of Transportation using this form.

Automobile Issues

 

  • What is the Buyer`s Guide?
    The Federal Trade Commission`s Used Car Rule requires dealers to post a Buyer`s Guide in every used car they offer for sale. This includes light-duty vans, light-duty trucks, demonstrators, and program cars. Demonstrators are new cars that have not been owned, leased, or used as rentals, but have been driven by dealer staff. Program cars are low-mileage, current-model-year vehicles returned from short-term leases or rentals. Buyer`s Guides do not have to be posted on motorcycles and most recreational vehicles. Anyone who sells less than six cars a year doesn`t have to post a Buyers Guide.
  • What should a written estimate include?
    It should identify the mechanical problem that needs to be repaired, the parts needed, and the anticipated labor charge. Make sure you get a signed copy. In addition, an estimate should state that the shop would contact you for approval before they do any work exceeding a specified amount of time or money. State law usually requires this.
  • What are the consequences of postponing maintenance?
    Many parts on your vehicle are interrelated. Ignoring maintenance can lead to trouble. Specific parts or an entire system can fail if the car is neglected. Neglecting even simple routine maintenance, such as changing the oil or checking the coolant, can lead to poor fuel economy, unreliability, or costly breakdowns. Neglecting preventative maintenance procedures may also invalidate your warranty.
  • What maintenance guidelines should I follow to avoid costly repairs?
    You should always follow the manufacturer`s maintenance schedule in your owner`s manual for your type of driving. Some repair shops create their own maintenance schedules that call for more frequent servicing than the manufacturer`s recommendations. Compare shop maintenance schedules with those recommended in your owner`s manual. Ask the repair shop to explain, and make sure you understand, why it recommends service beyond the recommended schedule.
  • What Manufacturers Must Do?
    If you are a manufacturer and offer written warranties, you must provide retailers of your product with the warranty materials they will need to meet their requirements as described above. There are any number of ways to do this, including: providing copies of the warranty to be placed in a binder; providing warranty stickers, tags, signs, or posters; or printing the warranty on your product`s packaging. As long as you have provided retailers with the warranty materials they need to comply with the rule, you are not legally responsible if they fail to make your warranties available.
  • What should I know about repair costs?
    Ask how the shop prices its work before you arrange to have any work performed. Some shops charge a flat rate for labor on auto repairs. This published rate is based on an independent or manufacturer`s estimate of the time required to complete repairs. Others charge on the basis of the actual time the technician worked on the repair. If you need expensive or complicated repairs, or if you have questions about recommended work, consider getting a second opinion. Find out if there will be a diagnostic charge if you decide to have the work performed elsewhere. Many repair shops charge for diagnostic time. Shops that do only diagnostic work and do not sell parts or repairs may be able to give you an objective opinion about which repairs are necessary. If you decide to get the work done, ask for a written estimate.
  • What should I know about the parts that the mechanic will use to repair my car?
    It is important to know the condition of the parts that will be used for the repair. Automobile parts are classified as follows: New - The vehicle manufacturer or an independent company generally makes these parts to the original manufacturer`s specifications. Your state may require repair shops to tell you if non-original equipment will be used in the repair. Prices and quality of these parts vary. Remanufactured, rebuilt and reconditioned - These terms generally mean the same thing: parts have been restored to a sound working condition. Many manufacturers offer a warranty covering replacement parts, but not the labor to install them. Salvage - These are used parts taken from another vehicle without alteration. Salvage parts may be the only source for some parts on older model cars. The reliability is usually not guaranteed. Most automobile repair shops will not use salvaged parts unless all other sources have been exhausted.
  • What do I need after the work is done?
    Get a completed repair order describing the work done. It should list each repair, parts supplied, the cost of each part, labor charges, and the vehicle`s odometer reading when you brought the vehicle in as well as when the repair order was completed.
  • What about trading in my old car?
    Discuss the possibility of a trade-in only after you`ve negotiated the best possible price for your new car and after you`ve researched the value of your old car. Check the library for reference books or magazines that can tell you how much it is worth. This information may help you get a better price from the dealer. Though it may take longer to sell your car yourself, you generally will get more money than if you trade it in.
  • What is the Monroney Sticker Price?
    Monroney Sticker Price (MSRP) shows the base price, the manufacturer`s installed options with the manufacturer`s suggested retail price, the manufacturer`s transportation charge, and the fuel economy (mileage). Affixed to the car window, this label is required by federal law, and may be removed only by the purchaser.
  • What is the invoice price?
    Invoice Price is the manufacturer`s initial charge to the dealer. This usually is higher than the dealer`s final cost because dealers receive rebates, allowances, discounts, and incentive awards. Generally, the invoice price should include freight (also known as destination and delivery). If you`re buying a car based on the invoice price (for example, at invoice, $100 below invoice, two percent above invoice), and if freight is already included, make sure freight isn`t added again to the sales contract.
  • What is the base price?
    Base Price is the cost of the car without options, but includes standard equipment and factory warranty. This price is printed on the Monroney sticker.
  • What is the Dealer Sticker Price?
    Dealer Sticker Price, usually on a supplemental sticker, is the Monroney sticker price plus the suggested retail price of dealer-installed options, such as additional dealer markup (ADM) or additional dealer profit (ADP), dealer preparation, and undercoating.
  • Should I have a pre-purchase independent inspection?
    Yes, this is generally a good idea. It is best to have any used car inspected by an independent mechanic before you buy it. For about $100 or less, you`ll get a general indication of the mechanical condition of the vehicle. An inspection is a good idea even if the car has been certified and inspected by the dealer and is being sold with a warranty or service contract. A mechanical inspection is different from a safety inspection. Safety inspections usually focus on conditions that make a car unsafe to drive. They are not designed to determine the overall reliability or mechanical condition of a vehicle.
  • How do I find a pre-purchase inspection facility?
    To find a pre-purchase inspection facility, check your Yellow Pages under Automotive Diagnostic Service or ask friends, relatives and co-workers for referrals. Look for facilities that display certifications like an Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) seal. Certification indicates that some or all of the technicians meet basic standards of knowledge and competence in specific technical areas. Make sure the certifications are current, but remember that certification alone is no guarantee of good or honest work. Also ask to see current licenses if state or local law requires such facilities to be licensed or registered. Check with your state Attorney General`s office or local consumer protection agency to find out whether there`s a record of complaints about particular facilities. There are no standard operating procedures for pre-purchase inspections. Ask what the inspection includes, how long it takes, and the price. Get this information in writing. If the dealer won`t let you take the car off the lot, perhaps because of insurance restrictions, you may be able to find a mobile inspection service that will go to the dealer. If that`s not an option, ask the dealer to have the car inspected at a facility you designate. You will have to pay the inspection fee. Once the vehicle has been inspected, ask the mechanic for a written report with a cost estimate for all necessary repairs. Be sure the report includes the vehicle`s make, model and VIN. Make sure you understand every item. If you decide to make a purchase offer to the dealer after considering the inspection`s results, you can use the estimated repair costs to negotiate the price of the vehicle. The Buyers Guide lists an auto`s 14 major systems and some serious problems that may occur in each. This list may help you and your mechanic evaluate the mechanical condition of the vehicle. The list also may help you compare warranties offered on different cars or by different dealers. The back of the Buyers Guide lists the name and address of the dealership. It also gives the name and telephone number of the person you should contact at the dealership if you have problems or complaints after the sale. The dealer may include a buyer`s signature line at the bottom of the Buyers Guide. If the line is included, the following statement must be written or printed close to it: I hereby acknowledge receipt of the Buyers Guide at the closing of this sale. Your signature means you received the Buyers Guide at closing. It does not mean that the dealer complied with the Rule`s other requirements
  • How should I choose a repair shop?
    Ask your family and friends for recommendations. Look for an auto repair shop before you need one. If you wait until you need a repair, you may be rushed into a last-minute decision. Shop around by telephone for the best deal and compare warranty policies on repairs. If State or local law requires repair shops to be licensed or registered ask to see the license. In addition, your State Attorney General`s office or local consumer protection agency may know whether there`s a record of complaints about a particular repair shop. Make sure the shop will honor your vehicle`s warranty.
  • How do I know if my mechanic has been properly trained?
    Look for shops that display various certifications - like an Automotive Service Excellence seal. Certification indicates that some or all of the technicians meet basic standards of knowledge and competence in specific technical areas. Make sure the certifications are current, but remember that certification alone is no guarantee of good or honest work. Ask if the technician or shop has experience working on the same make or model vehicle as yours.
  • Can I return a used car within three days of my purchase?
    Dealers are not required by law to give used car buyers a three-day right to cancel. The right to return the car in a few days for a refund exists only if the dealer grants this privilege to buyers. Dealers may describe the right to cancel as a cooling-off period, a money-back guarantee, or a no questions asked return policy. Before you purchase from a dealer, ask about the dealer`s return policy, get it in writing and read it carefully.
  • What is vehicle repossession?
    When you finance or lease a car, truck or other vehicle, your creditor or lessor holds important rights on the vehicle until you`ve made the last loan payment or fully paid off your leasing obligation. These rights are established by the signed contract and by state law. For example, if your payments are late or you default on your contract in any way, your creditor or lessor may have the right to repossess your car. In many states, creditors or lessors can do this legally without going to court or warning you in advance, as long as they do not breach the peace. In addition, your creditor or lessor may be able to sell your contract to a third party, called an assignee, who may have the same rights and responsibilities as the original creditor or lessor. However, some state laws limit the ways a creditor or lessor can repossess and sell a vehicle to reduce or eliminate your debt. If any rules are violated, the creditor or lessor may be required to pay you damages.
  • Can the dealer seize my car from me?
    Generally, yes. In many states, your creditor or lessor has legal authority to seize your vehicle as soon as you default on your loan or lease. Because state laws differ, read your contract to find out what constitutes default. In some states, failure to make a payment on time or to meet your other contractual responsibilities is considered defaults. If your creditor or lessor has agreed to change your payment date or any other contractual obligations, it`s possible that the terms of your original contract may no longer apply. Such a change may be made orally or in writing. It`s best to get any changes in writing because oral agreements are difficult to prove.
  • If my car has been repossessed, can the dealer sell it?
    Usually, yes. Once your car has been repossessed, your creditor or lessor may decide to keep the car as compensation for your debt or sell it in either a public or private sale. In some states, your creditor or lessor must let you know what will happen to the car. For example, if a creditor or lessor chooses to sell the car at public auction, state law may require that the creditor or lessor tell you the date of the sale so that you can attend and participate in the bidding. If the vehicle is to be sold privately, you may have a right to know the date it will be sold. In either of these circumstances, you may be entitled to buy back the vehicle by paying the full amount you owe, plus any expenses connected with its repossession, such as storage and preparation for sale. In some states, the law allows you to reinstate your contract--reclaim your car by paying the amount you owe, as well as repossession and related expenses (such as attorney fees). If you reclaim your car, you must make your payments on time and meet the terms of your reinstated or renegotiated contract to avoid another repossession.
  • Can the dealer sell my car for any price?
    No. The sale of a repossessed car must be conducted in a commercially reasonable manner according to standard custom in a particular business or an established market. For example, the sale price might not be the highest possible price or even what you may consider a good price but a sale price far below fair market value may indicate that the sale was not commercially reasonable. Depending on state law, failure to sell the car in a commercially reasonable manner may give you either a claim against your creditor or lessor for damages or a defense against a deficiency judgment court order mandating you to pay the debt you owe. Regardless of the method used to dispose of a repossessed car, a creditor or lessor usually may not keep or sell any personal property found inside. Since state laws vary, check to see if this applies in your state. State laws also may require your creditor or lessor to use reasonable care to prevent others from removing your property from the repossessed car. If you find that your creditor or lessor cannot account for articles left in your car, talk to an attorney about whether your state offers a right to compensation.
  • What is a vehicle deficiency?
    A deficiency is any amount you still owe on your contract after your creditor or lessor sells the vehicle and applies the amount received to your unpaid obligation. For example, if you owe $2,500 on the car and your creditor or lessor sells the car for $1,500, the deficiency is $1,000 plus any other fees you owe under the contract, such as those related to the repossession and early termination of your lease or early payoff of your financing. In most states, a creditor or lessor who has followed the proper procedures for repossession and sale is allowed to sue you for a deficiency judgment to collect the remaining amount owed on your credit or lease contract. Depending on your state`s law and other factors, if you are sued for a deficiency judgment, you should be notified of the date of the court hearing. This may be your only opportunity to present any legal defense. If your creditor or lessor breached the peace when seizing the vehicle or failed to sell the car in a commercially reasonable manner, you may have a legal defense against a deficiency judgment. An attorney will be able to tell you whether you have grounds to contest a deficiency judgment.
  • Can I negotiate with the dealer and avoid repossession?
    Depending upon the price of the car, and how behind you are in payments, the dealer may be willing to negotiate. It`s easier to try to prevent vehicle repossession from taking place than to dispute it afterward. Contact your creditor or lessor when you realize you will be late with a payment. Many creditors or lessors will work with you if they believe you will be able to pay soon, even if slightly late. Sometimes you may be able to negotiate a delay in your payment or a revised schedule of payments. If you reach an agreement to modify your original contract, get it in writing to avoid questions later. Still, your creditor or lessor may refuse to accept late payments or make other changes in your contract and may demand that you return the car. By voluntarily agreeing to repossession, you may reduce your creditor or lessor`s expenses, which you would be responsible for paying. Remember that even if you return the car voluntarily, you are responsible for paying any deficiency on your credit or lease contract, and your creditor or lessor still may enter the late payments and/or repossession on your credit report. If you default on your loan, the law in most states allows the creditor or lessor to repossess your car. In some states, creditors or lessors are allowed on your property to seize your car without letting you know in advance. At the same time, the law usually doesn`t allow your creditor or lessor to commit a breach of the peace in connection with repossession. In some states, removing your car from a closed garage without your permission may constitute a breach of the peace. Creditors or lessors who breach the peace in seizing your car may be required to compensate you if they harm you or your property
  • What are some initial considerations that I should think about?

Think about what car model and options you want and how much you`re willing to spend. Do some research and you`ll be less likely to feel pressured into making a hasty or expensive decision at the showroom and more likely to get a better deal. Before you go to a new car showroom, consider the following:

o        Check publications at a library or bookstore, or on the Internet, which discuss new car features and prices. These may provide information on the dealer`s costs for specific models and options.

o        Shop around to get the best possible price by comparing models and prices in ads and at dealer showrooms. You also may want to contact car-buying services and broker-buying services to make comparisons.

o        Plan to negotiate on price. Dealers may be willing to bargain on their profit margin.This margin is often between 10 and 20 percent. Usually, this is the difference between the manufacturer`s suggested retail price (MSRP) and the invoice price. Because the price is a factor in the dealer`s calculations regardless of whether you pay cash or finance your car--and also affects your monthly payments--negotiating the price can save you money.

Consider ordering your new car if you don`t see what you want on the dealer`s lot. This may involve a delay, but cars on the lot may have options you don`t want--and that can raise the price. However, dealers often want to sell their current inventory quickly, so you may be able to negotiate a good deal if an in-stock car meets your needs.

  • What should I be aware of if I buy from a private individual instead of a dealer?

An alternative to buying from a dealer is buying from an individual. You may see ads in newspapers, on bulletin boards, or on a car. Buying a car from a private party is very different from buying a car from a dealer.

o        Private sellers generally are not covered by the Used Car Rule and don`t have to use the Buyers Guide. However, you can use the Guide`s list of an auto`s major systems as a shopping tool. You also can ask the seller if you can have the vehicle inspected by your mechanic.

o        Private sales usually are not covered by the implied warranties of state law. That means a private sale probably will be on an as is basis, unless your purchase agreement with the seller specifically states otherwise. If you have a written contract, the seller must live up to the promises stated in the contract. A manufacturer`s warranty or a separately purchased service contract also may cover the car. However, warranties and service contracts may not be transferable, and other limits or costs may apply. Before you buy the car, ask to review its warranty or service contract.

o        Many states do not require individuals to ensure that their vehicles will pass state inspection or carry a minimum warranty before they offer them for sale. Ask your state Attorney General`s office or local consumer protection agency about the requirements in your state.

Whether you buy a used car from a dealer, a co-worker, or a neighbor, follow these tips to learn as much as you can about the car:

o        Examine the car yourself using an inspection checklist. You can find a checklist in many of the magazine articles, books and Internet sites that deal with buying a used car.

o        Test-drive the car under varied road conditions--on hills, highways, and in stop-and-go traffic.

o        Ask for the car`s maintenance record. If the owner doesn`t have copies, contact the dealership or repair shop where most of the work was done. They may share their files with you.

o        Talk to the previous owner, especially if the present owner is unfamiliar with the car`s history.

o        Have the car inspected by a mechanic you hire.

  • What questions should I ask concerning other promotions?
  • What questions should I ask concerning other promotions?

Other special promotions include high trade-in allowances and free or low-cost options. Some dealers promise to sell the car for a stated amount over the dealer`s invoice. Asking the following questions can help you determine whether special promotions offer genuine value:

o        Does the advertised trade-in allowance apply to all cars, regardless of their condition? Are there any deductions for high mileage, dents, or rust?

o        Does the larger trade-in allowance make the cost of the new car higher than it would be without the trade-in? You might be giving back the big trade-in allowance by paying more for the new car.

o        Is the dealer who offers a high trade-in allowance and free or low-cost options giving you a better price on the car than another dealer who doesn`t offer promotions?

o        Does the dealer`s invoice reflect the actual amount that the dealer pays the manufacturer? You can consult consumer or automotive publications for information about what the dealer pays.

o        Does the dealer`s invoice include the cost of options, such as rust proofing or waterproofing, that already have been added to the car? Is one dealer charging more for these options than others are?

o        Does the dealer have cars in stock that has no expensive options? If not, will the dealer order one for you?

o        Are the special offers available if you order a car instead of buying one off the lot?

o        Can you take advantage of all special offers simultaneously?

You are not limited to the financing options offered by a particular dealer. Before you commit to a deal, check to see what type of loan you can arrange with your bank or credit union.

 

Once you decide which dealer offers the car and financing you want, read the invoice and the installment contract carefully. Check to see that all the terms of the contract reflect the agreement you made with the dealer. If they don`t, get a written explanation before you sign. Careful shopping will help you decide what car, options, and financing are best for you.

  • I saw an advertisement for low interest payments, what should I ask the dealer about?

A call or visit to a dealer should help clarify details about low interest loans. Consider asking these questions:

o        Will you be charged a higher price for the car to qualify for the low-rate financing? Would the price be lower if you paid cash, or supplied your own financing from your bank or credit union?

o        Does the financing require a larger-than-usual down payment? Perhaps 25 or 30 percent?

o        Are there limits on the length of the loan? Are you required to repay the loan in a condensed period of time, say 24 or 36 months?

o        Is there a significant balloon payment--possibly several thousand dollars--due at the end of the loan?

o        Do you have to buy special or extra merchandise or services such as rust proofing, an extended warranty, or a service contract to qualify for a low-interest loan?

o        Is the financing available for a limited time only? Some merchants limit special deals to a few days or require that you take delivery by a certain date.

o        Does the low rate apply to all cars in stock or only to certain models?

o        Are you required to give the dealer the manufacturer`s rebate to qualify for financing?

  • What information must be contained in a Buyer`s Guide?

The Buyer`s Guide must tell you the following:

o        Whether the vehicle is being sold as is or with a warranty;

o        What percentage of the repair costs a dealer will pay under the warranty;

o        That spoken promises are difficult to enforce;

o        To get all promises in writing;

o        To keep the Buyers Guide for reference after the sale;

o        The major mechanical and electrical systems on the car, including some of the major problems you should look out for; and

o        To ask to have the car inspected by an independent mechanic before you buy.

 

When you buy a used car from a dealer, get the original Buyer`s Guide that was posted in the vehicle, or a copy. The Guide must reflect any negotiated changes in warranty coverage. It also becomes part of your sales contract and overrides any contrary provisions.

 

For example, if the Buyers Guide says the car comes with a warranty and the contract says the car is sold as is, the dealer must give you the warranty described in the Guide. When the dealer offers a vehicle, as is, the box next to the As Is - No Warranty disclosure on the Buyers Guide must be checked. If the box is checked but the dealer promises to repair the vehicle or cancel the sale if you`re not satisfied, make sure the promise is written on the Buyers Guide. Otherwise, you may have a hard time getting the dealer to make good on his word.

 

Some states, including Connecticut, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia and the District of Columbia, don`t allow as is sales for many used vehicles. Three states--Louisiana, New Hampshire and Washington--require different disclosures than those on the Buyers Guide. If the dealer fails to provide proper state disclosures, the sale is not as is. To find out what disclosures are required for as is sales in your state, contact your state Attorney General.

  • Is buying a new car really such a big deal?
    Yes. A new car is second only to a home as the most expensive purchase many consumers make. According to the National Automobile Dealers Association, the average price of a new car sold in the United States as of June 1998 was $23,480. That`s why it`s important to know how to make a smart deal.
  • Should I buy or lease my new vehicle?
    To lease or to buy? That`s the choice you face when mulling over makes and models and deciding which car deal best meets your needs. Leasing a car is not the same as buying one. When you buy, you own the car. When you lease, you pay to drive someone else`s vehicle. Although leasing can involve lower monthly payments than a loan, at lease end, you will have no ownership or equity in the car. The number of new car leases is skyrocketing. Before you decide whether to lease or buy, the Federal Trade Commission reminds you: don`t be dazzled by so-called deals. Ask questions, nail down the details, read the fine print, and shop around. If you`re thinking of leasing, you should consider the following shopping tips: 1. Shop as if you`re buying a car. Negotiate all the lease terms, including the price of the vehicle. Lowering the lease price will help reduce your monthly payments. Get all the terms in writing. 2. Learn the language of leasing: In a closed-end lease, you return the car at the end of the lease and walk away, but you`re still usually responsible for certain end-of-lease charges, such as excess mileage, wear and tear, and disposition. In an open-end lease, you pay the difference between the value stated in your contract and the lessor`s appraised value at the end of the lease. Lease inception fees are payments you must make when the lease starts, and may include a down payment, security deposit, acquisition fee, first month`s payment, taxes and title fees. Ask for a list of all charges due at lease inception. You may be able to negotiate some or all of the terms. The capitalized cost is the price of the car for leasing purposes plus taxes and extra charges like service contracts and registration fees. The capitalized cost reduction is similar to a down payment. If you`re trading in a car, make sure the dealer applies the trade-in value to the price your lease is based on. The trade-in credit may reduce your down payment or monthly payments. 3. Ask whether extra charges will be assessed for excessive mileage, wear and tear, disposition and early termination, and find out the amount of these charges. Most leases allow you to drive 12,000 to 15,000 a year; if you put on more miles, expect a charge of 10 to 25 cents for each additional mile. You may think the ding in the door is normal wear and tear; to the lessor it may be significant damage. Check out penalties for an early return; expect to pay a substantial charge if you give the car up before the end of your lease. 4. Make sure the manufacturer`s warranty covers the entire lease term and the number of miles you`re likely to drive. 5. Consider gap insurance to cover the difference -- sometimes thousands of dollars -- between what you owe on the lease and what the car is worth if it`s stolen or totaled in an accident. 6. Before you sign the deal, take a copy of the contract home and review it carefully away from any dealer pressure. Be alert for any charges that were not disclosed at the dealership, like conveyance, disposition, and preparation fees. 7. Federal law requires lessors to provide lease cost information before you sign the lease. If the dealer declines, consider shopping elsewhere.
  • What should I know about automobile advertisements?
    Many new car dealers advertise unusually low interest rates and other special promotions. An ad promising high trade-in allowances and free or low-cost options may help you shop, but finding the best deal requires careful comparisons. Many factors determine whether a special offer provides genuine savings. The interest rate, for example, is only part of the car dealer`s financing package. Terms like the size of the down payment also affect the total financing cost.
  • What should I know about financing my car?
    If you decide to finance your car, be aware that the financing obtained by the dealer, even if the dealer contacts lenders on your behalf may not be the best deal you can get. Contact lenders directly. Compare the financing they offer you with the financing the dealer offers you. Because offers vary, shop around for the best deal, comparing the annual percentage rate (APR) and the length of the loan. When negotiating to finance a car, be wary of focusing only on the monthly payment. The total amount you will pay depends on the price of the car you negotiate, the APR, and the length of the loan. Sometimes, dealers offer very low financing rates for specific cars or models, but may not be willing to negotiate on the price of these cars. To qualify for the special rates, you may be required to make a large down payment. With these conditions, you may find that it`s sometimes more affordable to pay higher financing charges on a car that is lower in price or to buy a car that requires a smaller down payment. Before you sign a contract to purchase or finance the car, consider the terms of the financing and evaluate whether it is affordable. Before you drive off the lot, be sure to have a copy of the contract that both you and the dealer have signed and be sure that all blanks are filled in. Some dealers and lenders may ask you to buy credit insurance to pay off your loan if you should die or become disabled. Before you buy credit insurance, consider the cost, and whether it`s worthwhile. Check your existing policies to avoid duplicating benefits. Federal law does not require credit insurance. If your dealer requires you to buy credit insurance for car financing, it must be included in the cost of credit. That is, it must be reflected in the APR. Your state Attorney General also may have requirements about credit insurance. Check with your state Insurance Commissioner or state consumer protection agency.
  • Where can I go for help in dealing with this?
    If you need help in dealing with your credit or lease contract, consider using a credit counseling service. There are nonprofit organizations in every state that advise consumers on debt management. Counselors often try to arrange a repayment plan that is acceptable to you and your creditors. They also can help you set up a realistic budget and plan expenditures. These counseling services are offered at little or no cost to consumers. Check your telephone directory for the office nearest you. In addition, universities, military bases, credit unions, and housing authorities often operate nonprofit counseling programs. They also are likely to charge little or nothing for their assistance. Or check with your local bank or consumer protection office to see if it has a list of reputable, low-cost financial counseling services.

Contracts

 

  • What is a Service Contract?
    Service contracts that you may buy with a new car provide for the repair of certain parts or problems. These contracts are offered by manufacturers, dealers, or independent companies and may or may not provide coverage beyond the manufacturer`s warranty. Remember that a warranty is included in the price of the car while a service contract costs extra. Before deciding to purchase a service contract, read it carefully and consider these questions:
    • What`s the difference between the coverage under the warranty and the coverage under the service contract?
    • What repairs are covered?
    • Is routine maintenance covered?
    • Who pays for the labor and / or parts?
    • Who performs the repairs? Can repairs be made elsewhere?
    • How long does the service contract last?
    • What are the cancellation and refund policies?
  • Do I enter into a contract every time that I buy a product from the store?
    Yes. The next time that you buy an apple from the market, you have entered into a contract. The store is making an offer buy placing the apple for sale. When you take the apple to the cashier and pay, you have accepted the store`s offer to purchase the apple.
  • Does a contract have to be in to be enforceable?
    No, a written contract is not required to create all contracts. The U.C.C. implements something called The Statute of Frauds (S.O.F.). The S.O.F. requires that certain contracts be recorded in writing in order to be enforced. The S.O.F. has been implemented to reduce and prevent fraud in contracts. The S.O.F. requires that all contracts for the sale of goods over five hundred dollars be in writing to be enforceable.

For example, if you orally agree to buy your neighbor`s car for six hundred dollars then later decide that you no longer want to buy the car, you can do so. To be enforceable, the contract must be in writing because the sale is for six hundred dollars, an amount above the S.O.F.`s five hundred-dollar writing requirement. On the other hand, if you orally agree to buy your neighbor`s car for three hundred dollars and later decide to back out, you may be liable to your neighbor under the contract.

  • My mechanic mentioned a service contract, what is that?
    Many vehicle dealers and others sell optional service contracts. Vehicle manufacturers or independent companies issue these contracts. Not all service contracts are the same; prices vary and usually are negotiable. To help decide whether to purchase a service contract, consider:
    1. The cost.
    2. The repairs to be covered.
    3. Whether coverage overlaps coverage provided by any other warranty.
    4. Where the repairs are to be performed.
    5. Procedures required for filing a claim, such as prior authorization for specific repairs or meeting required vehicle maintenance schedules.
    6. Whether repair costs are paid directly by the company to the repair shop or whether you will have to pay first and get reimbursed, and
    7. The reputation of the service contract company. This can be found by checking with your state Attorney General`s office or local consumer protection agency.
  • What about service contracts?
    A service contract is an optional agreement for product service that customers sometimes buy. It provides additional protection beyond what the warranty offers on the product.

Service contracts are similar to warranties in that both concerns service for a product. However, there are differences between warranties and service contracts.

Warranties come with a product and are included in the purchase price. In the language of the Act, warranties are part of the basis of the bargain Service contracts, on the other hand, are agreements that are separate from the contract or sale of the product. They are separate either because they are made some time after the sale of the product, or because they cost the customer a fee beyond the purchase price of the product. The Act includes very broad provisions governing service contracts that are explained in the following sections.

  • What is a sales contract?
    This is an important consideration for purposes of Article 2. In order to determine whether Article 2 applies to a transaction, you must first determine whether a contract exists. Under the U.C.C., a contract need not be formed with any special formality. A contract may be formed in any manner sufficient to show agreement between the parties. This includes the conduct of the parties.

A contract usually begins by one person making an offer to another. The other person accepting the offer completes the contract. If the contract is supported by consideration, a contract is formed. Consideration, in the context of a contract usually means, money paid, or a promise to do something.

For example, If Jack asks Jill if she would like to buy his car for one hundred dollars, an offer has been made. If Jill agrees to the deal, then Jill has accepted the offer. The one hundred dollars serves as the consideration. The transaction would create a legally enforceable contract under the Uniform Commercial Code. Since the contract involved a transaction involving the sale of a good (the automobile), the transaction is governed by Article 2.

 

State of Texas

Department Of Transportation

Lemon Law

Notification Letter to Manufacturer
Complaint / Request For Hearing Form

The Notification Letter to Manufacturer and the Request For Hearing Form are available in PDF format. Click the above links to View or Right Click the links to Save the Files to your computer.

Introduction

The Texas Lemon Law is a state law that helps consumers who buy or lease new motor vehicles and have repeated problems getting their vehicles properly repaired. The Lemon Law can help a consumer get the vehicle repurchased, replaced or repaired. It can be less complicated and less expensive than going to court.

The law was enacted by the Texas Legislature in 1983. A court challenge stalled enforcement of the law, but in 1985, a federal appeals court upheld its validity. In Texas, the Lemon Law is administered by the Texas Department of Transportation's Motor Vehicle Division and its Motor Vehicle Board.

Through mediation and formal hearings allowed under the law, the Motor Vehicle Division has helped resolve many complaints. From 1988 to 1997, the division processed 12,282 complaints. In 1997, the division received 1,291 written complaints and held 182 hearings on complaints that were not resolved informally. In about half the cases heard in 1997, consumers received either replacement, repurchase or repair of their vehicles, or some other appropriate relief.

In 1991, the Legislature changed the Lemon Law to benefit more consumers. The time period for filing a complaint and the definition of a "lemon" were expanded, and consumers may now be reimbursed for certain incidental expenses. Now, a disclosure notice accompanying any vehicle repurchased or replaced under the Lemon Law is also required.

In 1997, the Legislature added towable recreational vehicles (TRVs) to the Lemon Law. Besides being made primarily for temporary human habitation, TRVs must

  1. be titled and registered in Texas;
  2. be built on a single chassis;
  3. contain one or more life support systems, and
  4. be towable by another motor vehicle.

The relief available to used motor vehicle buyers is limited to repairs only, if the vehicle is still under the original factory warranty.

What does it cover?

The Lemon Law applies to new vehicles, including cars, trucks, vans, motorcycles, all-terrain vehicles motor homes and towable recreational vehicles (TRVs) that develop problems covered by a written factory warranty. Demonstrator vehicles are also considered new vehicles.

The law does not cover used motor vehicles (including program vehicles), repossessed vehicles, non-travel trailers, boats or farm equipment. Neither does it cover vehicles with:

  • problems caused by the owner's abuse, neglect or unauthorized changes to the vehicle,
  • parts or components not authorized or installed by the manufacturer, or
  • problems that do not substantially affect the use or market value of the vehicle. Minor rattles or stereo problems are usually not considered serious under the Lemon Law.

When the term "manufacturer" is used, it should be understood to include distributor and converter, as well.

How do I know if my vehicle is a lemon?

A motor vehicle may be declared a lemon if it meets all of the following conditions:

  1. The vehicle has a serious defect or abnormal condition.
  2. The defect or condition is covered by a manufacturer's written warranty.
  3. The owner reports the defect or condition to the dealer or manufacturer within the warranty term.
  4. The owner gives the dealer or manufacturer a reasonable number of attempts to repair the defect or condition.
  5. The owner gives the manufacturer (preferably by certified mail) written notice of the defect and at least one opportunity for repair.
  6. The defect or condition persists and substantially impairs the vehicle's use or market value, or creates a serious safety hazard.
  7. The owner files a timely Lemon Law complaint and pays the filing fee.

How many chances does the dealer get to fix the vehicle?

Determining how many chances a dealer has to fix a defect is easy. Simply see if you pass either the four-times test, the serious-safety-hazard test or the 30-days test.

The law presumes you have given the manufacturer or authorized dealer a reasonable number of attempts to fix the defect if you pass one of these tests. The mileage requirements generally do not apply to TRVs.

Four-times test

If you have taken the vehicle to a dealership for repairs:

  • two times for the same problem or defect within the first 12 months or 12,000 miles, whichever comes first, and
  • twice more during the 12 months or 12,000 miles after the second repair attempt, and
  • the problem is still not repaired

you pass the four-times test.

Serious-safety-hazard test

If you have taken the vehicle for repair of a serious safety hazard:

  • once during the first 12 months or 12,000 miles, whichever comes first, and
  • once more during the 12 months or 12,000 miles following the first repair attempt, and
  • the problem is still not repaired

you pass the serious-safety-hazard test.

30-days test

If your vehicle has been out of service for repair because of problems covered by the warranty:

  • for a total of 30 days or more, not necessarily all at one time, during the first 24 months or 24,000 miles, and
  • there were two repair attempts during the first 12 months or 12,000 miles immediately after delivery, and
  • a substantial problem still exists

you pass the 30-days test.

If a comparable loaner vehicle was provided while the vehicle was being repaired, that time does not count toward the 30 days.

How long do I have to file a complaint?

A Lemon Law complaint must be filed within six months following the earlier of:

  1. expiration of the express warranty term;
  2. 24 months; or
  3. 24,000 miles following the date of delivery of the vehicle (except TRVs)

In other words, the filing period is determined by which of the above events comes first. To be safe, file your complaint as soon as you realize the dealer is having problems repairing the vehicle.

Even if you have gone past the time limit allowed for a repurchase, the Motor Vehicle Board may still be able to help you get repairs under your vehicle warranty.

Why so many requirements?

Most people feel that a seller or manufacturer should replace defective products or refund the purchase price without a lot of hassle. However, it is not practical for automobile manufacturers to do this. Their products are much more expensive than most other consumer goods, and warranty disputes involve more complicated issues. Often, whether the vehicle is really defective is a legitimate question.

Before the Lemon Law, consumers had to file lawsuits to get relief. Most states have passed laws to provide consumers with a relatively quick, inexpensive and easy way to pursue their claim. But, any law requires certain procedures. Our staff, especially our consumer advisors, will try to make it easy for you to understand the legal requirements and procedures.

Informal Procedures

What's my first step?

If your dealership does not seem to be able to correct the problems with your vehicle, send a letter, preferably by certified mail, to the manufacturer. The owner's manual or warranty booklet should have a contact name and the address of the manufacturer's regional office. Describe the vehicle's condition and offer the manufacturer an opportunity to fix the problem. Better yet, tell the manufacturer when the vehicle will be back at the dealership for repair. Sample Notification Letter (Click to View, Right Click to Save).

It is important to keep a complete record of all your dealings with the manufacturer and dealer, including copies of all repair orders, letters and records of phone calls. If you decide to file a Lemon Law complaint, you will need to send copies of all the materials to TxDOT.

How do I file a complaint?

Your complaint must be in writing. Complaint Form (Click to View, Right Click to Save).

If you want your vehicle replaced or repurchased, you must send a $35 nonrefundable filing fee with your complaint. However, if you win your case at a hearing, the manufacturer will reimburse you for the fee. If you are only seeking repairs under the warranty, no fee is required.

Can my complaint be resolved quickly?

TxDOT will contact the manufacturer and dealer about your complaint. The manufacturer may send one of its experts to the dealership to help identify and fix the problem. If your vehicle is satisfactorily repaired, your case is resolved.

If the vehicle is not repaired, TxDOT may send a technical expert to meet with you and representatives for the dealer and the manufacturer. At the meeting, TxDOT's expert will help settle the dispute, if possible. In many cases, the complaint is resolved at this stage, within 30 to 60 days after the complaint was filed.

If the complaint is not settled, a hearing will be necessary.

Formal Procedures

What is a Lemon Law hearing?

A Lemon Law hearing is your opportunity to prove to an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) that your vehicle is a lemon. You must present your own testimony or that of witnesses. You should also present letters, repair orders or other documents (except affidavits) to prove to the ALJ that your vehicle is a lemon.

Presenting a case to the ALJ is somewhat like appearing before a judge of a small-claims court. There are certain legal procedures that a judge must follow. The ALJ will relax the rules as much as possible, but the process is subject to the Texas Administrative Procedure Act, the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure and the Texas Rules of Evidence.

When a hearing is needed, TxDOT's goal is to hold it and issue a decision within 150 days after receiving the complaint and filing fee. If the 150-day period expires without a decision, the consumer has the right to use the Lemon Law in court as though the Lemon Law process were complete.

How should I prepare for the hearing?

  • Collect your documents. For example, your sales contract, warranty booklet, work orders or repair tickets, and letters to or from the dealer or manufacturer. Bring three copies of all documents to the hearing.
  • Arrange the work orders by date. Put the oldest work order first and complete the warranty repair log. Be prepared to support the log entries with your testimony or notes, or with testimony of witnesses.
  • Complete the "List of Agreed Facts" form in advance to save time at the hearing.
  • Arrange for witnesses to appear at the hearing because notarized statements generally are not allowed. If you have friends who have witnessed the vehicle's problems, ask them to testify at the hearing. You may also subpoena witnesses. Make sure your witnesses know when and where to appear, and tell them it may take most of the morning or afternoon.
  • Make sure the vehicle is ready to be inspected and test-driven at the hearing, including having current registration and state inspection. For example, if the complaint is a severe vibration, make sure the tires are not worn out and that they are properly aligned and balanced. Be sure your vehicle has had the required maintenance and bring records to prove it.

How do I prove my case?

Although a hearing is less formal than a court trial, you must still prove your case to the Administrative Law Judge. You must prove that:

  • you purchased or leased a new motor vehicle, and you still own or lease it at the time of the hearing;
  • the vehicle had a defect covered by the warranty, and you reported the defect to the dealer or manufacturer during the warranty period;
  • you filed a Lemon Law complaint within the time limit and paid the filing fee;
  • you gave the manufacturer or its dealer a reasonable number of attempts to fix the defect or condition, but the defect remained. Ordinarily, the defect must continue to exist at time of hearing;
  • you notified the manufacturer of the defect in writing and have given the manufacturer at least one chance to fix it;
  • the defect or condition substantially impairs the use or market value of the vehicle, or creates a serious safety hazard. You may be able to prove the vehicle's use is impaired if any of its major systems are defective, or if a defect such as a water leak prevents it from being used normally in the rain.

    A vehicle's value may be decreased by paint flaws or any other condition that would lead a buyer to pay substantially less than the market price for a comparable vehicle that does not have the defect. A serious safety hazard is a life-threatening malfunction that impedes your ability to control or operate the vehicle normally or that creates a substantial risk of fire or explosion.

TxDOT attorneys conduct the hearings, which usually last two to four hours. These attorneys (administrative law judges or ALJs's) travel across the state to locations convenient to consumers. The judge does not represent either party at the hearing, but reaches a decision based on the evidence presented.

Proof elements here are described in layman's terms. The actual legal provisions are found in §6.07 of the V.T.C.S. Article 4413(36).

Who is involved in the hearing?

Usually, owners present their own cases, and manufacturers send their customer relations managers. However, if a manufacturer has an attorney or if you feel uncomfortable without one, you may want to be represented by counsel. If you choose to have an attorney, you must send written notice to TxDOT's Motor Vehicle Division and the manufacturer at least five days before the hearing.

Attorney fees are not reimbursable.

What will happen at the hearing?

First, you will present your side of the story. Then, the judge or the manufacturer's representatives may ask you questions about your statements or documents.

Next, the manufacturer's case is presented. They may bring witnesses or documents to try to show one of three things:

  • there is no defect at all;
  • the defect is minor and does not substantially impair the vehicle's use or market value;
  • the defect was caused by owner neglect or some other factor.

Be sure to take notes as the manufacturer presents the case so you can then ask specific questions about testimony or documents.

After all the evidence is received, the hearing recesses for a vehicle inspection and test drive. The ALJ may decide to conduct the inspection and test drive after you present your case, and will explain the procedures. At the hearing's conclusion, each party summarizes the evidence presented and argues for a specific result.

After the Hearing

TxDOT will issue a decision shortly after the hearing that will include the ALJ's summary of the evidence, reasoning, findings of fact and conclusions of law. The judge will decide one of three things:

  • the complaint should be dismissed;
  • the vehicle has a defect that the manufacturer must repair;
  • the vehicle qualifies as a lemon and should be repurchased or replaced.

What happens if I win?

The law provides basic guidelines for what you may get if you prove your case. Because every situation is different, judges review the facts of each particular case when making a decision.

If you win your case, the judge will order one of the following:

Refund

The manufacturer must buy back the vehicle for the full purchase price, including taxes, title and license fee, minus an amount charged for the use of the vehicle. The amount deducted is decided according to a formula that takes into account the number of miles on the vehicle at the time of the hearing and other factors.

Replacement

The manufacturer must replace the defective vehicle with one that is comparable to your original vehicle, usually same make, model and accessories, that is acceptable to you, minus the mileage used.

Repair

The manufacturer must fix the vehicle's defects. Also, out-of-pocket expenses for repairs that should have been covered by the warranty will be reimbursed.

Reimbursement of incidental expenses

Incidental expenses are awarded only if the vehicle is ordered to be repurchased or replaced. They include the costs of towing, rental cars, lodging and meals if the vehicle broke down while out of town, and telephone calls and postage spent trying to get the vehicle repaired.

What if I'm not satisfied?

Neither you nor the manufacturer has to accept the ALJ's decision. Copies of the decision and order are sent to the consumer and the manufacturer by certified mail. Each can file a motion for rehearing within 20 days after the decision is mailed. The motion may be sent either to the director of the Motor Vehicle Division or to the Motor Vehicle Board. Parties are promptly notified whether the motion for rehearing has been granted or denied.

If a rehearing is denied, a party can appeal to the State District Court in Travis County within 30 days of the order denying the motion for rehearing. A replacement or repurchase order remains in effect even though a manufacturer files an appeal.

A party wishing to appeal a TxDOT order should hire an attorney promptly because of the short time allowed to file an appeal.

What are my other options?

The Lemon Law expressly provides that it does not limit the rights or remedies otherwise available to an owner under any other law. You may file a lawsuit against a manufacturer or dealer for breach of warranty, deceptive trade practices or some other reason as long as you are still within the applicable statute of limitations. For information concerning other rights and remedies available, you should contact a private attorney.

Once you have had a hearing under the Lemon Law, you may be able to use certain provisions of the Lemon Law in court as part of your lawsuit. You may also use the Lemon Law in court if it has been more than 150 days since TxDOT received your complaint and filing fee, and you have not yet received a decision.

For More Information

The information in this handbook is a summary of the Lemon Law and the procedures involved in pursuing a complaint. The law itself is found in Vernon's Revised Texas Civil Statutes, Article 4413(36), Section 6.07.

To receive a copy of the Lemon Law

Write

Motor Vehicle Division
Texas Department of Transportation
Consumer Affairs Section
P.O. Box 2293
Austin, Texas 78768

Call

Statewide toll free: 800-622-8682
Austin: 512-416-4800