When Life Gives You Lemons: Lemon Cars and Consumer Rights
Lemon cars, brand new cars that turn out to be duds, can leave car owners in an uphill battle with their car dealers if they want a repair or a replacement. However, consumer guarantees exist under the Australian Consumer Law (“ACL”) to ensure that consumers who do buy seriously defective vehicles can go back to the dealer and have the defect resolved regardless of whether they were given a written warranty. Being aware of your consumer rights will help you approach disputes with dealers with confidence and ensure that you are not left stranded with a lemon car.
A recent survey by consumer group Choice has found that two thirds of new car buyers in Australia experience problems within the first five years of purchasing their new vehicles, and that 14% of consumers had experienced problems bad enough that they either seriously impaired the car’s operation or left it unusable.
Significantly, the Choice survey found that when seeking repairs or replacements for their lemon cars, many car owners received no help at all and were denied a solution to their problem. In some cases dealers avoided addressing consumer complaints until after the warranty period expired, or had consumers sign a non-disclosure agreement to get their issues resolved. On average, according to the Choice survey, Australian car owners are spending over $850 and more than 30 hours trying to resolve their lemon car issues, and losing more than $400 in wages by spending time trying to resolve the problem.
KNOW YOUR CONSUMER GUARANTEES:
A finding of the Choice survey was that many Australians are unaware of or were not confident about their rights as consumers. By becoming aware of and understanding your consumer rights you ensure that you are not vulnerable to dodgy dealers who attempt to take advantage of consumer’s lack of awareness by denying their rights or selling extended warranty protection that the law already offers.
Consumer guarantees are rights that are supplied by the ACL to consumers who purchase goods and services, including vehicles, and exist in addition to any other rights which have been provided to the buyer, including any manufacturer’s warranty.
Consumer guarantees include the requirements that all vehicles bought through dealerships be of acceptable quality and fit for purpose.
- New cars should be free from manufacturing defects, be safe and durable, and acceptable in appearance and finish.
- If the vehicle is not of acceptable quality or a manufacturing defect has become evident during a reasonable period after purchase, the dealer/manufacturer has an obligation to remedy the defect.
- Note that this guarantee does not apply if the consumer was informed about a particular defect before buying the vehicle and agreed to purchase it anyway.
FIT FOR PURPOSE
- The vehicle must be fit for any specific purposes for which the buyer informs the seller it is being bought. If you tell the dealer about your intended use for the vehicle and it turns out that you cannot use it in the way that you intended, you can enforce this consumer guarantee.
- If the vehicle is unsafe or substantially unfit for the purpose for which it was bough, and incapable of being easily remedied within a reasonable time, you may be entitled to a replacement or refund.
You have the right to try obtain an appropriate solution from a dealer even for minor problems with your vehicle. If your car has a minor problem, the dealer is required to fix it within a reasonable time.
If your vehicle has a major failure – i.e. if a reasonable consumer wouldn’t have bought the motor vehicle if they’d known about the full extent of the problem – you have the right to seek a replacement car or a refund form the dealer.
SO, WHEN LIFE THROWS YOU LEMONS…
Consumer guarantees apply not only to vehicles but to all goods and services worth less than $40,000.00 or purchased for personal, domestic or household use.
If you find yourself with a lemon car, or any lemon product, contact the dealer or seller, make sure all your communications are in writing, be confident about and mention your consumer guarantees and the ACL.
If resolving the problem does prove to be an uphill battle with the dealer, contact the Department of Commerce/Consumer Affairs.
If you would like to know more about your rights in relation to a faulty vehicle or products, or have a general legal enquiry, please do not hesitate to give us a call at Lynn and Brown Lawyers.
About the author:
This article has been authored by Claudia Giovannini at Lynn & Brown Lawyers. Claudia is currently studying law at UWA and hopes to be admitted as a Perth lawyer in or about 2018.