Monday

12 Rules to Avoid Online Auction Ripoff's


Ebay Online Car Sales: Deals or Steals?

We've seen cases where people paid thousands of dollars for used cars based on nothing but some online photos and a seller's fancy talk. Don't be a victim. To avoid getting a lemon, use common sense and follow some basic rules.

Rule # 1: If it sounds too good to be true, it is
(yes, your mother was right).

Rule # 2: Read Rule # 1 again.

Rule # 3. It's real money. Treat every online purchase as though you are paying for it by putting cash money in an ordinary mail envelope and sending it off, because that's how much you are trusting them.

Rule # 4. Don't do it all online. If you want to buy a used vehicle online, travel to the seller and actually see the vehicle. Test drive it, get it inspected. Meet the person who is going to take your hard earned money from you and satisfy yourself that they are honest and you are getting a fair deal.

Rule # 5. Know your seller. Don't buy from any seller who doesn't already have a good online reputation with lots of satisfied buyers. Check it out carefully before your turn over your hard-earned money.

Rule # 6. Get an inspection. If you can't travel to the seller to actually see the vehicle before you buy it, consider contacting a local franchised new car dealer for that brand (if you are thinking of buying a Chevy, call the service department at the Chevy dealer nearest the auction seller's location) and arrange for them to do an independent vehicle inspection before you buy.

Rule # 7. Make a contingent bid. If you have to bid before you see the vehicle in person, try to make your bid contingent on a satisfactory vehicle inspection. That way you can back out of it (or renegotiate the price) if you learn that it needs a new engine or some other major repair.

Rule # 8. Get an Auction Guarantee. Find out if the online auction gives you its own guarantee before you buy. If they don't, go elsewhere. If they do, read the terms carefully to make sure it isn't just fancy words that mean nothing.

Rule # 9. Do your homework. Before you buy any vehicle, check out the vehicle's recalls and known defects. That'll tell you something about the vehicle's reliability, even if the seller hasn't had any problems yet.

Rule # 10. Don't take a risky deal. If the dealer won't give you any guarantee, or doesn't have a good auction reputation, don't send them your money. If you really want to give your money away, you can send it to me.

Rule # 11. Don't sign a blank contract. Make the dealer fill it out and sign it and send it to you. Only after you get it, already signed by the dealer, should you even think about signing it. In most states, a contract is not complete until both sides sign it. If you sign a blank form and send it to the dealer, then when the dealer signs it (in their own home state) the contract is often considered to be legally complete in the state where the last signature is signed to the contract. If it's your home town, and anything goes wrong, you can probably sue the dealer right in your home town and that's alot easier than having to drive a thousand miles to file a lawsuit or hire a lawyer in some distant city to do it for you. Of course, you can avoid this problem by always buying only from a seller who is located in your home state, and the closer to you the better.

Rule # 12. Look, see, touch, feel, drive. Don't pay your money until you see the car and, even then, don't pay your money until you have it inspected carefully. Why? Because once you turn over your money, it's gone.

Ebay car sales can mean a good deal, but be careful. Online auction car sales can be a great opportunity for a crook to steal your money by promising you a cream puff car and leaving you with a piece of junk.

And don't forget that some state Lemon Laws cover used cars and trucks, too. Check with an attorney to find out about your rights.

If you've been ripped off by a car dealer, don't put up with it. You have more legal rights than you probably think you do, so protect yourself.

Wednesday

Mazda To Kill Its Rebates & Sales Incentives

Mazda has just announced that it is going to kill off US rebates and sales incentives in order to stabilize its prices and profits, according to Automotive News magazine. Frankly, it's an approach Detroit might want to consider.

Mazda says it will gradually reduce and then eliminate its incentive programs, including its reduced lease program, on its new models. Its profits had been improving in the face of reduced incentives ($1,800 per vehicle in 2nd quarter this year) from a year ago ($2,000).

Meanwhile, the Big 3 have taken the opposite approach. They've been offering discounts and incentives for the last 5 years under the theory that selling more vehicles would increase profitability. The first half of this year saw incentives averaging $3,400 per US-built new car. To stay competitive with Detroit's incentive advertising, Honda and Toyota offered something too but it was less than $900 in sales incentive money.

So, who's right? Depends on how you look at it, I suppose. One thing seems obvious though: it's probably all smoke and mirrors anyway.

Anyone who thinks that the incentives aren't being paid for by the customer in one way or another is probably ripe for PT Barnum's pickings. Personally, I think we'd all be better off if Detroit just priced their vehicles at the lowest price point that would allow for a reasonable profit and then forget about the rebate and incentive shell game. At least then, we'd all the numbers are "real."

After all, if Detroit can afford to cut $3,400 out of its profit on a new car, then they must be priced too high in the first place. Kind of makes you wonder if they haven't been gouging us all along, doesn't it? Come to think of it, they could just keep the prices where they are and put that rebate money into building higher quality and reliability into the product in the first place. Or, they could answer industry critics, and let their dealers make a little bit more of the profit and still keep the prices the same or lower.

I think most people would rather pay more and know they aren't buying a lemon, than to pay less and then find out that their new car fails The Lemon Test.

Tuesday

Univ Michigan's Customer Satisfaction Survey Chooses Toyota #1

Since 1994 the University of Michigan's School of Business has been conducting its "American Customer Satisfaction Index" and new results have just been released. For the second year in a row, Toyota came out on top.

The study measures consumer attitudes about businesses and the economy and covers much more than just motor vehicle satisfaction, including such things as government web sites and covering a whole range of goods and services, from appliances to news to search engines, etc. Apple tops the computer list; Dell's #2 ranking was obviously taken before news of their long-term flammable and bursting batteries broke and their 4 million battery recall was announced.

The results can be fascinating. Sometimes surprising, sometimes not.

For instance, other consumer studies have also shown the imports to rank higher in customer satisfaction and quality, so it's no surprise to see this one list Toyota on top. Buick, Honda and Lexus tie for second place. Buick is the surprise there for most people, ranking above every other US make and above the likes of BMW and Mercedes. However, in our experience litigating lemons for nearly 30 years, we'd have to agree with this top 4 ranking.

Historically, we've always seen more consumers complaining about Mercedes and BMW than any Buick model. In fact, the only GM model better than a Buick was the Oldsmobile. Never could figure out why they pulled the plug on the Olds line, which historically seemed to be the best in GM quality.

In the 50's, Chevrolet was touted by Dina Shore to be the ideal average family car and that may explain why their satisfaction rating sits dead center on the industry average (which was an improvement over last year's Chevy rating). Meanwhile, Hyundai has spent the last decade increasing its satisfaction rating by more than 20% and now ties with Cadillac. That's a remarkable improvement for a product that was at the bottom of the list just ten years ago. Obviously someone woke up.

Ford, Jeep and Kia trailed in a tie for dead last on the Satisfaction index. Ford and Chrysler's Jeep have certainly had their share of troubles, but Hyundai's control of Kia has caused huge strides in style and quality in the last few years. I guess they are still trying to shake off that haunting "the Sportage is nothing but a modern Yugo" reputation.

If you're satisfied with your car, then you're ahead of the game. If you've got a lemon, though, check out this Summary of US Lemon Laws and do something about it. You can write a letter to the manufacturer complaining about your lemon. Those complaints made a difference at Hyundai ten years ago, and they can make a difference at Ford and Jeep and Kia today.

Saturday

The World (of Car Sales) is Flat

With sales stagnating and falling, car sales are flat no just in the US, but also all around the world right now. What does that mean for you? We'll talk about that in just a minute...

For the first time, last month more American auto buyers bought a new Toyota than a new Ford, and Toyota didn't hesitate to toot its horn. Of course, that means they are now eyeing their next step up, most likely. How in the world can Detroit stop this trend?

I could be wrong, but maybe the answer is simpler than the experts think.

Build what people emotionally want. Increase quality. Decrease price. Or, better yet, do any combination of the above if you can (the more the better). The result, you'll increase market share too.

For more than half a century, US car makers were practically the only game in town. Even when the imports began arriving en masse, they were viewed as cute but just not a real threat. It took a while for imports to figure out the American car buying public and they made a lot of missteps along the way.

Ugly cars. Like the Subaru 360.

Wimpy engines. Like the 35 hp engine in the Hino Contessa.

And some downright wierd ideas. Like the Suzuki Suzulight with its 2 cylinder engine. That's right. Just two cylinders. Sort of a like a lawn mower with seats, a roof, and windows.

Ugly, wimpy and wierd. At least that's what a lot of US buyers thought. So how did they sell them? Okay, if you don't build what people emotionally want, and the quality is just so-so, then you make them cheap. They did. They sold. They stayed alive in the US market place for the time being, while they tried harder to figure it out. And it worked. It gave them a toe hold while R&D went to work, studying US cars, US buyers, and the US market in general. It took them awhile, but they figured it out.

The imports realized that they could make cars cheaper but that just selling their foreign cars, with their foreign designs and foreign styles, wasn't going to appeal to most of the US marketplace. They had to adapt their cars to US tastes and desires if they were going to survive here. So they went to work.

It took a long time, and admittedly (like any big manufacturer) they made mistakes along the way, but it worked. Now Toyota has topped Ford in sales last month. Ford is still ahead in total sales for the year, so far, but Ford faces a formidable task ahead of it. Toyota won't quit.

Maybe there's something to that "Quality is Job 1" idea that Ford had awhile back. After all, Americans grew up on the idea of being "the best." If Ford (and GM, too, for that matter) will get back to their roots and start building cars again that really are the best, and sell them at a fair price too, people will return to the showroom. But for now, the showrooms are nearly empty. And that's where we started out today.

Getting people back in the new car showroom won't be easy. But getting back to basics can help. Build what people emotionally want. Stop making a car that looks just like every other car out there.

Increase quality. People are tired of paying good money for bad cars --- and they are showing it with their pocketbook. That, I'd bet, is the primary reason Toyota outsold Ford last month. Take a look at our Vehicle Recall List --- Ford recalls are 3 to 1 against Toyota. But it's more than just quantity. Ford recalls vehicles because they catch fire when they just sit in the garage. You rarely see huge Asian-made vehicle recalls and when you do, like the recent Honda one, they might be over things like printing the wrong phone number (to report a safety defect) in their warranty booklet.

And Decrease price. Okay, with tough times in Detroit, this angle is a hard sell. So if you can't drop the price, at least don't increase it. The new model year is about to come out. It'd be nice if Detroit would surprise us and use last year's old prices instead of ratcheting it up another 5% or so again.

Americans will buy American again, and stick with it, when Detroit consistently builds quality into its product, at a fair price, and the cars are emotionally appealing again. Until then, they'll most likely forget about emotion and just buy the best quality for the best price, regardless of whoever is building it. I guess that's what keeps us Lemon Law Lawyers in business so maybe I shouldn't complain.

Thursday

How Repair Order Paperwork Can Cost You

Better safe than sorry. A stitch in time, saves nine. Cover yourself. When it comes to a lemon car, these phrases all mean the same thing: don't count on your local car dealer to help you prove the car they sold you is a Lemon.

Every state has a Lemon Law and Ohio's Lemon Law is one of the strongest. But proving that you've got a lemon can be much easier when the dealer writes up the repair order paperwork right (that may be one reason they don't), and it's up to you to make them do it right. The law says that you have a right to a repair order that accurately documents what is going on when the dealer works on your car, whether it's under warranty or not. And the repair order paperwork is supposed to be accurate.

We recently had our office car in the repair shop for warranty work (it was only 7 months old) and it had to sit there while parts were on order because it wasn't safe to drive. Weeks later, when we went to pick it up, the dealer tried to give us two separate repair orders.

The first repair order said the car had come in the shop, parts were ordered, and the car was "invoiced" back out of the shop and apparently picked up by us the next day. The second repair order made it look like the car had actually come back in the shop a few weeks later, the special ordered parts were then installed, and the car was picked up the next day. Two days out of service, right? Wrong!

The problem was that the car had never left the shop the entire time because it wasn't safe to drive. It was actually out of service for several weeks all at one time, but if you only looked at the repair order paperwork, and you didn't know the truth, it looked like there were really two different repair trips and the total time out of service was just a few days instead of several weeks!

If they do it to us, they'll do it to you. After all, this dealer knew that we were a Lemon Law firm and they did it anyway.

That kind of "playing" with the dates on the paperwork can make your lemon look like it isn't a lemon at all. Then, when things get even worse and you try to argue with the factory rep about the days out of service, they will refuse to believe that your vehicle was out of service for several weeks because, after all, the paperwork says it was two repair trips and only two days out of service.

You may know that your car clearly fits the Lemon Law's "days out of service" requirement, but if your repair order receipts don't help you prove it, it can cost you big time. In fact, inaccurate repair order receipts are often used by the manufacturer to argue against you. You can lose your right to have your Lemon car replaced or bought back, all because the dealer pulled a fast one on you.

So what do you do about it? Fight back!

Don't put up with their game. Insist that your repair order receipt be accurate. Make sure that it correctly reflects the real date your brought your car to the shop and the real date you picked it up, too.

Also make sure that your complaints are accurately written down when you check your car into the shop, in the first place. Then, when you pick up your car, make sure you understand what they did on your vehicle while they had it. If there are any strange terms or phrases, ask what they mean. Then ask them to write it out in plain english. If they refuse, then do it yourself right then and there, on the repair order paperwork.

Don't let a car dealer misrepresent the truth about your car's repair history. Keep your own detailed diary record of all the repair info and save your rental or loaner car receipts. And don't leave them in your car's glove box when you take your car back in the shop next time (they've been known to disappear).

Not sure if you've got a lemon? Take our Lemon Law Test and find out by clicking here.

Sunday

The Service Departments That Make a Difference

The service department is the front line of customer satisfaction or customer irritation. If the dealer's service department treats the customer like gold, the customer stays happy and will put up with almost anything that goes wrong with their vehicle. If they make the customer mad, then tolerance grows short, customer satisfaction goes down the drain, and the customer is one step from a lawyer's office. Smart dealers know that, too.

Lexus, Buick and Cadillac dealers do the best job providing repair and maintenance services for their customers, according to the JD Power 2006 Customer Service Index Study. That explains why we see fewer complaints on those three brands than any others, in spite of a recent and serious safety recall by Buick and Cadillac.

Meantime, VW and Isuzu owners are an unhappy lot with their dealers, according to the survey. That, too, fits what we see, punctuated by VW's recent recall of 362,000 vehicles.

Lexus is at the top of customer satisfaction in the service department survey and you can bet that fact isn't lost on Lexus. They scored 912 on a scale of 1,000. Just a notch behind is Buick, with 911, followed by Cadillac at 909. We aren't surprised to see Lexus at the top of the heap, but while the score may be neck and neck on the Cadillac and Buick numbers, our clients have filed a lot more lawsuits over Cadillac lemons, by far, than Buick. The service departments maybe doing great, but the manufacturing quality seems to be much higher at the Buick plants.

Isuzu bottoms out the list with the worst score for the second year in a row with 781 points, and their sales have reflected it for several years. VW scored 810 points and Suzuki with 823 wasn't far behind. Isuzu and Suzuki both have a checkered history of customer satisfaction troubles. A few years ago VW's quality seemed highly touted but that appears to have fallen, more or less likely in direct proportion to the number of "New Beetle" vehicles on the road.

The survey was based on results from nearly 80,000 drivers of 2003 - 2005 model vehicles and is worth checking out.

Honda Does a Recall Right

You have to give credit where credit's due. Ford and Honda both announced million-car-plus recalls this week, but there's a huge difference between the two. And it says something about putting quality "Job #1" where it counts.

Ford recalled 1.2 million trucks, vans and SUVs because of a fire hazard from a part that has been causing them trouble for years, burning up dozens of vehicles and causing almost 1,500 complaints to the federal government by angry consumers.

Worse yet, this is really just "part 2" of a massive recall that started in 2005 when Ford recalled almost 5 million vehicles with the same problem part. So if you do the math right, it's huge. Cars and trucks that burn up because a $20 part can overheat even when the vehicle is shut off, parked, and the car keys sitting in your coat pocket, hanging in a closet somewhere. Doesn't matter.

A little heat, a short circuit all on its own and Poof! Your whole house can go up in flames if you parked it in your garage. Way to go Ford. Just where was the guy who wrote the jingle: "Quality is Job #1" when you were buying that cheapo $20 part?

Honda, on the other hand, also recalled 1.2 million cars and motorcycles this week, involving 2006 and 2007 Honda and Acura models. How come? A phone number for the vehicle safety hotline was printed wrong. A phone number. Nothing else. Just a phone number. Nothing wrong with the vehicles. Just an error in printing a phone number, but it was a number that mattered and Honda cared enough to fix it.

Ford built flammable cars and trucks. Honda printed a wrong phone number. Which one would you rather buy? It's no wonder Ford's having money trouble.