Price Fixing Becomes Legal

What has your court done to you?

While integration issues took center stage last week with the much-talked-about decision from the US Supreme Court, a more far-reaching decision slipped out completely unnoticed. In a 5-4 split decision, the high court wiped out 96 years of consumer protection and made price-fixing legal again.

The court ruled that manufacturers can set prices and forbid sellers from offering any discounts. This court decision is one that you could quickly feel in your pocketbook. Under the old law, price competition could be fierce, resulting in door buster specials that stores used to draw customers. In the process, smart shoppers could sometimes find money-saving bargains. Well, that may quickly become a thing of the past.

In a case about handbags made in California, the conservative judges ruled that price-fixing deals between manufacturers and their retailers were legal, even if it ends up costing consumers millions of more dollars in excess profits to big corporations. Holding that the rule was "out of date and out of step" in an increasingly global economy, the judges apparently based their decision on the idea that manufacturers would still compete between each other, even if retailers no longer did.

So, when Sony says that new flat panel tv is gonna cost $2,500, it won't do you any good to shop the price at Best Buy or Circuit City or anywhere else.

Whether it's lemonaid or an LCD tv set, one thing is clear: consumers need protection now more than ever. Big business won't protect you and big government gets its money from big business.

I'm not sure if the moral of the story is go out and buy that flat screen tv right away (before they start rigging all the prices), or if we just need to get some new judges up there.


Car Inspectors Can Help You Avoid a Lemon

Buying a used car can be scairy.

Especially if, like most people nowadays, you don't know a lot about cars. You can just take a test drive and hope for the best, but that can be a waste of your money and a financial disaster. That's where car inspectors come in.

It used to be you could take that used car you've been looking at to your local garage. Then Detroit put more and more computers in new cars so that only their dealer could hook up to it.

You could trust one of the big chain tire and repair outfits to find things wrong in a vehicle inspection but the problem is they don't always use the best mechanics and may have no interest in doing alow-profit vehicle inspection. So what to do?

A new breed has come into the picture now. Independent inspectors who don't do anything else. You hire them so they are not beholden to the car dealer who just wants to sell you the car. Their reputation can make or break them, so they tend to care a lot more about telling you the truth about that shiny sportscar or minivan that you are thinking about plunking down a couple months' wages to buy.

Best of all, many of them will go to the dealer so you don't even need to test drive the car. That's good for you, frankly, because many car dealers badly want you behind the wheel on a test drive because your emotion pushes logic aside when you smell that new leather (even if it did come out of a can about an hour before you showed up).

These guys (and gals) may be your answer to avoiding a lemon used car. A mobile used car inspection can be done pretty quickly and pretty cheap. For a hundred bucks or so, you can learn the truth about a car or truck or van and maybe save yourself thousands of dollars in unexpected repairs, to say nothing for hearing those four words that every man who thinks he is mechanically inclined hates with a passion --- "I told you so."

We're going to put up a list of inspectors here in a few days, telling you names and contact info for independent used vehicle inspectors who can help you stay away from someone else's used lemon, so stay tuned.


Free Advice Websites

There's lots of places to find free advice on the web. You can hire professionals, sure, and you probably should when things get too complex or too difficult. But some free advice can at least get you started in the right direction. Here's a few common consumer problems and websites with free advice.

Credit Cards & Banking: has tons of info on checking and savings accounts, mortgages, credit cards and a lot more about how it all works, including credit scores, budgeting and home buying.

Real Estate: is a commercial site run by the National Association of Realtors. It gives you the largest database of homes for sale that you can search in multiple waysand you can even zoom in or out of a neighborhood with its maps.

Personal financial planning: is the official website of the Financial Planning Association. Check out the links and info found under "Public Services" for brochures, articles, a retirment calculator and more. It's really quite cool.

Retirement: gives you info on public and private benefit programs for seniors in every state and DC. It even has application forms for more than 250 programs that pay for drug prescriptions and other health care costs.

And of course our own Consumer Rights: which has tons of info and links and how-to help on everything related to consumers, including common consumer scams, auto repairs, bill collectors, mobile homes, fraud explained, landlord-tenant rights, and much, much more. And don't let the title fool you. Much of the info generally explains consumer rights in all 50 states and DC, but of course you should always check with a lawyer for your own specific situation.

Defective Vehicle Law: explains the Lemon Laws in all 50 states and DC, and has links to local lawyers that can help you get rid of that lemon car or truck.

Credit Rights: covers everything important to understanding how credit works and what your rights are when your credit goes wrong, including how to fix credit report errors, protecting yourself from identity theft, mortgage fraud, and lots more. And don't let the name fool you. Most credit rights come from federal laws so many of the most important credit protection laws are the same everywhere.


Chrysler's Gotta Deal for You

Cash-strapped and loaded with leftovers, Chrysler has just told its dealers that they can put their left over 2006 vehicles in their "loaner car" inventory for just one day and then sell them as "used" cars for thousands less, at Chrysler's expense. That can mean big savings for consumers and price pressure on Ford and GM.

It also tells you how many left over '06 cars and trucks your local Chrysler dealer is stuck with and unable to sell for anything near the sticker or even the dealer invoice cost (the price they pay Chrysler for the vehicle).

To you it can mean a practically new 2006 vehicle for about 2/3 of the sticker price and that's a deep cut on a new car or truck that the dealer typically buys from Chrysler for only about 10 to 12% under the sticker price.

Before now, dealers had to move the last year model new cars into their loaner car inventory and let them sit there for 3 months before they could put them out on the used car lot. The change will cost Chrysler big money but it will enable dealers to unload their slow-moving left over inventory and until they do that many dealers are hesitant to order new 2007 model year vehicles, particularly when there is no visible difference between the two model year styles.

Being stuck with all those left overs has been a major source of irritation for Chrysler dealers, who up to now Chrysler hasn't been willing to help out.

For careful shoppers, it can mean big savings. But if that left-over turns out to be a lemon, it can be a disaster. If so, call us. New lemons, old lemons, any lemons, we sue manufacturers every day over lemon cars and lemon trucks no matter what the brand.


Sex, Lies, & VW's Money

German politicians crawled into bed, quite literally, with VW and now heads are rolling.

The next fraud trial is set to start June 14 wtih Hans-Jürgen Uhl, who represented the co-governing Social Democratic Party (SPD) in the German Parliament for years. Just months ago he resigned and publicly admitted that he had lied about his role in the VW scandal.

"I have not told the truth in dealing with the allegations made against me in this context," Uhl said. "As a result, the assurances I made under oath in court examinations carried out in various media were, to a considerable degree, also false." Well, at least no one named Monica showed up on the list of party-people.

Prosecutors have lined up a 29-year-old Russian prostitute who they say is willing to testify at Uhl’s trial that Uhl took part in a sex orgy in a bungalow in Hanover, Germany. Five other prostitutes are also expected to identify him as a “beneficiary” of the VW-sponsored sex parties. Uhl was a member of VW's works council in 2001. His will be the second trial in the “Sex, Lies & VW Money” affair that has Germany’s corporate world shaking its corporate head.

In the first case, Peter Hartz, a former senior manager at Volkswagen, was got a two-year suspended sentence and was fined $747,000 in January, after he agreed to cooperate. Hartz admitted that he began the corporate abuse that paid millions of dollars in illegal bonuses to the then-head of the company's works council, Klaus Volkert.

Newspaper reports claimed that VW used a slush fund to pay for a Brazilian escort girl, named Josélia, flown from Rio de Janeiro to Mr Hartz’s bedroom in the George V hotel in Paris. He was attending a meeting of the VW board.

Initially Mr Uhl denied any involvement in the VW affair and he provided five affidavits to support his innocence. Now he has admitted publicly to lying.

The court in Wolfsburg will decide whether Mr Uhl knew that the car company was picking up the bill for his entertainment. Twenty-one witnesses, including the prostitutes, will give evidence. If found guilty Mr Uhl would face a fine and a jail term of up to three years.

The VW scandal, which surfaced in June 2005, originally centered on allegations of bribes from potential suppliers and the creation of dummy companies which were used to secure lucrative contracts abroad. But it quickly widened to include claims that VW paid for so-called pleasure trips for work council members to win their allegiance. This included allegations about flying around high-class prostitutes.

Apparently new cars have more to do with sex appeal than one may have thought - even in Europe. Well, when your sexy new car turns into a citrus flavor, call us. We don’t care about the sex part, but the lies and the money part, that we’ll go after for you.


Quality is Job 1 at Ford Again

Years ago Ford's advertising slogan was Quality is Job 1. Well, maybe quality is coming back to Ford.

But in an ironic twist, the best manufacturing plant in America, the one with the lowest defect rate, is the one Ford just shut down in Wixom, Michigan, where the Lincoln Town Car was made. JD Powers' Platinum Plant Quality Award will have to hang on the walls of an empty building.

Still, Ford got five top model segment awards, which is more than any other automaker. The top Ford models were the Mustang, Lincoln Mark LT, Lincoln MKZ, Mercury Milan and the Mazda MX-5 (Ford owns one third of Mazda).

The Lincoln brand improved from 12th place to 3rd, Mercury from 17th to 8th and Ford jumped from 16th to 10th place --- all sizeable gains in the industry. Meanwhile Toyota dropped to 7th place while nothing in the GM or Chrysler stable was above industry average in quality.

Looks like one woke up, one went to sleep, and the others are still in a coma. Go figure.

Maybe, just maybe, quality is coming back to Ford. It's about time. Unlike other manufacturers, Ford seems to be learning the lesson that people want cars and trucks that run right and look good. It helps if the manufacturer will back them up with a solid warranty a good dealer warranty service too. Ford still has some work to do on that end because we still see lots of dealer sales-fraud issues, but Ford isn't alone there.

Of course, Lexus (and now joined by Porsche) still tops the overall quality scoreboard. That's no surprise to anyone though.

If you've got a bad car or truck or rv or atv, the Lemon Law can help you out. Contact us. We're experienced Lemon Law lawyers. We know the law and how to make it work for you.


A Dealer Doc Fee Can Be Fraud

"You mean I didn't have to pay that?"

In many car sales contracts you'll see a charge for what car dealers call a "documentary fee." Watch out! That's nothing but extra profit. Doing the documents is part of what they do in every case so there's not really any extra work involved --- just extra money for the dealer.

Some states, like Ohio, do allow a car dealer to charge the documentary fee if they are arranging your financing, but there's nothing that requires it and there's nothing that says it has to be the maximum amount that even those laws allow under some specific circumstances. Nothing, that is, but greed.

That greed can get out of hand. Take the case of Lithia Motors, where they were hit with a record fine of $500,000, imposed on a dealership chain's nine stores in Alaska.

On top of the half million dollar find, Lithia Motors was also ordered to send $200 refunds to several thousand Alaskans who were charged document preparation fees that the state said had been overcharged or illegally charged. It was the largest fine handed out to an Alaska auto dealership and shows a good example of car dealer greed.

Lithia's 104 dealers, actually based in Oregon, had collected the fees from customers goiong back to 2002.

If a car dealer tries to hit you with $250 for their documentary fees, argue with them. If they won't reduce it for you to something more reasonable, then take your business elsewhere. If you just found out about it and it's too late, then call us. In many cases we can get that back for you and make the car dealer pay us for our time to do it too.

Don't waste your money and don't let a crooked car dealer rip you off. When it happens, call us. That's what we're here for.


The Credit Card Universal Default Ripoff

Quick, call your credit card companies and ask if they use "universal default". If they do, you lose.

With this clause buried away in their "Terms and Conditions" of your credit car, they can charge you huge rates --- up to 35% interest --- if you are late on ANY payment to anyone!

A good example is if you are late on any bill, like your utility bill, then your credit card rate can get jacked up even though it has nothing to do with your utility bill. They'll even hit you with high rates just because the mailman runs late! It's just one more way the credit card companies have come up with on how to rip you off!

PBS' Frontline points out that this Catch 22 clause is now becoming standard in most credit card agreements, and it's increasing.

The clause usually says something like this: All your APRs may increase if you default under any Card Agreement that you have with us because you fail to make a payment to us or any other creditor when due, you exceed your credit line, or you make a payment to us that is not honored.

One report says that 39% of the credit card company customer agreements have a Universal Ripoff clause. That means there's still hope that you can avoid it.

Find out if your credit cards have this clause and, if they do, be forewarned. If you aren't careful they will zap you! It'd be wise to start looking for a credit card company that cares more about how you pay them instead of how they can get more of your money.

This post was inspired by an alert received from my cousin, David Burdge in Florida, who was also struck by the unfairness of this little-known credit card company tactic to take your money.


The Beatles & Judge Todd

Now I know this has nothing to do with cars or consumer law, but I got this from a friend and I just couldn't help but pass it on, just for the sheer fun of it. Judge Gregory Todd, in the Montana 13th Judicial District Court, Yellowstone County, Montana, filed this sentencing memorandum in court on February 26, 2007 in the case of State of Montana vs Andrew Scott McCormack, Cause No. DC 06-0323 (this is the actual text, including his emphasis in bold face print in the actual decision itself):

Mr. McCormack, you pled guilty to the charge of Burglary. To aid me in sentencing, I review the pre-sentence investigation report. I read with interest the section containing Defendant's statement. To the question of "Give your recommendation as to what you think the Court should do in this case," you said "Like the Beetles say, 'Let It Be' ". While I will not explore the epistemological or ontological overtones of your response, or even the syntactic or symbolic keys of your allusion, I will say Hey Jude, Do You Want to Know a Secret? The greatest band in rock history spelled their name B-E-A-T-L-E-S.

I interpret the meaning of your response to suggest that there should be no consequences for your actions and I should just Let It Be so that you could live in Strawberry Fields Forever. Such reasoning is Here, There and Everywhere. It does not require a Magical Mystery Tour of interpretation to know The Word means leave it alone. I trust we can all Come Together on that meaning. If I were to overlook your actions and Let It Be, I would ignore that Day in the Life on April 21, 2006. Evidently, earlier that night you said to yourself I Feel Fine while drinking beer. Later, whether you wanted Money or were just trying to Act Naturally, you became the Fool on the Hill on North 27th Street. As Mr. Moonlight at 1:30 a.m., you did not Think for Yourself but just focused on I, Me, Mine.

Because you didn't ask for Help, Wait for Something else, or listen to your conscience saying Honey Don't, the victim later that day was Fixing a Hole in the glass door you broke. After you stole the 18 pack of Old Milwaukee you decided it was time to Run for Your Life and Carry That Weight. But when the witness said Baby It's You, the police responded I'll Get You and you had to admit that You Really Got a Hold on Me. You were not able to Get Back home because of the Chains they put on you. Although you hope the police would say I Don't Want to Spoil the Party and We Can Work It Out, you were in Misery when they said you were a Bad Boy. When the police took you to jail you experienced Something New as they said Hello Goodbye and you became a Nowhere Man.

Later when you thought about what you did, you may have said I'll Cry Instead. Now you're saying Let It Be instead of I'm a Loser. As a result of your Hard Day's Night, you are looking at a Ticket to Ride that Long and Winding Road to Deer Lodge. Hopefully you can say both now and When I'm 64 that I Should Have Known Better.

Moral of the story: it doesn't pay to get smart with a judge - especially if you are facing jail time.

We can't help you out of jail (we don't do those kinds of cases), but we can help you out of a lemon new car, a lemon truck, or with other consumer law problems - as long as you don't have Judge Todd on your case, that is.