Monday

Judge Orders Wrecked Records Made Public

Last week, in a little publicized decision, car owners won against the federal government when a federal judge ordered the federal government to get to work and set up a system by March 2009 so consumers can find out if cars and trucks have been badly damaged by floods, fires or car crashes.

It's something the government was supposed to have done years ago when the US Congress passed a law saying that the public needed an open database of damaged vehicles that the public could access for free, so they could make good buying decisions of used cars and trucks and avoid being victimized by crooked car dealers and shady repair shops who rebuild wrecked cars, or worse, and sell them back into the marketplace.

Under the court order, insurance companies and salvage yards and junkyards will be required to provide information on damaged vehicles. We say it's about time.

It is shameful that Washington bureaucrats have stalled and delayed while private database systems have made millions of dollars by selling to consumers the very information that the government is supposed to have been making available for free years ago. It's no wonder consumers are fed up with lifer politicians and fat cat pencil pushers who do you and me no good at all while feeding at the taxpayer's trough.

In court, government officials actually told the judge that they didn't need a court order to comply with the law and that the court could trust them to get it done without imposing a deadline. Yeah, right, guys.

Now facing a final deadline, it only took the feds a week to begin the final process of getting the system in place. It's sort of like it took a federal judge to get the process started and then all of a sudden the feds were ready. Makes you wonder ...

This is a good example of why we need a change in Washington. For too long consumers have not been protected by congressional representatives who would rather take donations from industry sources to protect big business while consumers get ripped off. For too long lobbyists have had the inside edge while consumers have gotten the cold shoulder.

Maybe now the system can start to change. About time.

Friday

Secret Early Warning Data Now Public

After years of secrecy that was endorsed by the current administration in Washington DC, followed by lawsuits and Freedom of Information Act requests that wouldn't go away, federal safety investigators finally opened up their secret Early Warning Reporting data to the public.

Public Citizen, the consumer watchdog group, should be given a hearty thanks by all consumers because without their patient persistence it would never have happened.

The data was required to be compiled by vehicle manufacturers and turned over to federal safety investigators at NHTSA (the federal agency in charge of vehicle recalls) after Congress passed the 2000 Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability, and Documentation Act so that federal safety investigators would finally know what the manufacturers knew --- the defects that they were getting sued over. It was largely the result of the Firestone tire and Ford Explorer rollovers fiasco that caught federal safety investigators by surprise.

Opening up online, the searchable database finally gives consumers a chance to see what known defects are out there on cars and trucks so they can avoid buying used lemons. Unfortunately NHTSA is still withholding some critical info (such as the number of consumer complaints, the number of factory field reports, and data compiled on claims involving death and injury), but it's a start.

The value of the previously secret data is obvious when one realizes that it was instrumental in 84 federal safety investigations in the first 8 months of 2008 alone and nearly 30% of those were purely the result of the data alone with no other info even considered before starting the investigations. After all, it'd be nice to know if that shiney new car in the showroom is the same model that has already been sued over for ignition switch fires in half a dozen states (something you might have found out about the 12 million Fords that were recalled in staggered stages if the data had been made public in time, and 5 million of them have still never been fixed).

The purpose of the 2000 TREAD law was to raise public awareness about safety defects and improve public oversight of factory and NHTSA decisions on defects and recalls. While manufacturers have always been required to report some data to federal safety investigators, not all of the available data was being reported and most of the key data was being kept secret by NHTSA, mostly thanks to pressure from the manufacturers and some industry-friendly politicians.

Granted NHTSA is late to the party here, but at least they showed up. Now if they'd only go the whole distance and make public all of the data they get from the factories. Why? Because we, the public through our tax dollars, own that data and we are the bosses of NHTSA. We just need to get the industry-friendly politicians out of the way so the federal safety investigators at NHTSA know it.

Meanwhile, if you've got a lemon, don't put up with the runaround from anyone. Call or email us today so we can squash your lemon for you. We know where it came from. We know how to make them take it back. After all, that's what we do. Everyday.

Monday

Frozen Credit Records Equals Protection

For several years we've been advocating that giving consumers the right to "freeze" their credit record would go a long way to stop identity theft. After all, your credit record is what most identity thieves want to get at.

Now, more and more states are passing laws that require credit reporting agencies to do just that. Ohio has now joined the list.

For $5 you can lock your credit record down so that no one can get at it. If the thief can't use your personal info to open up a charge account and rip you off, then you have that much more protection.

This kind of freeze is different from a fraud alert because it does not have a time limit and is available to anyone, not just people who have become an identity theft victim. With the new law you can get a personal identification number to use so that you can remove or temporarily authorize the release of your credit file when you really do want to open up a new account, etc.

To take advantage of the new law and freeze your credit file, or to put a fraud alert on your file, just call the credit agencies at the numbers below or go online.

Equifax: 1.877.576.5734, www.equifax.com
Experian: 1.888.397.3742, www.experian.com/fraud
TransUnion: 1.800.680.7289 www.transunion.com

Protect yourself. Don't let credit thieves ruin your life.

Burdge Law Office
www.OhioFairCredit.com

Helping consumers protect themselves since 1978.

Thursday

Rebate or Best Interest Rate?

Do you take the rebate or the zero rate loan? Which is better for you?

Manufacturers often try to boost sales by offering new car buyers either a rebate or "zero" (or low) rate financing, but it can be hard to figure out which is the better deal for you. You can go with your gut hunch or you can figure it out for sure.

Before now, figuring it out wasn't real easy but that's changed.

Bankrate.com has built on their website (click here) a calculator that lets you put all the numbers in and then compares them so you can see the real cash difference. Just plug the numbers in and it tells you the best deal in plain English.

For instance, let's take a look at a $20,000 loan over 4 years (try never to go over 4 years or you'll hear the car dealer start talking about "Negative Equity" when you go to trade it in any earlier than 2 or 3 years down the road; that and other car dealer terms can be learned by clicking here for our Car Dealer Dictionary).

If you can get a 5% loan rate and take a rebate of $1,000, is that a better deal than if you can get a zero interest rate but no rebate money in your pocket? At first glance, it seems like it and that's what Detroit wants you to think, but you'd be wrong.

Turns out that if you take the zero rate loan you'd save yourself $1,000. In other words, the rebate equals the interest you'd save. Now that you know the real truth, the decision becomes different. It's just a matter of do you want to pay higher payments each month or get that $1,000 in your pocket right now? You can see that actually, if you take the higher interest rate loan then you basically are borrowing that $1,000 from yourself because the loan will cost you $1,000 more than it would if you just took the zero rate in the first place.

The numbers can change depending on the interest rates in your area and the rebate numbers for the vehicle you are considering. And don't forget that often the manufacturer will give the dealer their own rebate (they call it "incentive money") so take advantage of that too.

Manufacturers don't make it easy to pick and choose your best deal, what with gas savings, rebates, dealer incentives, 1.9 and zero rate loans, and all the rest. Bankrate.com makes it a little easier.

Of course you still have to avoid the lemons out there. And the binding mandatory arbitration clauses too.

Burdge Law Office
www.NewCarLemonLaw.com

Helping people get rid of lemon cars and trucks since 1978. It's what we do. Everyday.

Click here to see what your state's Lemon Law says a lemon car or truck is.