What to do when you buy a lemon in Louisiana.
by Fred A. Pharis, J.D.
Residents of Louisiana have specific legal remedies when it comes to buying defective products. You may have to hire a lawyer, but you can go a long way toward protecting yourself and perhaps resolving the less serious problems on your own. If it turns into a large problem, and you follow these pointers, it will make it easier to win a lawsuit or force a settlement.
These legal principles apply equally to anything you buy, although special laws give car buyers some additional remedies. Louisiana has superior laws when it comes to consumers rights. See this explanation of what automobile "lemon law" in Louisiana is all about. Also, look to the special sections pertaining to new homes, mobile homes, and pleasure products for additional information. Below are some important things to remember, and will help you immensely when you have a problem, especially with a new car or truck.
1. Report the problem. You must report problems and defects to the seller and ask him or it to repair it. Whether you're having a problem with a car, motor home, mobile home (see section on mobile homes for special information) or anything else you buy, the law gives the seller, and in certain cases, the manufacturer, the legal right to attempt a repair. Therefore, you can almost never go wrong by complaining and complaining until it's fixed right or it's clear it's not going to be fixed. Don't argue with a manufacturer's rep about the number of times or days for repair under Louisiana's lemon laws. Know the real law, by clicking here for an explanation of what automobile "lemon law" in Louisiana is all about. Then, when you've done all you can, go see an attorney.
2. Document your complaints. It is helpful to document your complaints if later the other attorney, judge, jury, manufacturer's representative or corporate legal staff needs to be convinced of your efforts to have the problem fixed. This can often mean the difference between a runaround, going to trial or settling, or getting a full refund or partial refund. Therefore, when returning the vehicle or object to the seller for repair, make sure you've written down all your complaints, no matter how small, give it to the employee and keep a copy for yourself. This is also important if you end up taking legal action. Also, make a note of who you talked to and what was said. Finally, ask for a copy of the seller's invoice or. You'll often be told it's not necessary for you to have a copy since it's a warranty repair and you didn't have to pay anything. Insist anyway. If the service person gets defensive, tell him it makes sense for you to keep your own records if a continued problem occurs out of the warranty, so the manufacturer may agree to fix it again.
3. Take your case to the manufacturer. Don't just complain to the seller or dealership. Find out the address of the manufacturer and write to him. Look in owner's manuals and pamphlets, or call the dealer/seller. If there is an (800) number provided by the manufacturer, make the call, but write down when you made the call and take down the person's name you're talking to. Be specific in what you're requesting - if you think you deserve a refund and a return, demand one. If you want a specific repair, make it clear.
4. Find out if there's a "secret warranty". Many times, manufacturers, especially of cars and trucks, encounter recurring problems with a specific model of car or of a component they put in many makes and models. Car and truck manufacturers will often send out a "Service Bulletin" to their dealerships telling them how to fix it and paying for it even if the vehicle's "out of warranty". But, only if the customer complains will they ever know. So, ask the dealer if there's a service bulletin about your specific complaint. Talk to mechanics or other owners and see if these repairs have been covered without charge for other people. Ask the service manager or store owner if there's a special adjustment the manufacture gives.
5. Collect paperwork on the repairs. In addition to keeping copies of your written complaints and notes of your contacts with manufacturers, make sure you get a repair order or at least something in writing on the dealer's form showing when you brought it in and what was done. This can be in the form of a repair order, invoice, or computer network readout. Sometimes, a car dealer may try to avoid giving you a repair order, and may tell you, if it's fixed under warranty, that you don't need it. Demand it anyway. Remember, what is written down by the person responsible for repairing it can't later be denied.
The government may help.
If you get no response or no results after several attempts to remedy the problem, government agencies can sometimes help. The Louisiana Attorney General's Office has a consumer section that will sometimes intervene for you. The telephone number is (504) 342-9638. The Louisiana Motor Vehicle Commission has an investigator that may be able to help. The telephone number is (504) 568-5282 for new cars, for used vehicles, (504) 925-3870.
The Federal Housing and Urban Development office is charged with investigating consumer complaints about mobile homes that may be safety-related. You may have to call Washington for this, though. And, federal agencies' response time may be slower. The number is (800) 927-2891 . The Louisiana Manufactured Housing Commission now handles consumer complaints and will investigate and cite the manufacturer, seller, and/or installer, which may lead to an additional repair.
Other federal agencies may be able to help. The National Traffic and Highway Safety Administration can give you information on whether or not there have been recalls for your vehicle or for other products. You may be able to use this information to get the attention of the manufacturer or dealer. Their Auto Safety Hotline Number is (800) 424-9393. For general recall information provided by the Federal Trade Commission, the number is (202) 326-2222.
See our lists of numbers and contacts page for even more.
Investigate on your own.
Published lists of the "service bulletins" described above exist on several Internet web sites. To view some, go to our Links page. Edmunds.com and Alldata.com will give a list of Service Bulletins, although not the actual text, but a descriptive name or general description, which may be enough to help make your case. For a fee, Alldata.com will give you the full text and access to repairs tips, although the newest car information isn't always published there.
If the vehicle was sold as a "new" demonstrator, "new" "program car", or relatively low mileage used car, and has several thousand miles on it, try to get its service history from a previous owner. The dealership you bought it from may give you this information. In Louisiana, the Office of Motor Vehicles will give you a "title history", with copies of previous titles issued on a car or other vehicle, for about $10.00 (call before you send a check). The number and address is:
Office of Motor Vehicles, P. O. Box 64886, Baton Rouge, LA 70896
To view a sample letter to send, go to the Sample Letter page.
Know the law.
Note: The following principles are derived from the Louisiana law of "redhibition". Although the term "lemon law" is used on this site, Louisiana citizens (even if you bought it in another state) and buyers (even if you don't live in Louisiana, but brought a product here) have the benefit of redhibition's much stronger laws. The Louisiana "Lemon Law", which applies only to consumer vehicles, has many traps and overly technical rules to follow. Therefore, the following explanation does not address itself to the "lemon law" as such, but to the redhibition law's much more consumer friendly requirements. Plus, the redhibition law applies to anything you buy, not just cars, and not just consumer purchases, but also commercial purchase situations:
1. Repairs don't have to go on forever. You must give the seller or manufacturer notice and a reasonable opportunity to repair. If you are dealing with a franchised dealer, notice to them is notice to the manufacturer. This does not mean that continued repair attempts must go on forever, but whatever seems reasonable under the circumstances. If a part must be ordered, you probably should wait a reasonable amount of time for it to come in. If you have a defect that is safety-related (puts you or your family in danger of a crash or fire) and the dealership can't guarantee a repair will fix the problem, call an attorney immediately.
2. If your problem is with a passenger vehicle (car, light truck, or van), a reasonable opportunity to repair may be as little as four times for repair of the same problem or if the vehicle has been in the shop 30 days during the first year for any combination of problems, whichever happens first. These rules, taken from the so-called "Lemon Law" have been applied to redhibition cases, but technically, it can be less times for repair, especially if safety-related.
3. Multiple defects, even if many are small, count just as much. If you have had excessive numbers of repairs, many for different, otherwise insignificant problems, you still have rights. The cumulative effect of multiple repairs will be considered by a court. A transmission doesn't have to fall out, an engine blow, or a roof leak for you to be able to assert your legal rights. The overall picture of the type of use (good or bad) you've gotten out of the product is what counts.
4. Don't let them tell you it's "out of warranty". The fact that the manufacturer's written warranty has expired (for example 30 days on labor, 90 days on parts for TV's, electronic equipment, or 12 months/12,000 miles on some cars) does not usually restrict your rights under Louisiana law. The rules you've been reading about on this page are given by law as "implied", or silent, warranties that are in your favor even if you didn't know about them at the time of the sale. So, don't let the seller or manufacturer tell you they can set time limits on your rights.
One famous example is the many paint complaints about some cars and trucks built in the late 80's and early 90's. Premature flaking and peeling of the paint led to literally millions of repaintings, some painted years after the standard warranty had expired. Many consumers were able to force the manufacturer to pay because they knew their rights, even though their cars had many more miles than the standard express warranty.
Hire an attorney.
It has been my experience that large manufacturers are often guilty of ignoring customers with valid complaints. If you try to deal with the dealership to get away from a car or truck, they will often try to capitalize on a consumer's misfortune by offering a trade-in deal on a lemon, often at a profit for them. If you've followed most of the suggestions in this letter and still are not satisfied, it is important to know that Louisiana and some federal laws provide for penalties against manufacturers, or sometimes even sellers, by forcing them to pay at least part of a successful consumer's attorney's fees.
Most attorneys who represent consumers do not charge a fee for consulting in person or over the phone and may be able to offer advice that will solve your problem without filing a lawsuit. However, if a lawsuit is necessary, it is advisable to find an attorney who is experienced in consumer law and in trial law to offer you the greatest opportunity for success. To view Pharis Law Offices' normal fee arrangements, go to How We Charge For Our Services. See below to submit your claim electronically to Pharis Law Offices.
Copyright: Fred A. Pharis, Pharis Law Offices, 2008