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Friday, August 31, 2007

Huge Red Firetruck A Big Yellow Lemon

If there was a "lemon law" that covered firetrucks, the city of Muskegon might have an excellent claim with its 7-year-old, 100-foot ladder truck -- a piece of equipment known as Unit L-44 or, in less formal terms, a big fat headache.

"We've had issues with this truck since it was new," says Mark Kincaid, the city's director of public safety for fire services.

Things started going downhill shortly after the $600,000 aerial truck arrived here in 2000, according to Kincaid.

"The day it was delivered it blew a hydraulic line and went back to the factory for six months," Kincaid said. "I hate to use the 'L' word, but we've had issues from bumper to bumper with this truck, and with almost every system."

The truck's biggest failure involves its 100-foot ladder and bucket assembly. According to Kincaid, the sheave pins and pulleys that extend and retract the ladder have never worked properly. Otherwise, it has been used to fight fires and other emergencies from Station No. 4 at Laketon Avenue and Lakeshore Drive.

The truck was purchased mainly for fighting large commercial and industrial fires, as well as those on the upper stories of high-rise apartment buildings.

The city has 75-foot ladder capability with its Engine 24, Kincaid said, but has had to rely on mutual aid from Muskegon Heights or Norton Shores if it needed to go higher in fighting a fire.

Nearly two years ago, city officials began talks with the manufacturer to see about getting the balky ladder fixed.

Complicating matters was the fact that both General Safety, the manufacturer of the truck body, and Aerial Innovations, which built the ladder apparatus, have since been bought out by other companies.

But now, after much wrangling, the city has reached an agreement with Rosenbauer America LLC, of Wyoming, Minn., which has since absorbed General Safety as one of its divisions.

By agreement, Rosenbauer will work with RK Aerials of Fremont, Neb., to evaluate and possibly repair the ladder apparatus and have it certified as meeting National Fire Protection Association standards.

In exchange for being released of any blame for the faulty ladder assembly, Rosenbauer has agreed to absorb the cost of repairs as long as the job does not exceed $25,000. Kincaid said a recent inspection done here by representatives of the two companies indicates the cost should be "well under" that amount.

Muskegon's cost will be paying an estimated $5,100 to a transportation company to get the truck to and from the proper repair facilities, a round trip of about 1,700 miles.

The city's troubles with L-44 started well before Kincaid arrived. The truck was ordered by his predecessor, then-Fire Chief Patrick Simpson, who resigned in late 2003.

A few months after taking over the department, Kincaid told city commissioners the city needed to buy better-quality fire vehicles with stronger warranties.

Among his specific recommendations was to buy from a single-source manufacturer, in which the same company builds the chassis, body and aerial equipment, all covered by a single warranty.

Kincaid said that after the truck is repaired and certified, he and other city officials would decide whether to keep the truck a few more years or sell it before its value depreciates further. The city has sold a fire pumper in the past on eBay, city equipment supervisor Brett Kraley said.

Robert C. Burns, Muskegon Chronicle

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Laundered Lemons Sold To Unsuspecting Consumers

When Stephen and Michelle Steiner won their lemon-law case against Volkswagen of America last fall, the Stratham, N.H., couple were thrilled. At last they were free of the 2003 Passat wagon that they were afraid to drive.

But delight turned to dismay early this year when Mrs. Steiner, curious about what had become of the car, searched the Internet and found it advertised by a used-car dealer near Rochester as a “perfect family car” with a “clean title.”

The Passat had been anything but perfect. The car had already had three repairs for fuel-pump problems, and the Steiners had become so worried about its stalling that they stopped driving it last summer. New Hampshire had declared it a lemon, so Mrs. Steiner could not believe there was no warning in the online ad about its troubled past.

“I was flabbergasted,” she said. “I thought they would have to let it be known that it was a lemon.”

A few states to the west, Julia and Manuel Moreno found themselves on the other end of a transaction involving a used lemon. In 2005 while living in Wooster, Ohio, they bought a used 1998 Kia Sportage. After a series of problems, they discovered that in 2000 Kia Motors America had bought the vehicle back from its original owner as a lemon. The Morenos said the S.U.V. had steering and suspension problems.

The definition of a lemon varies by state, but in general the vehicle has had a serious problem that remains uncorrected despite several attempts to fix it. A car could also be a lemon if it has had a series of different problems that has made it unavailable to the consumer for a long period, often 30 days.

All 50 states have lemon laws, according to the International Association of Lemon Law Administrators. Once a car is determined to be a lemon, usually by an independent arbitration board, the manufacturer is required to buy it back.

But as the Steiners and Morenos have learned, the car can cause problems after that, because of inconsistent state laws on how lemons are handled. Even if one state requires the title to be branded as a “lemon” or “buyback,” consumer advocates and state officials say there is a good chance the car can be sold in another state with no indication on the title of its troubled past.

“Crossing state lines opens very dangerous opportunities for washing titles or eliminating the branding,” said Attorney General Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.

Bob Russo, who headed New Jersey’s lemon law program for 16 years and is now president of the Consumers League in that state, said society was so mobile that without a uniform national policy consumers cannot be protected against buying vehicles that had serious problems or might be dangerous.

To see what happens to lemons, Experian Automotive, which specializes in collecting and analyzing automotive data, picked at random 1,000 Florida vehicles that were branded lemons, from a list on a state Web site. Experian found that 555 had been taken out of the state. And four-fifths of those 555 cars no longer had titles branding them as lemons, according to an analysis conducted for The New York Times.

Automakers say that if a lemon’s history is lost it is not their fault. They insist that they require paperwork intended to make sure used-car dealers and consumers know the vehicle had been bought back. In addition, they say, mechanical problems are fixed before the vehicles are resold.

But consumer advocates are skeptical about such claims, saying that if lemons were easy to repair they wouldn’t be lemons. They also note cases where automakers or dealers were caught reselling lemons without warning consumers.

In 2002, the California Department of Motor Vehicles settled an eight-year-old case with Chrysler. The automaker paid $325,000 after the agency found that Chrysler committed fraud by selling 119 lemons — some with unrepaired safety defects — to consumers. Chrysler did not admit any wrongdoing, said Armando E. Botello, a spokesman for the agency. Lisa Barrow, a Chrysler spokeswoman, said that the case was old and that Chrysler “is an ethical company that adheres to all state lemon laws.”

That same year, General Motors paid a $110,000 fine to the State of Ohio because the titles of 515 lemons were not properly branded.

While all states have lemon laws, only 19 — including New York, New Jersey and Connecticut — require the title of a lemon vehicle to be branded with a warning like “lemon” or “manufacturer buyback,” according to a survey by The New York Times.

That warning can easily be lost when the vehicle is sold in another state, because so many states lack provisions for carrying over the lemon designation, said Keith Kiser, vice president for vehicle services at the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators.

The number of lemons bought back each year is unclear because automakers decline to provide details, and they are not required to do so. But estimates by consumer groups and state officials range from 25,000 to 60,000 a year.

Whatever the annual number, it is clear that hundreds of thousands of lemons have been bought back by automakers and resold to consumers since lemon laws became more common about 15 years ago, said Rosemary Shahan, president of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, an advocacy group in Sacramento.

After a lemon is bought back, the automaker usually sells it at a car auction for dealers. Rodney Davis, vice president for dispute resolution with the Council of Better Business Bureaus, said automakers made sure lemons were clearly marked when they were sent to those auctions. The potential for the lemon branding to be lost is greater when the dealer then resells the vehicle, he said.

“In some cases it may be an innocent mistake,” Mr. Davis said, “and in other cases it may not be an innocent mistake.”

In 2003, while he was attorney general of New York, Eliot Spitzer required 56 used-car dealers to pay $50,000 in penalties and refund $200,000 to 37 consumers who had not been warned that the cars they bought were lemons.

The Steiners said their Passat is proof that the system can fail and that it can be the automaker’s fault. On the “repurchased vehicle disclosure statement” that accompanied the Passat when it went to auction, VW did not mark the section that reads, “to resolve lemon law claim.”

That disclosure form was filled out and signed by the VW official in Michigan to whom the Steiners sent all the lemon-law paperwork. So that official had to know the car was a lemon, Mrs. Steiner said.

A VW spokesman, Keith Price, said an error was made on the form.

Tony LoCurto, sales manager at the dealership that offered the Passat for sale, Sutherland Auto Sales in Pittsford, N.Y., said he did not know the Passat was a lemon because of the incorrect disclosure form. Mr. LoCurto said Sutherland, which is not a Volkswagen dealer, probably paid more for the Passat than it should have, given that it was a lemon.

Mr. Price said recently that VW had repurchased the Passat from Sutherland. It was sold yet again this month at a Pennsylvania auction, but no details were available last week.

While New Hampshire had declared the Passat a lemon, Mr. LoCurto could send potential buyers the Steiner’s original “clean” title. That was possible because although New Hampshire considered the Passat a lemon and put that information in its computer, the vehicle moved out of state, said Katie Daley, a spokeswoman for the state Division of Motor Vehicles. Had the car been repurchased in New Hampshire, the new owner would have received a lemon-designated title. But when VW sold the vehicle in New York, the car’s lemon history was lost, she said.

Ken Brown, a spokesman for the New York Department of Motor Vehicles, said a New York title was not required for the vehicle to be brought into the state and sold.

As for the Morenos with the troubled Kia Sportage, the problem wasn’t that the S.U.V. was sold out of state. Rather, its title was never properly branded as a lemon, as required under Ohio law.

In 2005, the Morenos sued Kia. The company’s lawyers did not deny that Kia had failed to notify the state, but argued that the Morenos had waited too long to file suit, according to court records.The suit was settled out of court. The Morenos, who now live in West Virginia, still have the car but say they are afraid to drive it. A Kia spokesman, Alex Fedorak, said a company hired by Kia was supposed to brand the title. That company no longer works for Kia, he said.

The issue of lemon laundering has concerned consumer groups for more than a decade; the Federal Trade Commission called a meeting on lemon laundering in 1996. At the meeting, auto company officials said they would accept strong safeguards against laundering as long as the regulations applied nationally, making compliance easier by reducing state-to-state variations.

But consumer groups expressed concern that a federal rule, which would pre-empt state laws, might offer less protection than the strongest state laws, according to several participants. Faced with a lack of consensus, the F.T.C. took no action. “The F.T.C. didn’t really do anything,” said Ms. Shahan, whose group had asked for the meeting.

As a result, there is not much buyers can do to protect themselves, consumer advocates say. Buyers can use a vehicle-history service like Experian Automotive’s AutoCheck (autocheck.com) and Carfax (carfax.com). But some consumer advocates say there may be gaps or delays in the car’s history before information is updated.

What is really needed to protect consumers is a national database of lemon vehicles, said Carol Roberts, executive director of the International Association of Lemon Law Administrators.

Article excerpt from the New York Times - 8/26/07.

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Friday, August 24, 2007

Is Your Home A Lemon- A Texas Consumer Wages War Against Builder, Local Government and Housing Industry

We've all heard the horror stories about consumers who are unlucky enough to purchase a defective car, truck, suv, motorcycle or mini-van, but what sort of protection could you be entitled to if your home, the largest investment you will probably ever make, turns out to be a lemon?

Texas Grandmother and former conservative Jordan Fogel found out the hard way. Bob and Jordan Fogel, senior citizens, bought their "dream" home in April 2002 for $368,564, investing nearly everything they had. The first disappointment came on the day they moved in. Bob Fogal, weary from unpacking, trudged upstairs to relax in his new whirlpool bath. When he got out, he pulled the plug and "all 100 gallons of that water came down through the dining room ceiling, into the light fixtures, down the columns, onto my dining room table and Oriental rugs," Jordan recalls. "And I just started screaming."

That was only the beginning of a myriad of problems, the bulk of which were related to water seepage issues in many areas of the home, causing water damage and subsequently, rotting and mold. Thus began the Fogel's long and frustrating journey through the bureaucracy of local government, mandatory arbitration and an "old boys network" aka, the Texas Association of Builders.

The Fogel's buyers contract states that any issues concerning their new home's defects should be resolved through "mandatory, binding arbitration" which means that whatever the outcome of this reportedly objective 3rd party arbitration, the consumer is bound by the decision.

Mrs. Fogel became an outspoken advocate for an amendment to the states lemon law that would cover new homes and offer more consumer protection to buyers. That Bill HB 1038, Amendment 27 was brought before the Texas house on July27, 2007. It is through her zealous efforts that this amendment has even become a possibility.

If you are experiencing issues with your home, or suspect fraud involving the contract, contact Texas Lemon Law Firm.

Post information provided in part by TheConsumerist.com

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Carmakers Increasingly Under Fire For Using Run-Flat Tires

As the number of cars being equipped with run-flat tires increases, car buyers are quickly learning that the new design is not all that it's cracked up to be. One automaker adamant in its decision to equip its cars with run-flats instead of installing a proper spare in the trunk is BMW, and it's now starting to experience a consumer backlash from that decision. Many of its customers are frustrated, not only at the shortcomings of the tire itself but also because of the exorbitant bill they face once the tires need to be replaced. Note that many service centers are unable to fix run-flats, and you can forget about re-treads (though that's probably a good thing).

Apart from the high cost of replacing the tires, run-flats are harder to come by and they don't last as long as regular tires either. Though the idea of not having to worry about changing the tire if it gets punctured sounds great, run-flats only have a range of about 50 to 100 miles once the rubber is damaged. Not much solace if you happen to hit a spike in the middle of nowhere.

Along with BMW, Corvette also has run-flats, and Toyota and Honda put them on some minivans.

Apparently, run-flats were introduced because consumers want "the smallest amount of hassle in their lives," according to an engineer from Bridgestone. Perhaps it's time drivers were forced to learn how to change a tire as part of their licensing tests.

Though tires are typically not covered by the manufacturers warranty, view a list of manufacturers most recent warranty information.

[Source: MSN]

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Best Of The Worst - "Lemon" Stories

If you think your car is a lemon, read some of the posts to an auto enthusiast's blog from other consumers, detailing why they think they have the "worst" lemon experience. The manufacturers, models and model years are all different and many of the stories concern vehicles purchased a long time ago, yet the sour feeling of the experience remains years later.

If you need legal help for your lemon, visit the US map and nationwide directory of lemon law attorneys and click on the state where you purchased your vehicle.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Florida Consumer Troubled By Chevy Uplander Defect

Parents of small children often purchase a mini-van specifically for its practicality and many safety features. Florida consumer and mother Elana Collins was greatly distressed when her Chevy Uplander's rear power door unpredictably and continually would pop open while she was driving, her 4 year old seated close to that very door. This story* is what every parent's worst nigtmare.

Imagine buckling your kids into a vehicle and then closing your van door only to have it reopen while you're driving. Chevrolet Uplander owner Elana Collins said it happened to her and she feared for her children's safety.

"To me, this is a big deal," Collins said. "I have my four-year-old sitting next to that door."
She said the rear power door of her 2006 Chevrolet Uplander minivan would pop open on its own. "There is no way to predict when it's going to happen," she said. "[If it] opens on its own at 55 miles an hour, somebody could fall out, debris could come in and hit a child."

The National Highway Traffic Safety administration said it's investigating the situation and confirmed Uplander owners have filed at least at least 12 complaints.

General Motors, which manufactures the van, said it has received no complaints of a door opening while the van is in motion or reports of injuries.

But in 2005, GM did release a routine technical service bulletin that said the 2005 Uplander power doors could malfunction.

And based on the recent complaints, GM launched an internal investigation saying, "We are examining the facts and plan to talk with customers to learn the specifics of their experiences."

According to Collins' account, it happened to her more than a 100 times, including while she was backing out of her driveway. After numerous attempts to get it fixed, she filed a state lemon law complaint and General Motors was ordered to buy back the minivan.

"This is potentially a very serious problem if it's not an abberation that happened to happen to just 12 people in Florida -- anything that involves potentially children," said USA Today automotive expert Jayne O'Donnell. "This is something that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is likely to take very seriously."*

If you are experiencing issues with your Chevy Uplander or other vehicle, get more information on Florida's lemon law and the federal lemon law.

*article from abcnews.go.com, 7/21/07

Friday, August 3, 2007

Defective Tires Manufactured In China

It seems that all products manufactured in China are now under careful scrutiny after recent recalls of everything from pet food to children's toys. Tires are no exception.

The TREAD Act is a federal law passed in 2000 after deaths were linked to rollovers involving Ford Explorers equipped with Firestone tires. The law requires tire makers and importers to inform NHTSA of warranty claims so defects can be spotted before accidents occur.

Between the years 2000 and 2001, Tokyo-based Bridgestone Corp. voluntarily recalled 6.5 million tires designed for the Explorer. Ford Motor Co. replaced another 10.6 million Firestone tires in 2001, saying it didn't have confidence they were safe.

In 2005 NHTSA received complaints on tires manufactured by a company in China, Hangzhou Zhongce Rubber Co., sold in this country under the brand names Westlake, Compass and YKS. The complaints stated the tires have a defect that could cause them to fall apart on the road. If you are experiencing any issues with defective tires find an attorney in your state who can advise you of your rights under defective product law.
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