Question: I financed a 2014 Jeep Compass and three times already went in for service for the same problem to no avail each time. I still have the same problem — and this is supposed to be new car with less than 9,000 miles. What do you advise?
— Johnson in Pennsylvania
Howard Dvorkin CPA answers…
Cars and homes are often the two most expensive items we’ll ever own, so I take a keen interest in questions like this. Sadly, you can live a frugal and responsible life and still get buried under debt if you get stuck with a broken-down car or house.
In your case, Johnson, there’s a law that protects you. It’s called a Lemon Law. These are state laws, not federal, so they vary by where you live, but they accomplish the same: Force the dealer to give you a refund or a replacement vehicle if you can prove the vehicle is a “lemon.”
Here’s the Pennsylvania Lemon Law. Like many state laws, it has some limitations, but you seem to qualify. First, you can’t have driven the vehicle more than 12,000 miles. Second, the vehicle’s defect must “substantially impair the use, value or safety of the vehicle and occur within one year after delivery.”
Then you have to call “the manufacturer’s zone representative at the telephone number listed in your vehicle’s owner manual.” If the manufacturer won’t help you, you can ask for an arbitration hearing. If the decision goes your way, the manufacturer is bound by it — but you aren’t. You can then file a private lawsuit.
You might be thinking, “Wow, this can get very complicated.” Here’s some advice for shortening the process.
The next time you take your Jeep to the dealer for the next inevitable repair, print out your state law at the link above and take it with you to the dealer. I’ve heard many stories from clients over the years that simply showing the dealer a print-out of their state’s Lemon Law is enough to motivate the service department to fix the problem.
So try that first, Johnson, but if it doesn’t work, use the law and see if it works for you. Please tell me what happens, and if there’s anything I can do to help.
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Email your question to email@example.com and Howard Dvorkin will review it. Dvorkin is a CPA, chairman of Debt.com, and author of two personal finance books, Credit Hell: How to Dig Yourself Out of Debt and Power Up: Taking Charge of Your Financial Destiny.