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Squeezing By With Help of Lemon Law

June 29, 1989|RALPH VARTABEDIAN | Times Staff Writer

Question: I have repeatedly had to return my new Chevrolet to the dealer for different repairs. The engine computer went out once, stranding me. Since then, the engine doesn't seem to run right. The power door locks would not work. And just recently, the automatic transmission seems to be making a loud clunk every time it shifts. I am worried I have a lemon. I have heard there is something called a lemon law. What is it and how do I use it?--N.G.

Answer: The vast majority of problems on new cars, even difficult ones that defy the first repair attempt, can be solved without invoking lemon laws, but occasionally a car is so badly built that a motorist has no alternative but to do legal battle with the manufacturer.

Most states, including California, have lemon laws that give new car owners specific legal rights. But the lemon laws require that a series of specific steps be taken to solve the problem.

In California, the lemon law, which is part of 1982 amendments to the Song-Beverly Warranty Act, is administered by the New Motor Vehicle Board. An owner must have a car that's less than a year old and have fewer than 12,000 miles to use the law.

A motorist must make four or more attempts to have the dealer fix a single problem before he or she can proceed under the law; alternatively, a motorist must be able to show that the dealer was unable to fix all of the problems on a car within 30 working days at the garage.

Into Arbitration

If these conditions are met, the motorist must contact the manufacturer in writing about the failure of the authorized dealer to make the repairs under the warranty. At this point, the owner and the manufacturer are ready to go into third-party arbitration.

A variety of organizations can fill the third-party role. Manufacturers use the Better Business Bureau, the American Automobile Assn. or the Automotive Consumer Action Assn., which is sponsored through the National Automotive Dealers Assn. Some manufacturers, such as Ford and Chrysler, have their own arbitration boards. Some, such as Hyundai, do not offer arbitration.

Decisions made by the third-party arbitrator are binding on the manufacturer, but they can be appealed by the consumer through the state civil courts. That's where the lemon law's specific protections come into play.

The law puts the burden of proof on the manufacturer to show that the car is not a lemon. If you win the case in court, the manufacturer has an obligation to buy back or replace the car. But most cases don't go that far. The New Motor Vehicle Board can help resolve disputes between consumers and dealers or manufacturers. The board handles about 150 calls per day. Its telephone number is (916) 445-1888.

The New Motor Vehicle Board is separate from the California Bureau of Automotive Repair, which licenses and regulates repair facilities. It helps resolve disputes between consumers and repair garages or dealer service departments. Its toll-free number is (800) 952-5210.

Q: You recently wrote about gas-line antifreeze and said isopropyl is safe to use. It seems to me that most antifreeze is methanol. Which should I use?--M.S.

A: You are right that methanol is the most common anti-icing additive for fuel lines, but most types of alcohols will work. Ethanol, another type of alcohol that is made from grain, also acts as an anti-icing agent. It has an affinity for water and picks up moisture throughout the fuel system. By moving the water out of the tank and fuel lines, you avoid having it freeze.

Commercial Additive

It's best to buy a commercial anti-icing additive that contains the correct concentration of alcohol.

But unless you have a specific problem with your fuel system, you probably don't need to add anything. Major gasoline brands contain an anti-icing agent that should provide all the protection necessary.

Vartabedian cannot answer mail personally but will respond in this column to automotive questions of general interest. Do not telephone. Write to Your Wheels, You section, The Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.

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