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The Garage: Focus on autos | Garage Briefs

Bill extends lemon law to military

July 21, 2007|Martin Zimmerman | Times Staff Writer ;From Reuters

Military personnel battling with carmakers over defective automobiles may soon get some backup from state lawmakers.

The state's lemon law, passed in the early 1980s, makes it easier for consumers to get refunds on defective new and used vehicles still covered by a manufacturer's warranty.

Currently, the law applies only to vehicles purchased in California. If you buy a car out of state and then move to California -- a not uncommon scenario for the 160,000 military personnel stationed here -- the vehicle isn't covered.

SB 234, a bill sponsored by state Sen. Ellen Corbett (D-San Leandro), would extend the protection to all active duty military personnel stationed in California, as long as their vehicles were purchased in the United States.

"We have a good strong lemon law, but the troops couldn't use it if they bought their car in another state," said Rosemary Shahan, president of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety in Sacramento. "They're getting sent here to protect us and it's only right that we protect them."

Under the lemon law, new or used vehicles with a factory warranty that have been unsuccessfully repaired four times -- or two times in the case of life-threatening defects -- or that have been out of service for 30 days during the warranty period may be designated "lemons," triggering an obligation for the manufacturer to give the owner a refund and brand the title "lemon law buyback."

The measure to extend the lemon law's provisions to military personnel was introduced after a hearing featuring testimony from a Navy lieutenant who purchased a pickup truck in Washington state and was transferred to California. When problems with the truck couldn't be fixed, the lieutenant -- by then deployed to Iraq -- had no recourse under the lemon law because he bought the vehicle out of state.

Corbett's bill has not been opposed by the state's car dealers. It is awaiting Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's signature. A spokesman for his office said the governor had not taken a position on the legislation.

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Acura tops survey of dealer service

Honda Motor Co.'s luxury Acura division topped a consumer satisfaction survey intended to measure how well U.S. car shoppers felt they were treated in dealer showrooms, whether or not they bought a vehicle on the spot.

The study, released this week by Pacific Grove, Calif.-based sales consultancy Pied Piper, showed Ford Motor Co.'s Land Rover in second place and General Motors Corp.'s Saturn in third.

Consumers have long complained that car dealers can be pushy, neglectful or less than transparent when explaining vehicle features and financing options.

"The dealerships that scored well all give customers a reason to be interested other than the deal," said Fran O'Hagan, study author and president of Pied Piper. "Acura dealers were very consistent in all categories."

European import and luxury brands fared very well in the study: Volkswagen, GM's Saab, Audi and BMW were all in the top 10. The study was based on a survey of shoppers leaving 1,592 auto dealerships and reports from paid researchers posing as car shoppers.

Hagan said research showed that as many as 30% of U.S. vehicle shoppers did not buy on the same day they visited a showroom, making satisfaction with the shopping experience key for automakers in a declining U.S. sales market.

The study ranked 12 brands below the industry average, including three mass-market offerings from the Detroit-based automakers: GM's Chevrolet, Ford and Chrysler.

Toyota Corp., Hyundai Motor Co. and Honda were ranked at the industry average in the first-of-its kind study.

From Reuters

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Wednesday

in Highway 1

Auto critic Dan Neil puts the sizzling and sleek Audi R8 through its paces. Susan Carpenter tests the American Iron Horse Slammer -- eye candy on two wheels. And Ralph Vartabedian writes about bans on text messaging while driving.

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