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California Lemon Law and Frame Damage

  Norman Taylor & Associates
  May 4, 2012

As a California Lemon Law firm we become aware of frame damage usually with used vehicles. Most people opt for used vehicles either to save money or due to negative or non-existent credit. For those having never purchased a car before, a clean Carfax or similar vehicle history report may be enough to convince them to sign and drive. It is important however to ask the seller if the vehicle has been involved in an accident and whether they have inspected the car. Many times unsuspecting consumers buy a used car without asking these very important questions. Even when asked, there are times that foolishly the dealer asserts that the vehicle has never been in an accident.

Long after the purchase the buyer takes the vehicle to a tire shop for new tires or perhaps the vehicle exhibits steering anomalies: it pulls to the left or right or drifts to one side or the other if not constantly corrected. His first thought is that there is tire wear or some other problem that causes the steering to pull. Perhaps he notices the steering wheel is not centered.

He goes to pick his car up from the tire shop and the foreman tells him, “by the way Joe, this vehicle has been in an accident.” To be expected, Joe is highly irate and ready to rip the tongue out of the smooth talking turkey who sold him the car, and well he should be. If he is wise, he gets the vehicle up on the lift as needed and takes pictures of all of the questionable areas, areas where the collision occurred. He opens the hood and the trunk and checks inside for other evidence of the collision such as body filler (e.g. Bondo), uneven gaps between panels, paint overspray, anything he can find.

Joe goes back to the dealership where he bought the car and drops all of his protest and anger on the guy who sold it to him. The salesman mollifies him and has him take the car to the service writer and then into the shop for repair. Token repairs are made to some innocuous part of the suspension, or an alignment is attempted. These cannot succeed because if there is frame damage, incorrect adjustments must be made to compensate for the frame misalignment. The basic problems just get worse. The dealer may be bold enough to say they didn’t know that the vehicle has been in an accident. Most professionals in the business of buying and selling cars know where to look and conduct an inspection to assess whether or not to buy the car for resale. The dealer’s denial is rather like a mathematician suggesting that he can’t remember how to add two and two.

The Consumer Legal Remedies Act protects consumers from unfair trade practices by outlawing enumerated deceptive acts.

If the consumer took the vehicle back to be repaired for defects related to the steering or tires and of course, suspension, four times, then perhaps the Lemon Law may apply if the vehicle came with a warranty. To sell a vehicle to a consumer that has been in an accident where the vehicle has sustained material damage or has had the frame damaged is a breach of the law if not disclosed and properly represented to the buyer.,

It happens more than you might think. And so, when buying a used car we urge you the consumer to obtain an inspection PRIOR to your purchase and to obtain a cancellation option. It may cost a few hundred dollars, but it could save you the heartache and hassle that you may be faced with later.

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