|NEWARK – Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman and the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs continued the commemoration of National Consumer Protection Week with advice for consumers on car buying, auto repair, and auto leasing – activities that dominate the list of “Top 10 Consumer Complaints” year after year.
“When spending money on such an important and expensive item as a car – whether buying, leasing, or paying for repairs – you should go in armed with clear knowledge about your own rights and about the reputation and track record of the company you’re doing business with,” Division of Consumer Affairs Acting Director Steve C. Lee said.
The Division last year received 1,244 consumer complaints in the “Motor Vehicle” category – the number-two complaint category. Of those complaints, an estimated 49 percent resulted from new and used car sales, 24 percent dealt with auto repair issues, and the rest concerned predatory towing, auto warranties, leases, and other matters.
The Division took significant actions in 2014 and to-date in 2015 against car dealers, repair shops, and towing companies that allegedly violated New Jersey consumer protection laws and/or regulations. These included three Consent Orders with auto dealers and/or dealership groups resulting in $1.9 million in civil penalties and costs. They included settlements with seven towing companies for a total of $83,312 in penalties, settlement payments, costs, and/or consumer restitution; and settlements with two auto repair companies for a total of $22,000 in penalties and/or costs.
In addition, the Division issued notices of violation to six towing companies seeking a total of $249,573 in penalties, restitution, and/or costs; and to nine auto repair shops seeking a total of $20,797 in penalties and costs. The Division’s Lemon Law Unit helped 48 consumers claim $1.14 million in reimbursements, refunds, and/or the value of replacement vehicles.
General Tips on Car Buying, Repair, and Leasing:
- Before doing business with an auto dealer, repair shop, or similar company, call the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs to learn whether the company has been the subject of consumer complaints.
- Learn as much as possible about the business and its history of satisfied or dissatisfied customers. Search the Internet for customer reviews. If possible, get a reference from people you know, or talk with people who have used the dealership or auto repair shop.
- Always avoid high-pressure sales tactics. If someone asks you to make a decision right away, without time to think things over, this may be the sign of a scam.
- Always obtain a written estimate for car repairs. Make sure the estimate includes clear information about the full cost. This should include a provision that the price will not increase, such as due to extra work or complications, without your consent.
- When buying or leasing a car, be sure to obtain a written contract and make sure you fully understand all of its terms. Make sure the contract includes all details of any warranties that are offered, as well as any refund policies. Make sure it clearly includes the final price. Do not sign until you have read all the fine print and agree to all conditions.
- Consider paying by credit card. If you are cheated, paying by credit card provides a clear record that can help you dispute the charges with your credit card company, or pursue restitution through the Division of Consumer Affairs.
- Keep copies of all contracts, estimates, receipts, and other paperwork. In case you are cheated, this will help you obtain a refund or work with the Division to pursue restitution.
- Bring any complaints to the Division of Consumer Affairs by calling 800-242-5846, or by filing your complaint online at www.NJConsumerAffairs.gov.
New Jersey’s Lemon Laws:
- New Jersey’s New Car Lemon Law protects consumers who purchase a new motor vehicle that develops serious defects on the parts covered by the warranty, that substantially impair the use, value, or safety of the vehicle, and which the dealer or manufacturer cannot repair.
- The Used Car Lemon Law protects consumers who purchase vehicles no more than seven model years old, which mileage not in excess of 100,000, and a purchase price of at least $3,000 from a licensed dealer. The used-car law requires dealers to provide a limited warranty for such vehicles, and applies to vehicles with problems under the warranty.
- The Lemon Laws enable consumers to have their complaint heard before an Administrative Law Judge. Consumers seeking more information, or help from the Division of Consumer Affairs’ Lemon Law Unit, can call 800-242-5846.
Additional Information on Buying a Used Car:
- Before buying a used car, look for the Used Car Buyer’s Guide which must be posted in plain view of the vehicle. It describes the warranty, if one exists, or states that the car is being sold “as-is.” Cars sold “as-is” come with no expressed or implied warranty.
- Used cars sold by private sellers do not come with any warranty and are not subject to the Used Car Lemon Law.
- It is unlawful for a dealer to misrepresent the mechanical condition of a used car; fail to disclose any material defect subject to a warranty, if the defect is known to a dealer; fail to disclose the existence and terms of any written warranty or service contract; or misrepresent the terms of any written warranty or service contract.
- The Division of Consumer Affairs and State Motor Vehicle Commission created an online database of all vehicles for which flood or salvage titles were issued since Superstorm Sandy flooded large areas of New Jersey. The database allows users to enter the Vehicle Identification Number of any vehicle and learn whether a flood or salvage title has been issued. It is not illegal to sell a vehicle with a flood or salvage title, but specific requirements exist to ensure the status of such vehicles is disclosed to potential buyers.
Additional Information on Leasing a Car:
- Before signing a lease contract, review all of its terms and conditions carefully. The consumer is entitled to review the lease contract for one 24-hour business day before signing.
- Be sure to get all guarantees in writing. For example, if you are told you can turn the car in early without a penalty, obtain that guarantee in writing as a lease addendum signed by the lessor.
- Certain terms in the lease, such as “cap cost” or “gap coverage” may be confusing to consumers. When reviewing the lease, you can refer to the glossary of terms in the Division of Consumer Affairs’ Guide to Auto Leasing.
New Jersey’s Predatory Towing Prevention Act:
- Unattended cars cannot be towed from private parking lots unless there is a sign, no smaller than 36” high by 36” wide, posted at vehicular entrances and stating that unauthorized parking is prohibited and unauthorized vehicles will be towed at the owner’s expense; information about the towing company and storage facility; the charges for towing and times at which vehicles can be redeemed; and the Division of Consumer Affairs’ phone number; among other information.
- Cars also cannot be towed from a private parking lot unless the property owner and towing company have a contract for the towing, and the property owner has authorized the towing company to remove the particular vehicle.
- The above requirements do not, however, apply to single-family homes or owner-occupied multi-unit structures. The signage requirements are different for residential communities with clearly marked spaces for residents.
- New Jersey law prohibits towing companies from, among other things, trolling or cruising for vehicles parked without authorization; refusing to accept a debit card, charge card, credit card, or check for towing or storage services, if the company ordinarily accepts such payment; charging an unreasonable or excessive fee.
- A towing company’s fees must be reasonable. A fee is considered reasonable if it is no more than 25 percent greater than the company’s fee for the same vehicle-owner-approved towing services, or no more than 50 percent above the fees charged by other towing companies in the community for the same towing services without the vehicle owner’s permission. Towing and storage fees cannot exceed rates set by town ordinance.
Additional Information from the Division of Consumer Affairs:
Consumers can find additional information in the following, free publications on the Division’s website:
- The Consumer Briefs are also available in Spanish.
Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of marketplace abuse, can file a complaint with the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504-6200.
National Consumer Protection Week (NCPW) is a coordinated campaign that encourages consumers nationwide to take full advantage of their consumer rights and make better-informed decisions. NCPW 2015 will take place March 1 through March 7 2015. Additional information is available at www.NCPW.gov.