'Lemon law' demands consumer legwork – Sioux Falls Argus Leader

‘Massive headache’: Sioux Falls man battling for refund on problem vehicle

Most days, Garrett Wilson climbs into his Ford F-150, starts it up and gets to work without any trouble.

Some days, he turns the key and nothing happens. That, or the vehicle he bought new less than two years ago loses power on the road.

It’s happened seven times in just over a year, but the mechanics at Sioux Falls Ford can’t recreate or pinpoint the problem. It’s been in the shop for 37 days total since he bought it.

Wilson’s fed up. He bought his first new vehicle in hopes of having a reliable hauler when friends or family needed help and of having four-wheel-drive to power through South Dakota’s winter weather.

Instead, he has a truck whose battery dies at random for no obvious reason. If he and his wife need to go out of town, the truck stays home.

“It just keeps happening,” Wilson said. “I bought a new truck and it doesn’t even work properly.”

Because the company can’t discern the problem, however, Ford won’t buy the truck back.

Wilson’s now pinning his hopes on South Dakota’s lemon law, which requires vehicle manufacturers to make an owner whole when a persistent problem appears, or “nonconforming condition,” in the law’s parlance.

That means a vehicle that doesn’t conform with an express warranty and is significantly impaired in use, value or safety through ordinary use.

If the dealership or manufacturer is unable to fix the problem after “a reasonable number of attempts,” the manufacturer must either replace or repurchase the vehicle.

It all seems simple enough, but Wilson’s unique situation and the nature of civil law complicate matters. Using the lemon law isn’t as simple as it seems, as Wilson now knows.

“The whole thing has been a massive headache,” he said.

It started in November of 2014, about seven months after Wilson bought the truck. He jump-started it and brought it to the dealership, where technicians performed an update on the battery and electrical system but couldn’t recreate the problem.

On Jan. 5, 2015, the truck died overnight. Again, it was jumped and brought in for repair, this time getting a new battery.

The issue seemed to disappear for a while, but reappeared again in August, September, November and December of 2015 and in January.

Never – not even when the truck was towed to the dealership for service – could the mechanics find the underlying problem. They pulled the plug on the remote start in November, wondering if that could be the issue, and it’s been unplugged ever since yet died two more times.

By last December, Wilson had begun sending emails to Ford’s corporate office. On Jan. 6, he reached out to the South Dakota Attorney General’s Office of Consumer Protection.

By Jan. 26, a regional customer service manager named Ron Powell told Wilson in an email that there was no mechanical issue found.

“At this time Ford will not be repurchasing or replacing the vehicle,” Powell’s email read.

In situations like this, the attorney general’s office will act as a liaison for a consumer, according to spokeswoman Sara Rabern.

Lemon law complaints are relatively infrequent when stacked against the thousands of complaints the consumer protection division fields on other issues every year, but they aren’t negligible, either: The office has taken 41 formal complaints since 2010.

That doesn’t mean they’ve gotten 41 refunds for consumers, though. The office doesn’t disclose resolutions, just complaints. And if a call from the attorney general’s office to a dealership or corporate office doesn’t do the trick, the consumer has to pick up the case and take it to court.

“We do not represent any consumer on a private legal suit; we work to the best of our ability to resolve these types of complaints so the consumer does not have to take the next step of hiring a private attorney as this type of complaint is a civil right of action,” Rabern said.

Ford, for its part, has not committed to any particular resolution.

“Ford is committed to taking care of our customers and providing them with top quality vehicles. We evaluate unique customer circumstances when needed and comply with the laws in that customer’s state,” Elizabeth Weigandt, a dealer communications manager for the Ford corporation, wrote in an email response to questions about lemon laws.

If that happens, Wilson likes his chances.

A “reasonable number of attempts” at repair within the first two years or 24,000 miles means that the vehicle was subject to repair four or more times, plus a final attempt, or if the vehicle was out of service for 40 or more consecutive days.

Wilson has forwarded all his emails, his invoices, the dates of service and a handful of other documents to the attorney general’s office, and it appears to square with those guidelines.

“Save all the service records, because you never know when you’re going to need them,” Wilson said.

At this point, he wants the company to buy the truck back, which is unfortunate, he said. When it’s working properly, it’s exactly what he was looking for.

“I like the truck – it just doesn’t work,” Wilson said.

John Hult is the Reader’s Watchdog reporter for Argus Leader Media. Contact him with questions and concerns at 605-331-2301, 605-370-8617. You can tweet him @ArgusJHult or find him on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/ArgusReadersWatchdog

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This article was not written by Michigan Lemon Law.
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Written by: John Hult