When you purchase a product or service from a business, you have the right to expect that the seller will be open and honest with you throughout your dealings. Unfortunately, this often is not the case.
Consumer fraud occurs all too often in Los Angeles and the surrounding areas. Fortunately, you have rights, and attorney Howard Silver can help you hold the dishonest individual or business accountable for their actions.
To schedule a free consultation about your consumer fraud case, please contact us today by calling 818-597-2610.
A Focus on Consumer Fraud Involving Autos
The term “consumer fraud” is very broad and encompasses a wide range of cases involving deceptive acts or unfair business practices. However, most of the cases handled by Mr. Silver involve autos.
Buying a vehicle is one of the biggest and most expensive purchases you will ever make. In most instances, a new vehicle will provide you with reliable transportation and be an important part of your daily life. But when auto dealers are not honest about the vehicles they are selling, it can lead to significant hassles and unexpected financial burdens.
Auto Dealer Fraud
Auto dealers often have an advantage when negotiating with people interested in purchasing a vehicle. Very few customers, including those with sophisticated knowledge of cars, can match the dealer’s detailed understanding of the specifications, features, and maintenance requirements of the vehicles on their lot.
More importantly, most customers lack an understanding of the fraudulent tactics commonly used by new and used car dealers to manipulate a transaction in their favor. Common auto dealer fraud schemes include:
- Bait and switch – The dealer markets certain vehicles in order to lure customers to their dealership, even though these vehicles are no longer available. Once they have you on their lot, they talk you into purchasing a completely different type of vehicle than you were planning on purchasing.
- Hidden fees and other price inflations – Some dishonest car dealers will inflate the invoice price they paid the manufacturer in order to justify a larger sticker price (the price you pay for the vehicle). In other instances, dealers may boost the price of the vehicle with fees associated with extended warranties, vehicle maintenance programs, and other costs that are worked into the final agreement, but are not disclosed to you until the deal is being finalized.
- Representing a used vehicle as a new car – Some dishonest car dealers may attempt to disguise a recently returned vehicle as brand new even though it is slightly used.
- Odometer fraud – This is a common used car fraud practice, occurring when the dealer rolls back the odometer numbers in order to deceive customers into thinking the vehicle has lower mileage and less wear and tear.
- Under-valuing a trade-in vehicle – Some dealers will try to low-ball customers on the value of a trade-in vehicle in order to maximize their profits. In other instances, dealers may apply hidden fees and other costs to inflate the value of the vehicle being purchased, knowing the trade-in value will cover up these dishonest price inflations.
Common Used Car Fraud Tactics
Common tactics used by used car dealers to deceive customers include:
- Rolling back the odometer to misrepresent the actual mileage of the vehicle
- Failing to disclose that the vehicle is a “lemon buyback”
- Failing to disclose that a vehicle was used as a rental or demonstrator
- Failing to disclose that the vehicle has a “salvage title”
- Quoting a lower initial price than what is on the contract, or charging for features that were represented as free
- Forging or incorrectly dating contracts
Car Buyer's Bill of Rights
According to the California's Car Buyer's Bill of Rights, consumers who buy certified pre-owned vehicles are entitled to a variety of key rights. These rights include:
- The used car dealer has to perform a comprehensive inspection of the car and give the purchaser a copy of that report.
- The odometer reading must match the actual mileage that has been put onto the vehicle.
- If the vehicle was bought under a Federal or State Warranty Law (i.e. repurchased), then it cannot be certified pre-owned.
- If flooding, fire, or an accident damaged the vehicle, and it has not yet been restored to safe operational condition, it cannot be sold as certified pre-owned.
- If the title of the vehicle designates the car as junk, salvaged, buyback, manufacturer repurchase, or a like designation, the car cannot be sold as certified pre-owned.
- If the vehicle had previously been sold "as is" (no warranty), or if the vehicle has a damaged frame, it cannot be sold as certified pre-owned.
Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to make sure you don't get stuck with a "certified pre-owned lemon."
- Shop around for the best deal just as you would for a new car and don't forget to negotiate.
- Find out from the dealer what parts were checked out and fixed during their inspection. Do your research. Look up the model to see if it has a history of maintenance problems. Find out if expensive repairs have been made or if such repairs are covered under the warranty.
- Get all the details about the warranty program to find out how much you will have to pay for repair costs if the vehicle breaks down.
Also, please check out our consumer’s guide to buying a used car in California.
Car Repair Fraud
California consumer protection laws make car repair fraud illegal. These cases are covered under the Consumer Legal Remedies Act, which prohibits deceptive and unfair business practices.
By law, you have the following rights when it comes to having auto repairs performed by a mechanic:
- You have the right to take your business elsewhere if you don’t like the mechanic’s initial estimate. You may still be charged a reasonable price for the work required to examine the vehicle for the estimate.
- Repair shops may not do any work until you authorize the repairs. If the mechanic discovers another problem, you must authorize that work before they can perform it.
- Written work orders must have a specified dollar amount. Signing this work order only requires you to pay the amount listed on the order.
- Repair shops must give you a detailed invoice for their work, and they must clearly note when work is subcontracted out.
- You may ask to keep any parts they plan to replace.
- You may question any charges with the manager of the repair shop. If these questions aren’t answered to your satisfaction, you have the right to file a complaint with the California Bureau of Automotive Repair.
Motorcycle Dealer Fraud
What are common motorcycle dealer fraud schemes?
- Bait and switch scenarios where dealers show you (or let you test drive) one motorcycle but then sell you a different bike
- Misrepresenting the price
- Intentionally omitting or neglecting to mention potential defects, warranty limitations, and recall information associated with your bike
- Getting you to agree to egregiously exorbitant financing terms.
Is your motorcycle dealer legally obligated to tell you about a prospective bike's problems before you buy it?
In California, dealers must reveal whether or not a bike's been:
- Damaged by flooding
- Designated as "salvaged" by the California DMV
Are motorcycle lemon law matters similar to motorcycle dealer fraud cases?
Yes and no. In both scenarios, dealers and manufacturers can be held liable for damages. However, whereas in motorcycle lemon law cases, the issues are with the bike itself; with motorcycle dealer fraud cases, the problems come from misrepresentation, dishonesty, or negligence on the part of salesmen, dealers or the manufacturer.
Should you file a lawsuit against the dealer or salesmen who defrauded you?
The answer depends on the circumstances of how and why you got defrauded and what steps you and the salesman/dealer have taken to remedy the conflict.
Motorcycle Repair Fraud
Although CA motorcycle riders pride themselves on being as tough as nails, many riders negotiate with surprising timidity. Don't be afraid to stand up for yourself against motorcycle repair fraud! Repair agencies and service centers legally owe you a written invoice for work. They must also note any work done by subcontractors. You're entitled to keep parts removed from your bike and if you don't like an initial written estimate, you can take your job to someone else (provided that you pay a fee) for the estimate.
A repair shop cannot legally do work on your bike until you authorize it. For instance, let's say a service technician who is in the middle of fixing your brakes suddenly discovers a problem with one of your filters. He may not legally charge you to replace that filter unless and until you give authorization. If you feel like any charges are in error or seem out of the ordinary, you're legally allowed to discuss the matter with the shop's manager.
If this conversation doesn't satisfy you, you can connect with the California Bureau of Automotive Repair and file a complaint.
The Department of Justice classifies odometer rollbacks as the deceptive business practice of lessening a vehicle's displayed mileage in order to deceive another party, typically when that party is in negotiations to purchase the vehicle. While most consumers may be under the impression that car dealers are the primary culprit behind odometer rollbacks, they would be surprised to learn that rolling back odometers is utilized by car wholesalers, private parties, and even vehicle owners looking to deceive car manufacturers.
The bottom line is simple, though: rolled back odometers deceive others into believing that a vehicle has a certain amount of mileage when in fact it doesn't – an issue that could result in negative repercussions including inexplicable car repairs and other problems that tend to arise with older vehicles.
Legal Protections Against Consumer Fraud
The government has established a series of consumer protection laws to protect the rights and interests of consumers. In California, businesses that sell goods, such as vehicles, must comply with the Consumer Legal Remedies Act (CLRA). The law prohibits a wide range of deceptive, fraudulent, and unfair business practices, covering all types of consumer goods.
Most importantly, the CLRA gives consumer fraud victims the right to recover both actual and punitive damages as well as their attorney’s fees from the business guilty of fraud or misrepresentation. The law can also result in replacement of defective vehicles and reimbursement for related expenses such as towing, repairs, and rental car charges.
Some of the deceptive acts associated with vehicle fraud that are covered by the CLRA include:
- Misrepresenting the source, sponsorship, or affiliation of motor vehicles
- Representing that autos are new when they are not
- Representing that vehicles are of a particular standard, quality, or grade, when they are not
- Advertising autos with intent not to sell them as advertised
- Representing that a part, replacement, or repair service is needed when it is not
Consumer Legal Remedies Act
The California Consumer Legal Remedies Act protects the rights of consumers who have been the victim of deceptive or unfair business practices. This law establishes 22 specific forbidden practices covering almost every type of consumer fraud and misrepresentation.
Actions considered illegal under the Consumer Legal Remedies Act include:
- Representing that goods are original or new if they have deteriorated unreasonably or are altered, reconditioned, reclaimed, used, or secondhand
- Falsely representing that goods or services meet a particular standard, quality, or grade, or that goods are of a particular style or model
- Claiming that a part, replacement, or repair service is needed when it is not
- Promising that a consumer will receive a rebate, discount, or other economic benefit, and failing to disclose that earning this benefit is contingent on an event occurring after the completion of the initial transaction
- Misrepresenting the authority of a salesperson, representative, or agent to negotiate the final terms of a transaction with a consumer
Read the full text of the California Consumer Legal Remedies Act.
The Song-Beverly Act Goes Beyond the California Lemon Law
In addition to the section covering motor vehicles that come with a manufacturer’s warranty, California’s Song-Beverly Act protects consumers when the products they buy are defective and come with a warranty from the seller. This means that you have the right to receive your money back or a replacement vehicle when the used car you just bought with a 30 day warranty from the seller is defective, the boat you purchased stalls in the middle of the lake or the slide-outs don’t retract or the roof leaks on the new motor home you just bought. In other words, any consumer product sold in California that contains a warranty is covered by Song-Beverly.
One of the most common applications of the Song-Beverly Act involves used vehicles that are sold and warranted by the dealer only. Vehicle dealers are required to make any repairs necessary for the vehicle to conform to the warranty. If the vehicle is still unable to conform to the warranty after a reasonable number of repair attempts, the consumer can receive a replacement car or a refund of his or her money from the dealer.
Howard Silver Can Help
Howard Silver has been fighting for the rights of consumers in the Los Angeles area since 1987, and has developed a strong track record of success, helping many of his clients recover the compensation necessary to move on with their lives.
Mr. Silver is committed to delivering the highly personalized representation you deserve. He will personally handle every aspect of your case, from your initial consultation through the resolution of your claim. On some cases, though, Mr. Silver works with an associate attorney to ensure every aspect of your claim is properly examined. This personal attention to detail, along with Mr. Silver’s extensive experience, will give you the edge you need to maximize your compensation.
Please contact the Law Offices of Howard D. Silver today to schedule your free consumer fraud consultation by calling 818-597-2610. Mr. Silver serves clients in Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, Anaheim, Ventura, and throughout California.