Lemon law should cover new vehicles, too

THE Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) lauds the recent announcement by the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry that it is looking into efforts to improve laws related to the sale and purchase of used vehicles. However, we urge the ministry to expand the law to include new cars as they can be lemons, too. 

Lemon law is a remedy for purchasers of consumer products, particularly motorised vehicles, that repeatedly fail to meet standards of quality and performance. The law strengthens the Consumer Protection Act 1999 (CPA), and should be introduced to provide consumers holding on to “lemons” (unfit vehicles) an avenue of legal redress.

This law requires defective cars to be repaired or replaced. A consumer may request a reduction in price or get a refund. Currently, countries such as the United States, Singapore, South Korea, China, and the Philippines have implemented lemon law. 

Lemon law is incorporated into Singapore’s Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act 2004. We can do so with our CPA as well. 

It considers: 

– The nature of the problem.

– The number of days the vehicle is unavailable to the consumer for repair of the same mechanical issue.

– The number of repair attempts made. 

– If repairs cannot be completed within the number of days stated in the act, the manufacturer is obligated to repurchase the defective vehicle. 

– Used cars, covered under a Standard Vehicle Assessment Report checklist. This checklist of items ranged from visual, equipment and roadworthiness checks concurrently by both the dealer and the buyer to ensure transparency. 

– A wide range of defects from aesthetics to mechanical issues. 

In most cases, the various defects found in new cars leave owners with little option but to go for repairs at authorised workshops. Owners of lemons costing more than RM50,000 cannot file their claim for exchanges or refunds at the Tribunal for Consumer Claims Malaysia (TCCM). They have no options but to take the car company to court, starting an expensive and time-consuming legal process. As it is now, vehicle owners may encounter:

– Workshops that would conduct trial-and-error repairs, repairing one part to find the problem not solved and then proceeding with another repair. The service centre buys time until the warranty period expires and the car owner is then left to pay for subsequent repairs of the same defects. 

– Engineers’ false diagnosis and fault-finding with vehicle owners (like over-running the service interval) to decline claims for major defects. 

– Cases of vehicles lying in workshops for months, up to six months or more, and yet repairmen unable to provide a diagnosis, let alone repair the vehicle. 

– Service centres that refuse to admit a defect cannot be fixed and thus does not need to refund or replace the car as required by the CPA. 

– Inability to use one’s vehicle when it is in the workshop. Therefore, it is pertinent to ascertain the number of times a new car undergoes repairs before the owner can file a case with TCCM.

– Uncertainty about how long a vehicle is going to remain in the service centre.

Defective vehicles are not only a rip-off, but they are also unsafe on the roads and pose dangers to other road users.

Under the lemon law in Singapore, a consumer can: 

– Make a claim for a defective product purchased within six months. 

– Expect the seller of the defective product to repair, replace, refund or reduce the price of the defective product (subject to certain conditions). 

– Get the defective product repaired within a reasonable time at the seller’s cost. 

– Ask for a price reduction while keeping the product, or return the product for a refund if the seller fails to repair it.

CAP calls on the government to introduce lemon law for all vehicles regardless of price and would suggest it is reasonable that a seriously defective car be repaired in a maximum of a month, and argues that three attempts are reasonable for the service centre to repair the same defect before the lemon law applies. 

We cannot understand why the lemon law is only proposed for old cars and why secondhand car buyers need to purchase an extended warranty for their vehicle. Used vehicles up for sale must first be inspected by Puspakom to ensure that it is in a reasonably good running condition.

We reiterate that the government should introduce lemon law to ensure vehicle manufacturers and dealers are held responsible for defective products and are obliged to repair the vehicle satisfactorily as required by law.

The law should also be applied to used vehicles. The number of defective new vehicles that Malaysians are hopelessly holding on to with no avenue for legal redress is worrying. Old cars costing less than RM50,000 can at least for now seek legal redress from TCCM. – September 23, 2022.

* Mohideen Abdul Kader is CAP president.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. Article may be edited for brevity and clarity.

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