Speed up implementation of Lemon Law for old, new vehicles

THE Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) is urging the Ministry of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs to review laws about the sale and purchase of both used and new vehicles.

While the ministry has announced an examination of laws related to used vehicles, CAP is specifically calling for the extension of the Lemon Law to cover new cars as well.

New cars can also turn out to be “lemons”, as illustrated by a recent case where a car broke down just eight hours after purchase.

The Lemon Law serves as a remedy for purchasers of consumer products, especially motorised vehicles, that consistently fail to meet the standards of quality and performance.

This law strengthens the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) and should be introduced to provide consumers with “lemons” – products that appear good but turn out to be sour and tart to taste – an avenue of legal redress.

This law mandates that defective cars be repaired or replaced, giving consumers the option to request a price reduction or a refund.

Currently, countries like the United States, Singapore, South Korea, China, and the Philippines have implemented the Lemon Law.

Singapore has incorporated the Lemon Law into its Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act (CPFTA) 2004, and similarly, we can adopt this measure within our CPA.

The evaluation process takes into account factors such as the nature of the problem, the duration the vehicle remains unavailable to the consumer for repairing the same mechanical issue, and the number of repair attempts made.

If the repairs cannot be completed within the timeframe specified in the Act, the manufacturer is obligated to buy back the defective vehicle.

The Lemon Law also extends its coverage to secondhand cars, introducing a Standard Vehicle Assessment Report checklist.

This checklist includes visual, equipment, and road test checks conducted simultaneously by both the dealer and the buyer to ensure transparency.

It covers a wide range of defects from aesthetics to mechanical-related issues.

In many instances, owners of new cars encountering various defects find themselves with little choice but to opt for car repairs at authorised workshops.

However, owners of lemons with a value exceeding RM50,000 cannot file their claims for exchange or refund at the Tribunal for Consumer Claims Malaysia (TTPM).

Instead, they are left with no alternative but to take legal action against the car company, leading to an expensive and time-consuming legal process.

At present, vehicle owners may come across workshops that conduct trial-and-error repairs, addressing one part only to discover that the problem persists, leading to subsequent repairs. The service centre may strategically extend the repair process until the warranty period expires, leaving the car owner responsible for subsequent repairs of the same defects.

Engineers may provide false diagnoses and attribute faults to vehicle owners, such as overstating service interval overruns, to reject claims for major defects.

In some cases, vehicles remain in workshops for extended periods, sometimes up to six months or more, without receiving a diagnosis, let alone undergoing repairs.

Some car service centres refuse to acknowledge that a defect cannot be fixed, thereby avoiding the obligation to provide a refund or replacement, as required by the CPA.

Deprivation of the use of one’s car each time it is in the workshop underscores the importance of determining the number of times a new car undergoes repairs before the owner can file a case at the Tribunal.

Uncertainty about the duration the vehicle will remain in the service centre adds to the challenges faced by car owners.

Selling defective cars is not only short-changing for consumers, but they are also unsafe on the roads and a danger to other road users.

In Singapore, under the Lemon Law, a consumer can make a claim for a defective product, also known as “lemons”, if purchased within six months.

Expect the seller of the defective product to offer repair, replacement, refund, or a price reduction for the defective product, subject to certain conditions and get the defective product repaired within a reasonable time at the seller’s cost.

Consumers may also ask for a price reduction while keeping the product or return the product for a refund if the seller fails to repair it.

CAP is urging the government to implement the Lemon Law for all vehicles, regardless of their price. We propose that it is reasonable for a seriously defective car to be repaired within a maximum of one month, and three attempts by the service centre to fix the same defect should be considered reasonable before the Lemon Law applies.

Before any sale transaction can take place, secondhand vehicles must undergo inspection by both Puspakom and the Road Transport Department to ensure they are in reasonably good running condition.

We have received complaints that secondhand cars often develop mechanical problems shortly after purchase. In some instances, the cars are found to be “kereta potong” (cars assembled from cannibalised parts of scrap cars), or their mileage meters have been tampered with to display lower readings

We reiterate that the government should introduce the Lemon Law to ensure that car manufacturers and dealers are held responsible for their defective products and to repair the vehicle satisfactorily as required by the law. The law should also be applied to used vehicles as well as new ones.

The number of defective new vehicles that Malaysians are hopelessly holding on with no avenue for legal redress is worrying. Old cars costing less than RM50,000 can at least for now seek legal redress from TTPM. – January 16, 2024.

* Mohideen Abdul Kader is president of the Consumers Association of Penang (CAP).

* 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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