Dear Woman Motorist Automotive Law:
I am a female motorist who has had a BAD experience with a car dealer and I am in search of HELP. I purchased a NEW used 1996 Jetta from a dealership near to where I work in New Jersey (Gensinger Motors). I researched for 5 months, tried different vehicles out, had my list of necessities, checked with Edmunds, Carpoint, etc. I finally found the car of my desire. One month later I went to get my 22,500 oil change from the dealer, and went home. Two days later on my way to work, I lost all of my oil and my car stopped on the off ramp of the New Jersey Garden State Parkway. SOMEONE FORGOT TO PUT THE PLUG IN THE OIL GASKET CORRECTLY. Needless to say they, the dealer, did "repair" the problem after 2 weeks. They did give me a rental for free and did not charge me for the repairs. When I got in the car to go home I noticed that the car was not performing properly. The Manager of the dealership blatantly made statements to me that I found extremely offensive and a little suspicious. Statements like: "...I didn't have to give you a loaner vehicle for free, we are trying to help you out the best way possible. ... I didn't put any used parts in from the cars in the back...it's all new."
I am a single 30 woman with no real connections. I have tried Volkswagen of America (they won't help unless it is a factory-related issue) and spoke to my own "old" mechanic about his take on the matter.
It seems I am getting the run around and that the dealership is getting away with "murder". I work really hard helping other people (I am a counselor/therapist at a university) and don't know how to push the issue. Sorry if I am going on to long with this. If you or anyone else has information on what my standings are I would appreciate any help.
Attorney Steve Swann's Answer
Your complaint is not uncommon. For example, the quick-lube places are notorious for failing to tighten oil plugs, putting oil in the radiator, coolant into the oil fill, and other automotive horrors!!
You are correct: VW is not accountable for errors and negligence of the dealership under these facts.
Your letter did not mention the scope of repairs. If the engine was replaced, there is usually a 12 month/12,000 mile warranty on a rebuilt. If it is defective, you may have a claim for breach of warranty against the repairing dealership.
If your claim is only for poor workmanship (and not bad parts), first check to see what the shop's warranty is. Again, most dealerships have one year warranties on labor. If the vehicle was improperly repaired, you may have a complaint for breach of the repair warranty. (You may also have a claim for breach of contract and negligence; the damages under New Jersey law more than likely will be the same as those in Virginia.)
The first step is to diagnose the problem. You might consider going to another VW dealership. Since dealership personnel will not usually testify for you if you wind up in litigation, you may eventually need a consultant or "expert."
If the diagnosis confirms the first dealer's sloppy work and/or defective components, you should make a formal complaint in writing to the dealership. It is usually entitled to one "cure" or repair attempt. If it denies liability, you may choose to go elsewhere, pay the charges, and file a lawsuit against the dealership.
If you anticipate litigation, it is advisable to bring an attorney in to assist in orchestrating the process. For example, if you are going for repairs elsewhere, it would be good to have the expert view the engine damage and talk with the repair people. Photos and video are great too.
I usually suggest that people looking for an auto, warranty-type attorney for a car matter, call the Center for Auto Safety, in Washington, D.C. This non-profit group maintains a list of experienced, conscientious attorneys around the country. Most people in your position would agree that $100-150 to get advice and understanding of the law and process is money well spent. I routinely explain the "do it yourself" approach in these relatively low-value matters. With a good expert and good facts, you might tackle a judge-only (no jury) lawsuit on your own. In Virginia, our small claims goes up to $1000; in New Jersey, it might be higher.
Alternatives to contacting an attorney are the county consumer affairs offices and arbitration programs. You may find an arbitration/mediation program that investigates car dealer complaints only. We have that in the Washington, D.C. area; it is called AUTOCAP.
Good luck and keep us posted on your progress.
Attorney Steve Swann for Woman Motorist Automotive Law
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Disclaimer: The responses to legal questions on automobile law, and the information provided by Womanmotorist.com and Mr. Swann, are offered only for general educational purposes. They are not offered as and do not constitute legal advice or legal opinions. Mr. Swann is licensed in Virginia and Tennessee, and this information should not be considered as a substitute for specific legal advice from an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction. For assistance in locating your own automobile law attorney, you should contact your state, county or city bar association, or the Center for Auto Safety, Washington, D.C.