Sometimes, car purchases don’t always go as promised. Here’s how to set things straight when that happens
The number of “lemons” on the road is often still batted around at 10 per cent; that’s unfair and dated information. George Iny of the Automobile Protection Association (APA) stresses the number is actually closer to one per cent. That doesn’t mean only one per cent of cars will experience some issues, but that more like one per cent are actually lemons in the way most of us define the word: a car that is beyond saving.
Last week I discussed a persistent myth surrounding new car purchases, that there is some kind of legal cooling-off period where we get to change our minds. There isn’t, and we don’t. You sign that contract, you’ve purchased that car. You can’t change your mind on any of the extras you agreed to in most cases, either.
Canada doesn’t have so-called lemon laws. The U.S. does, though they vary from state to state. In Canada, there are layers of consumer protection that you can access if you have problems with your vehicle or the dealership itself. The Federal Office of Consumer Affairs (OCA) lays out the law surrounding the Consumer Protection and Business Practices Act; Ontario and Alberta have more specialized organizations in Motor Vehicle Industry Councils: OMVIC and AMVIC, while British Columbia has the Motor Vehicle Sales Authority (MVSABC). These are funded by consumers – you’ll see a line on your sales contract that says “OMVIC, $5.00” in Ontario. Five bucks from each purchase stakes the Council which investigates dealer practices, issues warnings and hands out fines, or even suspends dealers.
In Ontario, Alberta, or B.C. you call OMVIC, AMVIC or MVSABC if you find dealers misrepresenting themselves, running fraudulent ads, or lying to consumers. These organizations run independent investigations – monitoring ads and practices – as well as respond to individual complaints. They even determine if the cars actually exist in those too-good-to-be-true ads. Consumers have a reasonable expectation of the featured vehicle actually being available to purchase at the advertised price; it often isn’t, but getting you into the showroom was always the intention. It’s a common tactic. A recent AMVIC investigation turned up some terrible numbers; 22 of 35 new dealers shopped in Calgary were not in compliance.
Advertising is a perennial sore spot in the industry. To cut through some of the noise, four provinces (Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba and Alberta) now require dealer advertising to post all-in pricing; only Quebec requires manufacturers to also post all-in pricing. This means the advertised price has to include everything except tax and licensing. No admin fees, no certification fees, no protection fees. Most dealers adhere to the law, but others don’t. In those provinces, if the price advertised in the window, in the paper or online doesn’t match what you’re quoted for the corresponding vehicle, call your provincial consumer advocate.
So, you’ve had a good relationship with the dealer and you’ve got your new car. What do you do if trouble sets in? First, go talk to the service manager at your dealership. Be as specific as you can about your complaint. Does the noise occur only when the engine is cold? During a turn? At what speed? The more information you can provide the better. I recommend using your dealer for scheduled maintenance at least during the warranty period. You build a relationship here, and you’ll have someone to go to bat for you with the manufacturer should problems arise. You are required to have held up your side of the equation – maintenance – when it comes to warranty issues.
It is important to contact them sooner rather than later; with warranties ticking away, you want a paper trail of when you started addressing it. Go online and see if any other owners are experiencing similar problems (I just Google make + model + year + problems). With the U.S. sharing many of the same vehicles, it can help to access 10 times the population of Canada.
Don’t be alarmed by recall notices. Recent devastating losses have made the industry a little jumpy, and some manufacturers are very much playing “better safe than sorry”. Getting ahead of the curve on a potential issue is preferable to pretending it doesn’t exist. If your car is older and you had a problem fixed on your dime that is now facing a recall, contact the manufacturer for recourse. An APA membership ($77 first year, $39 renewal) provides counselling and directions on many issues like this one.
If you have ongoing issues with your new (or newish) vehicle, and reasonable attempts at a resolution have fallen short, you can call the Canadian Motor Vehicle Arbitration Plan. A national body, CAMVAP is funded by manufacturers, and the service is free to consumers. You can call and speak to a real person. It can give you a voice at the table without hiring lawyers when your efforts to resolve a manufacturer’s defect or have a warranty honoured have been exhausted.
CAMVAP requires your car be from the current or previous four model years and under 160,000 kilometres; you can own or lease, it can be new or used but initially purchased from an authorized dealer; it has to be for personal use; you must have provided the dealer and the manufacturer a reasonable opportunity to address and correct the problem.
One thing to consider: in order to bring a manufacturer to the arbitrator’s table, they have to be part of the CAMVAP program. Currently, some manufacturers – notably, BMW (Mini) and Mitsubishi – are not in the fold. CAMVAP can’t help you.
The program says it resolves most disputes within 70 days, far more quickly than a court case would play out. The decisions can range from ordering repairs at the manufacturers’ expense, buying back your car, reimbursing you for repairs you’ve already had done, and possibly helping you recoup out-of-pocket expenses. They could also decide the manufacturer has no responsibility in your case. When you enter into CAMVAP’s program, you sign off going beyond their decision. It is binding.
Most car transactions go smoothly. Car sales are increasing every quarter, consumers have access to more information than ever before, and there are several excellent car-buying services out there if you prefer to let someone else do the negotiating. Cars themselves are more reliable than ever, but know your rights and resources; you can never be too prepared.