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(Getty Images/iStockphoto)
(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Drive, She Said

So, the car you bought is a lemon. Now what? Add to ...

It’s new! It’s shiny! It’s expensive! It’s – making that sound again. Cars cost a lot of money. Even “cheap” cars cost a lot of money. The last thing you want to experience is that gut-punch feeling that there is something wrong. Something very wrong.

One of the top three must-haves on the list of every car buyer is reliability. I don’t know a single person who has ever decided that reliability is a distant thought. Repeated problems with a car throw reliability out the window.

So is your car a lemon? Are you being unreasonable? Is the manufacturer? Who decides?

If you’ve failed to get a satisfactory outcome, you can bring your case to the Canadian Motor Vehicle Arbitration Plan (CAMVAP). CAMVAP is funded by the auto industry, but its policy board is comprised of two representatives from the Consumer’s Association of Canada, four from government and five from the auto industry. The board has no direct involvement with arbitration.

Arbitrators – there are 80 across the country; CAMVAP serves you close to your home – hear your case, the manufacturers’ case, ask questions, view the car (or go for a drive) and make a decision. They can dismiss your claim; they can order repairs; they can award you for costs you’ve already incurred, associated expenses you’ve racked up (to a $500 ceiling), or order the manufacturer to buy back your car. CAMVAP boasts positive outcomes for 70 per cent of consumers.

In 2012, CAMVAP held 203 arbitrated case: 61 resulted in buybacks – 30 per cent. Its comprehensive website (CAMVAP.ca) shows the outcome of each case; you can discover the make and model, the complaint and the outcome. The program is free to consumers, and it’s fast: outcomes are reached in an average of 51 days. Small claims court could take a year.

It’s important to note that a CAMVAP arbitration is like a court. You need to be prepared. Witnesses – people who have experienced your car abruptly stopping in the middle of the highway, perhaps – can make a case stronger. Have your records complete and detailed. Have notes of whom you’ve spoken to, and when. Be able to show you’ve been reasonable, and that you’ve given the manufacturer a chance (or several) to make things right.

As always with statistics, CAMVAP’s numbers can be interpreted in several ways. There are trends that can’t be ignored: Chrysler has a 40 per cent buyback rate, which is disturbing no matter how many vehicles it sells. According to CAMVAP general manager Stephen Moody, most manufacturers want to resolve problems before they get to arbitration. “We’re seeing a decrease in cases. Manufacturers are making better cars, and they are resolving problems earlier. There were 85 repair orders in 2011, a number that went to 43 in 2012.”

There is some fine print, of course. Vehicles with more than 60,000 kilometres or in use for more than 36 months can’t be bought back. If you have a problem, get on it fast. Vehicles with fewer than 25,000 km and less than one year old will get close to their original cost in the event of a buyback, says Moody. CAMVAP has a calculator on its site that makes things transparent.

Is CAMVAP for you? Your purchased or leased car must be of the current model year or within the previous four; it must have less than 160,000 km on it; you must be contesting a manufacturing defect or believe the manufacturer is not honouring the new-vehicle warranty; you must accept the arbitration’s outcome; your car must be a product of the participating manufacturers.

That’s interesting, that last point. The following companies don’t participate in the CAMVAP program: BMW, Mini, Mitsubishi, Ferrari and Lamborghini. It might be good for buyers to ask more about this when they go to purchase from those who choose to exclude themselves.

Consumers with problem vehicles typically fall into three categories: I’ve spent money I shouldn’t have had to spend, and I want it back; my car still hasn’t been fixed and I’ve given the manufacturer every chance to do so; get this thing out of my driveway and give me my money back.

I asked Moody a basic question: If I feel I have a lemon, perhaps a car that has had transmission problems and broken down repeatedly, even if they keep fixing it or replacing the transmission, I no longer trust the vehicle. A CAMVAP hearing that resulted in yet another ordered repair would be considered a win by CAMVAP; I would not consider that a win. My lost faith can’t be measured, nor recompensed.

“Many people aren’t looking for buybacks,” Moody said. “You’d be surprised at how many people just want something fixed correctly.” I would be. By the time I got to a hearing over repeated vehicle failures, I’d be looking for only one thing.

Vehicles that have been bought back can end up back on the market. They are repaired and sold. A CarProof report will reveal this; You can run a VIN number check on CAMVAP’s site.

What’s missing? Clear guidelines would help. Many lemon laws in the United States contain definitive numbers, like 30 cumulative days off the road due to repair or breakdown or three attempts to fix the same problem.

George Iny of the Automobile Protection Association in Canada, while supporting the work that CAMVAP does, would like to see objective measures for consumers. He expresses concern that, with the money ultimately coming from the auto makers, consumers don’t have the level playing field they do with other products. CAMVAP is law-like (my italics), but the money is ultimately coming from one pot – the auto makers it seeks to take on.

Still, for anyone who’s been unsuccessful in resolving their automotive issue, the CAMVAP website is a good place to start.



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