Problematic New Car Sounds Like a Lemon

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | May 02, 2017

Dear Car Talk.

I want to ask you about my 2016 Chevy Malibu. From the day I drove it off the lot, I've had all kinds of issues: lights dimming, then working fine; one speaker on the radio going out, then working fine; the Bluetooth working fine one day, then refusing to take my calls the next; the car jolting when I take off at a light or stop sign that is on a slight incline. It's been in the shop so many times, I can't fit the repair printouts in the glove box anymore and am now storing them in the trunk!

A few months ago, they had to replace a rod (I think that's what it was) in the brake system because it had rusted out, but they found that only after I took the car in three times, saying it was making a grinding noise all the time. First they said they couldn't hear the grinding noise, then they said I needed a different-"style" tire, even though they're the same ones that came on the car, and then I insisted they take apart the brake, and voila! Problem solved.

The latest issue has been with my cruise control, which is the only thing between me and speeding tickets. Before the last "fix," it sometimes worked fine, and sometimes worked only after I drove at highway speed for a while. I hoped that fixing the brake rod thing would fix my cruise control, too, but nope. The last time the car was in the shop, my husband insisted that the mechanics replace the brake pedal pressure sensor, but that didn't fix the problem either (thanks a lot, Google). In fact, now the cruise control works only when I put my toe under the brake pedal and hit the cruise control at the same time. I can't take it back to the shop to face the withering looks from the mechanics. Is my car possessed? Demonic? A misogynist? Help me, Obi Wan Ray, you're my only hope! Do we have a lemon? -- T.J.



I'd put my money on a lemon misogynist, T.J.

It sure sounds like the brake pedal pressure sensor (which cancels the cruise control when you touch the brakes) is misadjusted. But if they've replaced it and adjusted it, then maybe you've got more serious electrical gremlins that no one's found yet.

But before you mess around with the dealer any more, first investigate your state's lemon law. States that have strong consumer protections often have good laws in place to protect consumers like you, who buy brand-new cars and have nothing but problems from the get-go. For instance, California's lemon law says that if your new car is out of service for any reason for 30 days in the first 18 months or 18,000 miles, you can trigger the lemon law proceedings and force the dealer to either fix the car completely, replace it or buy it back from you.

Other states' laws are different. Massachusetts requires that the defect "substantially" impair the car's use, resale value or safety. So you have to make the case that it does.

Other states more friendly to business and less friendly to consumers may make it harder for you to get satisfaction. I think the Texas lemon law requires you and the dealer to shoot it out behind the showroom.

But it's worth checking. So go online and see how your state's new-car lemon law works. Find out how close you are to meeting the requirements, then write a registered letter to the dealer laying out how close you are to meeting the lemon law trigger, or if you've already met it. Usually, just the threat of a lemon law case (especially if you're close to meeting the trigger) will cause a dealer to pay a whole lot more attention to getting your car fixed. And if they're really unable to fix it, at least yoube on your way to getting some restitution.

You certainly sound like you've had more than your share of problems with this brand-new car, and that's exactly the kind of situation consumer laws like lemon laws are designed to address. Good luck, T.J.


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