In a recent case T. Michael Flinn represented a consumer in a claim against the dealership owned by chairman of the Georgia Independent Automobile Dealer’s Association. The consumer visited the lot and located a car and contracted to buy same. While she waited for what they told her was their obtaining another key on her behalf, they took the car to get it emissions tested. It failed. They did not tell her. They allowed her to leave the lot with the car which broke down on the way home. She brought the car back, and asked for a refund of her payment. The dealer refused. She asked for a replacement car. The dealer refused. The dealer did offer to repair the car. Faced with the dealer’s refusal to refund the money, and without the ability to buy another car somewhere else, the consumer took the car back after repair. The check engine light immediately illuminated again. The care failed another emissions test and the consumer again asked for a refund. The dealer said “no” and pointed to the “as is” clause.
If the “Check Engine” light is illuminated on a 1996 or newer model year vehicle, the vehicle will fail the emission inspection. An emission-related problem has been detected by the vehicle’s on-board diagnostic (OBD) computer and it must be repaired before the vehicle will pass the emission inspection. If the “Check Engine” light is illuminated, the OBD computer will indicate the general area of failure. A diagnostic analysis should be obtained by a qualified repair facility prior to making any repairs. Georgia Clean Air Force Publication.
According to Georgia law, sellers of gasoline-powered cars and light-duty trucks (8,500 pounds gross vehicle weight rating [GVWR] or less) located within the 13-county testing area, regardless if they are a private party, dealership or auctioneer, must sell a vehicle with a current, valid passing Georgia Vehicle Emissions Inspection Report (VIR) if the buyer is going to register the vehicle in one of the 13 metro Atlanta counties: Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, Coweta, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Forsyth, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry, Paulding or Rockdale. Georgia Clean Air Force Publication.
Here, the dealer did not obtain a valid passing emissions certificate and broke the law, regulations for used car dealers, and the Code of Ethics for his own Association.
The case was required to be heard by an arbitrator because the dealer had her sign an arbitration agreement without explaining to her what it meant. (Click here for why you should never sign an arbitration agreement). The arbitrator did award the consumer all the money she had paid on the car but did not find the conduct reprehensible enough to award punitive damages or treble damages. The arbitrator also awarded attorney’s fees.