THE Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) lauds the recent announcement by the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry to improve laws related to the sale and purchase of used vehicles. However, we urge the ministry to extend the law, also known as the Lemon Law, to new cars as well.

Lemon Law is a remedy for purchasers of consumer products, particularly motorised vehicles, that repeatedly fail to meet the standards of quality and performance. Lemon Law strengthens the Consumer Protection Act (CPA), and provides consumers with an avenue to legal redress. This law requires defective cars to be repaired or replaced. A consumer may also request a reduction in price or get a refund.

Currently, countries such as the United States, Singapore, South Korea, China and the Philippines have implemented the Lemon Law. It is incorporated into Singapore’s Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act 2004, and we can also do so with our CPA.

It considers:

The nature of the problem.

The number of days the vehicle is unavailable to the consumer due to the repair of the same mechanical issue.

The number of repair attempts.

If the repairs cannot be completed within the number of days stated in the Act, the manufacturer is obligated to buy back the defective vehicle.

The Lemon Law covers secondhand cars as well, introducing a Standard Vehicle Assessment Report checklist. This checklist of items range from visual to equipment, as well as road test checks done concurrently by both the dealer and the buyer to ensure transparency.

It covers a wide range of defects from aesthetics to mechanical-related issues.

In most cases, the various defects found in new cars leave owners with little option except to opt for repairs at authorised workshops. Owners of “lemons” costing more than RM50,000 cannot file their claim for exchange or refund at the Consumer Claims Tribunal. They have no alternative but to take the car company to court, incurring an expensive and time-consuming legal process.

Currently, vehicle owners may encounter:

Workshops that would conduct trial-and-error repairs, repairing one part to find the problem not solved, and then proceeding with another repair. The service centre buys time until the warranty period expires and the car owner is left to pay for subsequent repairs with the same defects.

Engineers’ giving false diagnosis, and finding faults with vehicle owners (like over-running the service interval) to decline claims for major defects.

There are cases of vehicles lying in workshops for months, up to six months or more, and yet to be provided with a diagnosis nor repaired.

Car service centres that refuse to admit that a defect cannot be fixed, and thus do not need to refund or replace with another car as required by the CPA.

A deprivation of the use of his car each time it is in the workshop. Therefore, it is pertinent to ascertain the number of times a new car undergoes repairs before the owner can file a case at the tribunal.

Uncertainty about how long the vehicle is going to remain in the service centre.

Defective cars are not only a rip-off for consumers, but they are also unsafe on the roads and a danger to other road users.

With the Lemon Law in Singapore, a consumer can:

Make a claim for a defective product purchased within six months.

Expect the seller of the defective product to repair, replace, refund or reduce the price of the defective product (subject to certain conditions).

Get the defective product repaired within a reasonable time at the seller’s cost.

Ask for a price reduction while keeping the product, or return the product for a refund if the seller fails to repair it.

CAP calls on the government to introduce the Lemon Law for all vehicles regardless of price. It also suggests that it is reasonable for a defective car to be repaired within a maximum of one month, with three attempts by the service centre to repair the same defect before the Lemon Law applies.

CAP would also like to know why the Lemon Law is proposed only for old cars, and why should secondhand car buyers purchase an extended warranty for their vehicle? After all, secondhand vehicles must first be inspected by Puspakom to ensure it is in reasonably good running condition.

We call on the government to introduce the Lemon Law to ensure car manufacturers and dealers be held responsible for their defective products and to repair the vehicle satisfactorily as required by the law. The law should also apply to secondhand vehicles.

The number of defective new vehicles that Malaysians are hopelessly holding on to with no avenue for legal redress is worrying.

Owners of old cars costing less than RM50,000 can at least, for now, seek legal redress from the Consumer Claims Tribunal.

Mohideen Abdul Kader, President of CAP. Comments: