What are your rights when the dealership that just sold you that new car suddenly loses its franchise and is no longer allowed to perform warranty service or repairs, leaving you forced to drive for hours just to get what you had a right to, locally?
Hundreds of Volvo owners are more than angry, after learning recently that their Volvo dealership in Bakersfield was shut down earlier this year by Volvo, USA. I learned from more than one source, the Bakersfield dealership had done nothing wrong to merit being shuttered.
As they represent other brands of cars as well, management begged Volvo to allow them to at least perform warranty and service on the cars which they had sold.
“No!” said the ever so customer minded people at Volvo Cars USA. So, what led to all of this?
“Volvo wanted them to build a separate facility costing several million dollars, but the number of cars sold in Bakersfield could not justify such a large investment,” Stated an executive at another European car dealership. And I confirmed this with a confidential source.
“Well,” I’ll bet you are thinking, “So, why not just drive to some other nearby Volvo dealer?” But the closest Volvo dealers are approximately 100 miles away. And there are independent shops who are qualified to work on Volvos in Bakersfield.
For the elderly, those who have difficulty driving at night, you name it, common sense tells you this is no way to treat a customer!
However, Volvo could allow a qualified independent shop to perform service and warranty work, and pay that shop directly. Despite repeated requests to Dean Shaw, VP of Volvo Corporate Communications, asking how or if they plan to help their customers who are in a world of hurt now—having to drive for hours—and many are elderly and can’t, he never replied.
I spoke with a rep from Volvo Customer Service and asked her, “What should a customer do if their car is under warranty and needs a major repair and they can’t drive the distance to another dealer?” Her answer:
“If an independent uses original Volvo parts, the customer must pay and we will reimburse them.”
“But what if the customer doesn’t have the money?” Her answer: “That’s all we can do.”
You’ve got to wonder if the lawyers who represent Volvo Cars USA understand or care about the relevant consumer protection laws that apply in this situation.We asked Los Angeles-based consumer protection attorney Bob Brennan for an opinion on this horrible nightmare facing Volvo owners.
“California has strong legal protection for the consumer in the Song-Beverly Act, and many, but not all states have similar language in their Lemon Law statutes. Paraphrasing Section 1793.2 of the California law, Volvo is required to:
“Maintain sufficient service and repair facilities reasonably close to all areas where its cars are sold, and authorize independent repair or service facilities reasonably close to all areas where vehicles are sold to carry out the terms of the warranties.
“The federal version of Song-Beverly, which applies nationwide, is Magnusson-Moss and also states that the manufacturer can use an independent facility to perform warranty service and repair,” Brennan notes, “but lacks the reasonably close language of Song-Beverly.
“If Volvo denies its customers these legal protections, then a true Lemon Law case could be found, leading to a buy-back of the car or damages plus attorney fees.”
Brennan suggests that any Volvo customer who is asked to drive these distances send a certified letter to the company’s address found in the owner’s manual, stating:
1. I live in (name of city).
2. You closed down your local dealership and under applicable state and federal law it is required that you arrange for a local independent facility to perform warranty service and repair.
3. It is unrealistic for me to drive — or, if true — I cannot drive this distance.
4. Send copies of your letter (and show the cc’s) to the Federal Trade Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, to your state and federal Congressperson. Letters to federal agencies often get a response which makes a difference.
If you’re obligated to pay for service or repairs out of your own pocket, then going to small claims court would be appropriate.
To Brennan, “It’s worth a try as most judges would consider the circumstances and agree that the distance is not reasonable, especially if the person is disabled and unable to drive it.”
With all of this in mind, Volvo gets my “JOY” award for 2019 — “Jerks Of the Year.”