Automobile Fraud

There are few things more frustrating than buying a product and finding out later that you were misled or defrauded.  Our attorneys have had the privilege of winning compensation for consumers throughout California in cases against unscrupulous car dealerships and other businesses.  If you are concerned that you have been the victim of fraudulent or deceptive business practices, we invite you to email or telephone us for a free consultation.  You may also find the answers to the following frequently asked questions helpful.

What if my vehicle was in an accident before I purchased it?

Automobile dealerships must inspect used cars prior to sale. If the dealership finds material damage, that damage must be disclosed. If a consumer asks the dealership directly whether a vehicle has had any collision damage, the dealership's representatives must answer truthfully. If prior accident damage is not properly disclosed, the consumer may be entitled to return the vehicle and receive a refund. If you begin to notice irregularities in the appearance or performance of your vehicle, those irregularities may be signs of a previous accident. Common examples include over-spray paint on portions of the vehicle, panels that do not line up or fit correctly and doors or trunk lids that do not close properly, accelerated or uneven tire wear and front end pulling. There are many ways to confirm that the vehicle was in an accident. You can research the vehicle's history or you can have a qualified paint and body mechanic conduct a physical inspection of the vehicle.

What are my remedies if I was sold a previously wrecked vehicle?

If you have been sold a previously wrecked vehicle, you may be entitled to several remedies including a full refund of your money. In addition to your actual damages, the dealership may also be required to pay punitive damages and attorneys' fees and costs.

What rights do I have if I owe more on my trade-in vehicle that it is worth?

Oftentimes consumers are "upside down" on loans for vehicles which they wish to trade in when they purchase their new vehicle. In these situations, dealerships must disclose how the negative equity is calculated on the face of the Retail Installment Sale Contract or Motor Vehicle Lease Agreement. Usually this disclosure can be accomplished by properly completing the section of the contract entitled "Itemization of the Amount Financed." In this section there are line items which refer to the agreed trade in value, "prior credit or lease balance" and "net trade-in." If you find that these items were completed incorrectly, you may have rights provided by the Automobile Sales Finance Act or the Vehicle Leasing Act.

What is Odometer Fraud?

Misrepresentation of the actual mileage of a vehicle is illegal. If someone has tampered with the odometer, if someone has replaced the odometer and failed to provide the required notice on the vehicle or if the odometer has rolled through all the digits and started over, you may have certain rights that protect you if the retailer failed to inform you of these conditions.

How do I determine whether I have been sold a vehicle with an incorrect odometer reading?

The Department of Motor Vehicles in California maintains records which contain a report of the mileage each time a vehicle is smogged or sold. By reviewing these records, as well as the time line, it is often possible to spot a discrepancy in the mileage. In addition, on-line companies such as carfax.com, consumerguide.com and autocheck.com will, for a fee, provide you with a history of the vehicle's ownership. Interviewing previous owners and inspecting the mechanical condition of the vehicle can also provide evidence of odometer tampering.

What are my remedies if I have been sold a vehicle with an incorrect odometer reading?

If you have been sold a vehicle with an incorrect odometer reading, you may be entitled to several remedies including a full refund of your money, punitive damages and attorneys' fees and costs.

What if I think I have been defrauded through the purchase or lease process?

Some automotive dealerships engage in practices which are deceptive and illegal. Examples of these practices include hiding negative equity, bait and switch advertising, demanding purchase of an extended service contract as a condition of financing, and packing the deal. Packing is probably the most common scheme and has been the subject of at least one 60 Minutes undercover report. By increasing the amount of a quoted monthly payment over what it would otherwise be, a sales representative can create room for a finance manager to later sell aftermarket items such as service contracts, paint and fabric protection, gap insurance and security systems without increasing the monthly payment previously quoted to the customer. In essence, these high-profit items are pre-sold to the customer without disclosure. The sales representative may also conceal the term of a loan or the annual percentage rate to achieve the same result.

Do I have any specific rights if I negotiated my contract in Spanish or another foreign language?

If a consumer negotiates in Spanish or another foreign language for the purchase of a consumer good, the consumer is entitled to a copy of the contract in that language. If a foreign language contract is not provided at the time of sale, the consumer is entitled to cancel the contract and receive a refund. If the consumer negotiated the contract through his own interpreter, however, he is not entitled to a copy of the contract in the foreign language. The interpreter must be fluent in both English and Spanish and cannot be provided by the company. Dealerships are required to have signs posted notifying consumers who negotiate contracts in a foreign language that they are entitled to a copy of the contract in that language.

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