Recently, two Bay Area consumers asked us for help getting a car company to buy back their new cars. Their cases ended differently, and we want to you to see how.
We also want you to hear from an expert who says you should never just settle when a brand new car has a persistent problem.
STUCK STEERING WHEEL
Lisa Sully is frustrated as a wrecker tows her 2016 Kia Sedona to her Albany home.
“We love it,” she said. “And it drives great.”
Yes, the van’s engine runs. But Sully and her partner, Claudine, are afraid to drive it. They say the steering wheel has twice locked up during left turns.
“I panicked,” Sully said, describing the occurrence. “It won’t turn back to the right. It’s totally stuck. It gets stuck in the position – in the turning left position.”
Ryan Forward in San Jose has a problem turbo charger.
“It’s actually my first time buying a new car,” he said, standing next to his 2016 Chevrolet Malibu.
Forward says that when he accelerates, the turbo charger his Malibu rattles.
“It’s kind of like a grinding,” he said. “I thought: Maybe it’ll go away. Maybe it’s just the engine breaking in. I was trying to find stuff on the web about it.”
Forward found that General Motors issued a service bulletin for the rattle – but no solution. So, he decided it was time to try to wash his hands of the Malibu.
“I actually reached out to you guys, NBC Investigates,” he said.
Both Forward and Sully asked us for help getting the manufacturer to buy back their vehicle. Only one was successful.
It was the rattling turbo charger. Chevy offered Forward a $22,000 buyback deal, and he took it.
“I appreciate NBC helping out with this,” he said.
In a statement, General Motors said, “We decided a buyback offer was the best course of action for everyone, even though we don’t believe there was a defect in the engine that impacted its performance, safety or durability.”
Forward is now driving a new Chevy Impala.
As for Sully, she still owns her Kia Sedona, which she has parked – perhaps permanently.
“I’m scared to drive this car,” she said. “I won’t drive this car, because knowing that it’s not safe, if I hurt somebody, it would be my fault.”
We searched the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration database and found other Kia owners reporting similar issues with steering wheels that lock. Kia acknowledged the reports but said it cannot duplicate Sully’s steering problem.
“Despite the proactive efforts of the [Kia] team, no physical evidence of anything out of the ordinary has been found,” the company said. Kia “cannot rectify a problem that cannot be identified.”
That stance does not sit well with Sully and her partner.
“Just because Kia can’t find the problem doesn’t mean there is no problem,” Claudine said.
Sully and Claudine say they can’t ethically sell the van to another family. So, they’re stuck making payments on a van that will sit.
“It’s going to be here. It’s not going to be driven,” Sully said.
DRIVE IT 'OFF A CLIFF'
Their next step might be hiring an attorney like Scott Kaufman, whose sole practice is holding car companies accountable.
“We don’t advertise, and the phone never stops ringing,” Kaufman said.
Kaufman says car companies are reluctant to buy back cars because they lose money.
“They’d much rather you go away,” he said. “Drive it off a cliff, give it to someone else, but they don’t want to buy it back. “
Kaufman says manufacturers are supposed to make a buyback offer when you repeatedly bring a car in for service for the same problem under warranty.
“They have to buy it back without even being asked,“ he said.
Kaufman says a 1995 California case called Krotin v. Porsche concluded that car companies have a “duty” to provide you a refund or replacement when repeated repairs don’t work – even if you don’t ask.
“That’s the law in California,” he said.
How often does it happen? “Never,” Kaufman said.
So, Kaufman says consumers must fight. Here are his keys to demanding a car buyback:
- Communicate everything in writing.
- Require that the shop document exactly what you say on its work orders, so no one downplays your problem.
- Be persistent. State law requires you to give the car maker multiple attempts to fix what’s wrong.
- Don’t wait. Every extra mile you drive might reduce your buyback offer.
“You want to bring it in like they vote in Chicago: early and often,” Kaufman said.