Car complaints rise by 50% since 'lemon law'

Potential customers at a used car showroom at Turf City on April 6, 2013. Complaints from car buyers have crept up since the so-called "lemon law" kicked in last year - though cases of irreparably defective vehicles remain rare, new figures show. --
Potential customers at a used car showroom at Turf City on April 6, 2013. Complaints from car buyers have crept up since the so-called "lemon law" kicked in last year - though cases of irreparably defective vehicles remain rare, new figures show. -- ST FILE PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Numbers up 50%, largely due to rule unfamiliarity: Case

Complaints from car buyers have crept up since the so-called "lemon law" kicked in last year - though cases of irreparably defective vehicles remain rare, new figures show.

The Small Claims Tribunal has received 100 vehicle purchase-related claims in the year up to Tuesday last week - compared to 104 in the whole of 2012 and 64 in 2011.

The Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) said it handled 450 complaints from car buyers, from last September to August this year - 50 per cent more than the 297 it handled in the previous corresponding period.

Yet the numbers make up less than one per cent of the 95,000 cars sold in the year since the new law was introduced.

Case executive director Seah Seng Choon felt the spike is largely due to consumers not being familiar with the new rules.

"The number of complaints should stabilise once consumers understand the law," he said.

The Subordinate Courts did not have details on the outcomes of the car cases before the Small Claims Tribunal, or those brought before the High Court.

Case, however, said most of its cases were resolved when dealers footed repair bills or offered discounts on the purchase price.

No buyer got a full refund on a car or a new replacement - which the lemon law provides for if a product proves to be defective, takes too long to repair or is irreparable. Or is, in short, a lemon.

Of the complaints received by Case, Singapore Vehicle Traders Association president Neo Tiam Ting said "very few" were attributable to cars sold by CaseTrust-accredited dealers.

From last September to August this year, there were 30, compared with 24 in the previous corresponding period.

Mr Neo said the association is proposing "refinements" to how the law treats older cars or cars with high mileage.

"These cannot be expected to perform like new cars," he said.

But Mr Seah added that such issues are already covered by the law.

"The provisions are there... So it's not so much amending the law, but educating the public better so that consumers can apply the law appropriately."

Civil servant Syed Hussain, 62, received a $1,500 refund when a six-year-old Nissan Latio he bought last November broke down, but said the compensation should have been higher.

"You expect a second-hand car not to be tip-top, but it stalled when I was out with my family on a rainy day," he said. "I spent $4,000 to repair it."

Mr Hussain is grateful for the lemon law, but said it could have more bite and clarity.

For instance, it provides for a new-car replacement if there have been three failed attempts to repair a defect that occurred within one year of purchase. But there is no similar prescription for used vehicles.

Case's Mr Seah said the law provides room for negotiation and "encourages parties to sit down and talk".

"Consumers expect a high standard of service because cars are high-cost items," he added. "Some retailers may be unwilling to negotiate and want to continue with their old habits of ignoring the call to rectify defects."

christan@sph.com.sg