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As a lawyer spend significant time in Lemon Law, I read a lot of records identified with car buys and fixes. In the course of the most recent few decades, I’ve watched those documents evolve. They have been constantly deteriorating and more awful for the customer. These days, the buyer of a first-class thing like a vehicle, truck, cruiser, vessel, or RV will transfer ownership of something giving pretty much every privilege possible. How awful has it gotten?

Most Sellers disclaim all guarantees when they sell you something. Your new vehicle may have a producer’s guarantee when you get it however you get no guarantees from the dealer. They will regularly venture to such an extreme as to disavow everything said to you by the sales rep. So the sales rep can guarantee you anything–it’s all useless once you sign the document.

What if you specifically asked the salesperson if the truck could tow a particular trailer or the salesperson “accidentally” told you the product came with a certain warranty–one that it did not come with? See above. Most likely, those statements are legally meaningless once you sign the Purchase Agreement which nullifies the salesperson’s statements.

Many sellers and manufacturers now include a one-year statute of limitations in their documents, meaning that if you decide to sue them for breach of warranty (assuming you didn’t waive that in the purchase agreement), you must commence the suit within one year of the purchase date. Does the RV or boat have a 5-year warranty? The last 4 years might be unenforceable. Yes, this is an absurd result but I have seen judges in state court and federal court uphold this nonsense. When I pointed out that my clients were then stuck with an illusory promise (a warranty that is unenforceable) the judges said, in essence, “If they didn’t like that, they shouldn’t have signed the sales contract.”

Many sellers will ask buyers to sign a document that acknowledges that the buyer has read all of the sales and warranty documents and agrees with them. Except that the warranty booklets fill a full banker’s box in one of the cabinets inside the boat or RV being purchased. No one has read all of those documents. And guess what is often hidden there? That one-year statute of limitations clause cutting your longer warranty into a shorter one.

 

Arbitration clauses are becoming commonplace in this industry. I have seen them stuck into Purchase Agreements, applications for the title, employee discount forms, and warranty documents. They will often simply say, “You agree to arbitrate any claims against us by using XYZ Arbitration.” Later, you will learn that the arbitration they have chosen is one they run, using rules written by the seller or the manufacturer. Think you can win that battle? Oh, and you may need to file that arbitration claims within the one year window. After all, they will only arbitrate the legal claims you may have had – and they will enforce that one-year limit just the same way a court would.

Is there anything a consumer can do about this? Yes. Next time you are shopping for a big-ticket item like a car, truck, RV, or boat, read all of the sales documents before you sign them and before you commit to buying. Whatever you are buying is available somewhere else. If you see a clause you dislike in the documents, ask to strike it. If the seller will not negotiate the terms of the sale – and they will always start out by telling you that deleting any language is impossible – suggest that you will continue to shop around and see what the language looks like at the dealer down the street. You’d be surprised at what might happen if you threaten to walk out and take your money elsewhere.

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