How Do I File a Lemon Law Claim with the BBB Auto Line Program?

by Harry Bradley on August 22, 2011

BBB Auto LineYou’ve got a car problem.  Discussions with the dealer and customer service are going nowhere.  You’re fed up and trying to figure out what to do when see the page in your warranty book that says: “If a warranty concern has not been resolved, you can file with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) Auto Line Program to enforce any additional rights you may have.”

What is the BBB Auto Line?

The BBB Auto Line Program is an informal claims review process designed to give an impartial ear to your complaints about customer service and product performance in a quick and transparent setting.  The process is basic and taxes your patience with only a few forms and a 30-45 minute appointment at your local BBB office.  If you’ve talked yourself hoarse between calls to the dealer and the manufacturer’s customer service line and still have no results, give this a try.

The following is provided to ease fretting over the unfamiliar territory that is the BBB Auto Line, present an overview of the process, set some basic expectations, and offer a few tips for achieving success with the process.  The time investment is minimal, the results are fast, and the decision is not binding on consumers in most states so you can always escalate your claims later to the more formal state lemon law claims process if the problems are not resolved.

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What Does the BBB Auto Line Do?

You’ve got an issue. The manufacturer isn’t listening.  You can call these guys.  BBB Auto Line representatives will hear your complaints and attempt to get to the bottom of the problem from an independent point of view.  They review your application with supporting documents, solicit the manufacturer’s position on the vehicle’s problems and repair history, then (in most cases) personally evaluate the operation of the vehicle and the success of any attempted repairs.  After hearing from both sides they will give you a written decision on your entitlement to lemon law relief, which is binding on the manufacturer.

The program has some limitations, but considering the positives of the program, such as it’s free of charge and will issue a decision within 40 days, it’s a great first step past those frustrating calls to customer service.  This quick, informal process is worth the minimal effort involved.  Again, if you aren’t satisfied with their decision, you can almost always pursue the state lemon law process afterwards.

How do I Start?

The first step is to call the BBB Auto Line at 800-955-5100 to get their application packet, or if you’re comfortable with e-forms, visit the Auto Line website at http://www.bbb.org/us/auto-line-lemon-law/ and apply online.  Once you receive the packet (or while online) it’s a simple matter of describing your vehicle’s problems and trips to the shop in an easy to follow line-by-line question format.  When complete, attach the vehicle’s repair invoices to the form, mail or fax back to the BBB, and you’re done.  It will probably take you 30 minutes to an hour to complete and gather your papers.  As questionnaires go, it more resembles a restaurant survey than a tax form, so it’s a fairly stress-free 30 minutes to complete and return.  This begins the review process.  The BBB Auto Line will contact you shortly after to relay the manufacturer’s response and offer to resolve the problem, or to set a review date at the local BBB office.

The BBB Auto Line Review

The BBB Auto Line advertises the process as two-steps: mediation, then arbitration.  The mediation portion is “Can we talk this through and reach an agreement?”  The arbitration is “We couldn’t reach an agreement so the BBB Auto Line will now make a decision on what should be done.”  After submitting your application you will hear back within 2 to 3 weeks with further information, usually in the form of the manufacturer’s response.

This response begins step 1, the mediation or discussion of the problem(s).  The manufacturer writes back to the BBB in response to your application, making a statement on their view of the problem, and may also include a proposal for resolving your dissatisfaction with the car or service department.  This proposal can take the form of an agreement to repair, an agreement to take back the vehicle, or some other compensation or action.  You need to decide if the proposal is a fair plan to fix the problem.  If the manufacturer’s proposal is acceptable to you, you’re done, and proceed with fulfillment of that agreement.  If not, you decline and move on to step 2.  Don’t worry if the manufacturer offers no solution to the problem whatsoever or denies any problem exists.  They often won’t recognize problems they don’t consistently see or ones they consider only minor.  Frustrating as this is, that’s what step 2 does: the BBB Auto Line will review and give a decision.  You know the problem is there and it’s substantial, even if the manufacturer says it isn’t or they don’t see it.  It’s time to show the BBB arbitrator.

Step 2 is called the arbitration.  The car’s problems are still in dispute, yet still exist, but the manufacturer offers no acceptable solution.  A BBB Auto Line representative will now review your application with repair invoices along with the manufacturer’s statement, and set a date (in most cases) to review the vehicle itself.  On the scheduled day you meet with the BBB Auto Line arbitrator at your local BBB office to show the car and discuss the problems.  If all has gone according to schedule this meeting should occur at about 3 or 4 weeks after initial application and should take no longer than 30 to 45 minutes.  These arbitrators are professional and polite and take their duties seriously so the meeting will be pleasant and worry free.  They will listen to your concerns and give a written decision within 2 weeks which the BBB staff will forward to you for acceptance or rejection.

The BBB Auto Line Decision

The issuance of the BBB Auto Line decision concludes the program.  The review process is designed to take no more than 40 days so you should have results quickly.  If you agree with the decision, sign the acceptance form and send it back making the decision and corrective activity binding on the manufacturer.  Sometimes, the BBB Auto Line’s decision is not in your favor.  Don’t be discouraged.  This is not the end of road and the BBB Auto Line is NOT the final authority on your right to relief under the lemon laws.  Again, the decision is binding only on the manufacturer, not the consumer, so if the BBB decides further action is not necessary by the manufacturer, yet you know your car’s problems are ongoing, return the rejection form only and proceed with the state lemon law claims process.

The BBB Auto Line is only designed to be a quick and transparent initial review, so if the BBB finds against you it doesn’t mean you’re not entitled to relief, only that entitlement could not be given within the bounds of the rules they have to follow.  As always, if you’ve done all you can do and are getting nowhere, seek the help of a professional who can explain your specific rights in your area, and call an attorney.

Tips for Success

The most important thing to keep in mind during the BBB Auto Line review process is that the BBB Auto Line is not your advocate against the manufacturer.  They are impartial and take no sides.  They simply review the material given to them.  They will not represent you against the manufacturer or vice versa.  They won’t summarize your complaints for you or take extra measures to seek out any problems you can’t clearly show yourself.    Be complete with your paperwork.  If a repair invoice is missing from your file, get a copy from the dealer.  If the dealer didn’t make an invoice for any reason when you brought your vehicle in for service, ask the dealer to make one that’s an accurate account of your visit.  It’s your right under the warranty to receive complete paperwork for all service visits, even if they say they do not see the problem.  If a problem is ongoing, be prepared to demonstrate the problem to the BBB on your hearing day.  If you provide incomplete paperwork or can’t show the problem, you’re chances of a decision against you increase exponentially.  Get complete documentation and show the problem!

The BBB has a well deserved reputation as a pro-consumer organization, and the Auto Line is a good program, but for this program it’s up to you and you alone to present your case.  The BBB can’t and won’t do it for you.  Presenting your side with all paperwork and clear demonstration of the problem greatly increases your chances of success.

Final Thoughts

During and after your participation in the BBB Auto Line program you should recognize that a review by the BBB Auto Line is not the same as a formal review under a state lemon law claims process or a lawsuit.  These are separate processes and one does not affect the other.  Differences may exist as each manufacturer creates its own claims review program separately with the BBB Auto Line for each state, which may or may not be an exact replica of the state lemon law in your state.  This pre-arranged scope and authority for each manufacturer is called a Program Summary.   An example can be found here: http://www.bbb.org/us/Storage/16/Documents/BBBAutoLine/Ford-PA-ProgSum.pdf .   Some differences may exist between what entitles you to relief under state law, and what entitles you to relief under the Program Summary for any local BBB Auto Line.  Because of these potential differences and other issues the Federal Trade Commission has commented on keeping these arbitration processes non-binding for consumers:  “The Commission is not now convinced that any guidelines which it set out could ensure sufficient protection for consumers.”  Final Action Concerning Review of Interpretations of Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, 64 Fed. Reg. 19700-19711, 19708 (April 22, 1999).

This should in no way discourage you from applying to any program like the BBB Auto Line.  It’s still a great first option as the BBB Auto Line is excellent at what it does within the intent of the program: a quick and transparent review of a car owner’s problems.  The time investment is minimal, the results are fast, and the decision is not binding on the consumer.  Simply keep in mind that an unfavorable result means only that you didn’t qualify under that particular Program Summary, not that you have a bad case or are not entitled to relief.

Remember, you can almost always escalate your claims later if the problems are not resolved and the BBB Auto Line did not issue a helpful decision.  Don’t give up.  If you’ve done all you can do and still do not have the results you need, seek the help of a professional and call an attorney to assist with further proceedings.

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