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FTC Automobile Dispute Settlement Rules
[Code of Federal Regulations]
[Title 16, Volume 1, Parts 0 to 999]
[Revised as of January 1, 1997]
From the U.S. Government Printing Office via GPO Access
[CITE: 16CFR703] 
  
 
TITLE 16--COMMERCIAL PRACTICES
 
CHAPTER I--FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION
 
PART 703--INFORMAL DISPUTE SETTLEMENT PROCEDURES


Sec.
703.1  Definitions.
703.2  Duties of warrantor.

                  Minimum Requirements of the Mechanism

703.3  Mechanism organization.
703.4  Qualification of members.
703.5  Operation of the Mechanism.
703.6  Recordkeeping.
703.7  Audits.
703.8  Openness of records and proceedings.

    Authority: 15 U.S.C. 2309 and 2310.

    Source: 40 FR 60215, Dec. 31, 1975, unless otherwise noted.

Sec. 703.1  Definitions.
 

    (b) Consumer product means any tangible personal property which is distributed in commerce and which is normally used for personal, family, or household purposes (including any such property intended to be attached to or installed in any real property without regard to whether it is so attached or installed).
    (c) Written warranty means:
      (1)  Any written affirmation of fact or written promise made in connection with the sale of a consumer product by a supplier to a buyer which relates to the nature of the material or workmanship and affirms or promises that such material or workmanship is defect free or will meet a specified level of performance over a specified period of time, or

      (2)  Any undertaking in writing in connection with the sale by a supplier of a consumer product to refund, repair, replace, or take other remedial action with respect to such product in the event that such product fails to meet the specifications set forth in the undertaking, which written affirmation, promise or undertaking becomes part of the basis of the bargain between a supplier and a buyer for purposes other than resale of such product.

    (d) Warrantor means any person who gives or offers to give a written warranty which incorporates an informal dispute settlement mechanism.

    (e) Mechanism means an informal dispute settlement procedure which is incorporated into the terms of a written warranty to which any provision of Title I of the Act applies, as provided in section 110 of the Act.

    (f) Members means the person or persons within a Mechanism actually deciding disputes.

    (g) Consumer means a buyer (other than for purposes of resale) of any consumer product, any person to whom such product is transferred during the duration of a written warranty applicable to the product, and any other person who is entitled by the terms of such warranty or under applicable state law to enforce against the warrantor the obligations of  the warranty.

    (h) On the face of the warranty means:
     

      (1)  If the warranty is a single sheet with printing on both sides of the sheet, or if the warranty is comprised of more than one sheet, the page on which the warranty text begins;

      (2)  If the warranty is included as part of a longer document, such as a use and care manual, the page in such document on which the warranty text begins.

Sec. 703.2  Duties of warrantor.
     (a) The warrantor shall not incorporate into the terms of a written warranty a Mechanism that fails to comply with the requirements contained in Secs. 703.3 through 703.8 of this part. This paragraph shall not prohibit a warrantor from incorporating into the terms of a written warranty the step-by-step procedure which the consumer should take in order to obtain performance of any obligation under the warranty as described in section 102(a)(7) of the Act and required by part 701 of this subchapter.

    (b)  The warrantor shall disclose clearly and conspicuously at least the following information on the face of the written warranty:

      (1)  A statement of the availability of the informal dispute settlement mechanism;

      (2)  The name and address of the Mechanism, or the name and a telephone number of the Mechanism which consumers may use without charge;

      (3)  A statement of any requirement that the consumer resort to the Mechanism before exercising rights or seeking remedies created by Title I of the Act; together with the disclosure that if a consumer chooses to seek redress by pursuing rights and remedies not created by Title I of the Act, resort to the Mechanism would not be required by any provision of the Act; and

      (4)  A statement, if applicable, indicating where further information on the Mechanism can be found in materials accompanying the product, as provided in Sec. 703.2(c) of this section.

    (c)  The warrantor shall include in the written warranty or in a separate section of materials accompanying the product, the following information:
      (1)  Either (i) a form addressed to the Mechanism containing spaces requesting the information which the Mechanism may require for prompt resolution of warranty disputes; or (ii) a telephone number of the Mechanism which consumers may use without charge;

      (2)  The name and address of the Mechanism;
       
      (3)  A brief description of Mechanism procedures;

      (4)  The time limits adhered to by the Mechanism; and

      (5)  The types of information which the Mechanism may require for prompt resolution of warranty disputes.

      (d) The warrantor shall take steps reasonably calculated to make consumers aware of the Mechanism's existence at the time consumers experience warranty disputes. Nothing contained in paragraphs (b), (c), or (d) of this section shall limit the warrantor's option to encourage consumers to seek redress directly from the warrantor as long as the warrantor does not expressly require consumers to seek redress directly from the warrantor. The warrantor shall proceed fairly and expeditiously to attempt to resolve all disputes submitted directly to the warrantor.

     (e)  Whenever a dispute is submitted directly to the warrantor, the warrantor shall, within a reasonable time, decide whether, and to what extent, it will satisfy the consumer, and inform the consumer of its decision. In its notification to the consumer of its decision, the warrantor shall include the information required in Sec. 703.2 (b) and (c) of this section.

    (f)  The warrantor shall:

      (1)  Respond fully and promptly to reasonable requests by the Mechanism for information relating to disputes;

      (2)   Upon notification of any decision of the Mechanism that would require action on the part of the warrantor, immediately notify the Mechanism whether, and to what extent, warrantor will abide by the decision; and

      (3)  Perform any obligations it has agreed to.

    (g)  The warrantor shall act in good faith in determining whether, and to what extent, it will abide by a Mechanism decision.

    (h)  The warrantor shall comply with any reasonable requirements imposed by the Mechanism to fairly and expeditiously resolve warranty disputes.

Minimum Requirements of the Mechanism

Sec. 703.3  Mechanism organization.

    (a)  The Mechanism shall be funded and competently staffed at a level sufficient to ensure fair and expeditious resolution of all disputes, and shall not charge consumers any fee for use of the Mechanism.

    (b)  The warrantor and the sponsor of the Mechanism (if other than the warrantor) shall take all steps necessary to ensure that the Mechanism, and its members and staff, are sufficiently insulated from the warrantor and the sponsor, so that the decisions of the members and the performance of the staff are not influenced by either the warrantor or the sponsor. Necessary steps shall include, at a minimum, committing funds in advance, basing personnel decisions solely on merit, and not assigning conflicting warrantor or sponsor duties to Mechanism staff persons.

    (c)  The Mechanism shall impose any other reasonable requirements necessary to ensure that the members and staff act fairly and expeditiously in each dispute.

Sec. 703.4  Qualification of members.
    (a)  No member deciding a dispute shall be:
      (1)  A party to the dispute, or an employee or agent of a party other than for purposes of deciding disputes; or

      (2)   A person who is or may become a party in any legal action, including but not limited to class actions, relating to the product or complaint in dispute, or an employee or agent of such person other than for purposes of deciding disputes. For purposes of this paragraph (a) a person shall not be considered a ``party'' solely because he or she acquires or owns an interest in a party solely for investment, and the acquisition or ownership of an interest which is offered to the general public shall be prima facie evidence of its acquisition or ownership solely for investment.
       

     (b)  When one or two members are deciding a dispute, all shall be persons having no direct involvement in the manufacture, distribution, sale or service of any product. When three or more members are deciding a dispute, at least two-thirds shall be persons having no direct involvement in the manufacture, distribution, sale or service of any product. ``Direct involvement'' shall not include acquiring or owning an interest solely for investment, and the acquisition or ownership of an interest which is offered to the general public shall be prima facie evidence of its acquisition or ownership solely for investment. Nothing contained in this section shall prevent the members from consulting with any persons knowledgeable in the technical, commercial or other areas relating to the product which is the subject of the dispute.

    (c)  Members shall be persons interested in the fair and expeditious settlement of consumer disputes.

Sec. 703.5  Operation of the Mechanism.
    (a)   The Mechanism shall establish written operating procedures which shall include at least those items specified in paragraphs (b) through (j) of this section. Copies of the written procedures shall be made available to any person upon request.

    (b)  Upon notification of a dispute, the Mechanism shall immediately inform both the warrantor and the consumer of receipt of the dispute.

    (c)   The Mechanism shall investigate, gather and organize all information necessary for a fair and expeditious decision in each dispute. When any evidence gathered by or submitted to the Mechanism raises issues relating to the number of repair attempts, the length of repair periods, the possibility of unreasonable use of the product, or any other issues relevant in light of Title I of the Act (or rules thereunder), including issues relating to consequential damages, or any other remedy under the Act (or rules thereunder), the Mechanism shall investigate these issues. When information which will or may be used in the decision, submitted by one party, or a consultant under Sec. 703.4(b) of this part, or any other source tends to contradict facts submitted by the other party, the Mechanism shall clearly, accurately, and completely disclose to both parties the contradictory information (and its source) and shall provide both parties an opportunity to explain or rebut the information and to submit additional materials. The Mechanism shall not require any information not reasonably necessary to decide the dispute.

    (d)  If the dispute has not been settled, the Mechanism shall, as expeditiously as possible but at least within 40 days of notification of the dispute, except as provided in paragraph (e) of this section:
     

      (1)  Render a fair decision based on the information gathered as described in paragraph (c) of this section, and on any information submitted at an oral presentation which conforms to the requirements of paragraph (f) of this section (A decision shall include any remedies appropriate under the circumstances, including repair, replacement, refund, reimbursement for expenses, compensation for damages, and any other remedies available under the written warranty or the Act (or rules thereunder); and a decision shall state a specified reasonable time for performance);

      (2)  Disclose to the warrantor its decision and the reasons therefore;

      (3)  If the decision would require action on the part of the warrantor, determine whether, and to what extent, warrantor will abide by its decision; and

      (4)  Disclose to the consumer its decision, the reasons therefore, warrantor's intended actions (if the decision would require action on the part of the warrantor), and the information described in paragraph (g) of this section. For purposes of paragraph (d) of this section a dispute shall be deemed settled when the Mechanism has ascertained from the consumer that:
       

        (i)  The dispute has been settled to the consumer's satisfaction; and
         
        (ii)  the settlement contains a specified reasonable time for performance.
         
    (e)  The Mechanism may delay the performance of its duties under paragraph (d) of this section beyond the 40 day time limit:
      (1)  Where the period of delay is due solely to failure of a consumer to provide promptly his or her name and address, brand name and model number of the product involved, and a statement as to the nature of the defect or other complaint; or

      (2)  For a 7 day period in those cases where the consumer has made no attempt to seek redress directly from the warrantor.

    (f)  The Mechanism may allow an oral presentation by a party to a dispute (or a party's representative) only if:
      (1)  Both warrantor and consumer expressly agree to the presentation;

      (2)  Prior to agreement the Mechanism fully discloses to the consumer the following information:

        (i)  That the presentation by either party will take place only if both parties so agree, but that if they agree, and one party fails to appear at the agreed upon time and place, the presentation by the other party may still be allowed;
         

        (ii)  That the members will decide the dispute whether or not an oral presentation is made;

        (iii)   The proposed date, time and place for the presentation; and

        (iv)  A brief description of what will occur at the presentation including, if applicable, parties' rights to bring witnesses and/or counsel; and
         

      (3)  Each party has the right to be present during the other party's oral presentation. Nothing contained in this paragraph (b) of this section shall preclude the Mechanism from allowing an oral presentation by one party, if the other party fails to appear at the agreed upon time and place, as long as all of the requirements of this paragraph have been satisfied.
    (g)  The Mechanism shall inform the consumer, at the time of disclosure required in paragraph (d) of this section that:
      (1)  If he or she is dissatisfied with its decision or warrantor's intended actions, or eventual performance, legal remedies, including use of small claims court, may be pursued;

      (2)  The Mechanism's decision is admissible in evidence as provided in section 110(a)(3) of the Act; and,

     
      (3)  The consumer may obtain, at reasonable cost, copies of all Mechanism records relating to the consumer's dispute.
 
    (h)  If the warrantor has agreed to perform any obligations, either as part of a settlement agreed to after notification to the Mechanism of the dispute or as a result of a decision under paragraph (d) of this section, the Mechanism shall ascertain from the consumer within 10 working days of the date for performance whether performance has occurred.

    (i)  A requirement that a consumer resort to the Mechanism prior to commencement of an action under section 110(d) of the Act shall be satisfied 40 days after notification to the Mechanism of the dispute or when the Mechanism completes all of its duties under paragraph (d) of this section, whichever occurs sooner. Except that, if the Mechanism delays performance of its paragraph (d) of this section duties as allowed by paragraph (e) of this section, the requirement that the consumer initially resort to the mechanism shall not be satisfied until the period of delay allowed by paragraph (e) of this section has ended.

    (j)  Decisions of the Mechanism shall not be legally binding on any person. However, the warrantor shall act in good faith, as provided in Sec. 703.2(g) of this part. In any civil action arising out of a warranty obligation and relating to a matter considered by the Mechanism, any decision of the Mechanism shall be admissible in evidence, as provided in section 110(a)(3) of the Act.

Sec. 703.6  Recordkeeping.
    (a)  The Mechanism shall maintain records on each dispute referred to it which shall include:
      (1)  Name, address and telephone number of the consumer;
       
      (2)  Name, address, telephone number and contact person of the warrantor;

      (3)  Brand name and model number of the product involved;

      (4)  The date of receipt of the dispute and the date of disclosure to the consumer of the decision;

      (5)  All letters or other written documents submitted by either party;

      (6)  All other evidence collected by the Mechanism relating to the dispute, including summaries of relevant and material portions of telephone calls and meetings between the Mechanism and any other person (including consultants described in Sec. 703.4(b) of this part);

      (7)  A summary of any relevant and material information presented by either party at an oral presentation;

      (8)  The decision of the members including information as to date, time and place of meeting, and the identity of members voting; or information on any other resolution;

      (9)  A copy of the disclosure to the parties of the decision;

      (10)  A statement of the warrantor's intended action(s);

      (11)  Copies of follow-up letters (or summaries of relevant and material portions of follow-up telephone calls) to the consumer, and responses thereto; and

      (12)  Any other documents and communications (or summaries of  relevant and material portions of oral communications) relating to the dispute.

    (b)  The Mechanism shall maintain an index of each warrantor's disputes grouped under brand name and sub-grouped under product model.

    (c)  The Mechanism shall maintain an index for each warrantor as will show:
     

      (1)  All disputes in which the warrantor has promised some performance (either by settlement or in response to a Mechanism decision) and has failed to comply; and

      (2)  All disputes in which the warrantor has refused to abide by a Mechanism decision.

      (d)  The Mechanism shall maintain an index as will show all disputes delayed beyond 40 days.

      (e)  The Mechanism shall compile semi-annually and maintain statistics which show the number and percent of disputes in each of the following categories:
       

        (1)  Resolved by staff of the Mechanism and warrantor has complied;

        (2)  Resolved by staff of the Mechanism, time for compliance has occurred, and warrantor has not complied;

        (3)  Resolved by staff of the Mechanism and time for compliance has not yet occurred;
         
        (4)  Decided by members and warrantor has complied;
         
        (5)  Decided by members, time for compliance has occurred, and warrantor has not complied;

        (6)  Decided by members and time for compliance has not yet occurred;

        (7)  Decided by members adverse to the consumer;

        (8)  No jurisdiction;

        (9)  Decision delayed beyond 40 days under Sec. 703.5(e)(1) of this part;

        (10)  Decision delayed beyond 40 days under Sec. 703.5(e)(2) of this part;

        (11)  Decision delayed beyond 40 days for any other reason; and

        (12)  Pending decision.

    (f)  The Mechanism shall retain all records specified in paragraphs (a) through (e) of this section for at least 4 years after final disposition of the dispute.
Sec. 703.7  Audits.
    (a)  The Mechanism shall have an audit conducted at least annually, to determine whether the Mechanism and its implementation are in compliance with this part. All records of the Mechanism required to be kept under Sec. 703.6 of this part shall be available for audit.

    (b)  Each audit provided for in paragraph (a) of this section shall include at a minimum the following:

      (1)  Evaluation of warrantors' efforts to make consumers aware of the Mechanism's existence as required in Sec. 703.2(d) of this part;

      (2)  Review of the indexes maintained pursuant to Sec. 703.6 (b), (c), and (d) of this part; and

      (3)  Analysis of a random sample of disputes handled by the Mechanism  to determine the following:
       

        (i)  Adequacy of the Mechanism's complaint and other forms, investigation, mediation and follow-up efforts, and other aspects of complaint handling; and

        (ii)  Accuracy of the Mechanism's statistical compilations under Sec. 703.6(e) of this part. (For purposes of this subparagraph ``analysis'' shall include oral or written contact with the consumers involved in each of the disputes in the random sample.)
         

    (c)  A report of each audit under this section shall be submitted to the Federal Trade Commission, and shall be made available to any person at reasonable cost. The Mechanism may direct its auditor to delete names of parties to disputes, and identity of products involved, from the audit report.

    (d)  Auditors shall be selected by the Mechanism. No auditor may be involved with the Mechanism as a warrantor, sponsor or member, or employee or agent thereof, other than for purposes of the audit.

Sec. 703.8  Openness of records and proceedings.
    (a)  The statistical summaries specified in Sec. 703.6(e) of this part shall be available to any person for inspection and copying.

    (b)  Except as provided under paragraphs (a) and (e) of this section, and paragraph (c) of Sec. 703.7 of this part, all records of the Mechanism may be kept confidential, or made available only on such terms and conditions, or in such form, as the Mechanism shall permit.

    (c)  The policy of the Mechanism with respect to records made available at the Mechanism's option shall be set out in the procedures under Sec. 703.5(a) of this part; the policy shall be applied uniformly to all requests for access to or copies of such records.

    (d)  Meetings of the members to hear and decide disputes shall be open to observers on reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms. The identity of the parties and products involved in disputes need not be disclosed at meetings.

    (e)  Upon request the Mechanism shall provide to either party to a dispute:
     

      (1)  Access to all records relating to the dispute; and

      (2)  Copies of any records relating to the dispute, at reasonable cost.

    (f)  The Mechanism shall make available to any person upon request, information relating to the qualifications of Mechanism staff and members.


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