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Better Business Bureau Warranty Dispute Settlement Program Completes 25th Successful Year


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(Arlington, VA., April 11, 2006) -- The Better Business Bureau released data today showing that in 2005 the BBB handled 37,862 complaints nationwide involving automobile warranty claims brought by car owners against participating manufacturers. Over the course of its 25 year history, BBB AUTO LINE has assisted 1.8 million automobile owners resolving warranty claims. (2005 state by state data)

Auto manufacturers and importers providing this service nationally through the BBB include Acura, AM General, Audi, Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Ford, GMC, Honda, Hyundai, IMS (conversions), Infiniti, Isuzu, Kia, Lincoln, Land Rover, Mercury, Nissan, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Saturn and Volkswagen. Many others participate on a state-by-state basis. A detailed listing of all participants may be found on the BBB Web site at: www.lemonlaw.bbb.org

"The sharp decline in annual caseload over the 25 year period of this program (the highest annual caseload was 244,300 in 1984) is a testament to the efforts of the participating auto companies to customer satisfaction, as well as pretty strong evidence of the vastly improved quality of automobiles on the market today," according to Steven Cole, president and CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, which oversees the program. "At the same time, by providing almost 38,000 customers annually with an out-of-court, swift, and free dispute resolution opportunity the companies are showing their commitment to a fair and trustworthy marketplace," Cole added.

BBB AUTO LINE is one of the first examples of out-of-court consumer dispute resolution in the US, and is one of the largest programs of its kind in the world. The BBB program was first tested by General Motors in the late 1970s, and Ford Motor Company is its latest addition.

"The auto industry should be very proud of what it has accomplished," Cole noted. "BBB AUTO LINE participants have paved the way for many other initiatives in the US and around the world that now provide consumers with effective and fair informal remedies. BBB dispute resolution procedures are becoming the model for international standards now under development by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO)," Cole said.

Customers owning vehicles made by the BBB AUTO LINE companies may file a complaint by telephone, mail, or on the Internet at the BBB web site. BBB staff first tries to help the parties reach a voluntary settlement. In 2005, settlements were achieved in 58% of the eligible cases pursued through BBB AUTO LINE.

If settlement attempts are not successful, customers are offered the chance to attend an arbitration hearing at which evidence is presented to an impartial trained arbitrator, who makes a decision based on the evidence. Unlike court cases or other types of arbitration, the decision in these cases is not binding on the customer unless he or she accepts the decision. In contrast, all manufacturers in the program agree in advance to abide by any decision that a customer accepts. In 2005 there were 6,031 arbitrations, and in the 25 years of the program there have been more than 262,000.

Consumers may request repairs, repurchase/replacement or reimbursement of certain expenses, as well as other relief in BBB AUTO LINE. In 2005, customers obtained some or all of the relief they requested in 80% of the eligible cases filed (i.e. of cases settled/arbitrated).

The BBB's program is well regarded by users. Each year a survey of consumers using the program is conducted by an independent evaluator. The findings of the survey are submitted to the Federal Trade Commission. Data from the most recent survey indicated that 88% of BBB AUTO LINE claimants (including those who were unsuccessful after a hearing) would recommend the process to family or friends. The complete program evaluation may be found at: www.dr.bbb.org/DRresults/2004FinalReport.pdf Comments from consumers about their experience are available at: www.dr.bbb.org/testimonials.asp

How to Resolve an Auto Warranty Dispute
If you have an automobile warranty problem, you should first contact the dealer's service manager and ask for his or her assistance, Cole suggested. If the service manager cannot get the problem resolved to your satisfaction, contact the manufacturer.

"Your vehicle owner's manual or warranty book should list the toll-free number of a manufacturer customer assistance representative, who can work with the dealer and will often be able to help get your problem resolved. The information is also available on the BBB Web site at: www.lemonlaw.bbb.org."

If those steps don't satisfactorily resolve your problem, contact your Better Business Bureau for additional assistance.

Consumers can file a claim with BBB AUTO LINE by calling 1.800.955.5100 or file online at: www.lemonlaw.bbb.org

"You will be sent a program brochure and all the materials you need to file a claim," Cole said. "You can also review program details and information about your state's lemon law on our Web site."

When a claim is filed, BBB AUTO LINE staff will work with the car owner and the manufacturer to determine if the problem can be settled by mutual agreement. If the problem is not resolved, eligible consumers can present their case to an impartial arbitrator at an informal hearing, usually held at a local Better Business Bureau office. The arbitrator will render a decision – which may include repairs, reimbursement or the repurchase or replacement of the consumer's vehicle; the consumer is then free to accept or reject that decision. If the consumer accepts the decision, the manufacturer is bound to comply with it; if the consumer rejects the decision, the consumer may go on to pursue any other options (including legal action) that are available. The entire process is provided at no cost to consumers and should be completed within 40 days.

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