Lemon car owners forced to suck it up

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It’s any car owner’s nightmare: your shiny new set of wheels breaks down and you discover you’re saddled with a “lemon.” It’s particularly bad for Canadian motorists because we have such scant legal protection.

This week, CBC’s Go Public reported how Ontario resident Yasmina Bursac bought a used BMW Mini Cooper in 2013 and ended up with a massive bill and little recourse when the engine blew out a year later.

Mini Cooper Canada eventually agreed to cover 60 per cent of the $10,200 tab to replace the engine, but it still leaves Bursac paying thousands for repairs — on top of her regular car payments — for a car she’s driven for 12 months.

And yet, Bursac is probably lucky. Canadian law doesn’t offer much protection for drivers who buy lemons.

There’s no federal “lemon law,” and only three provinces — Ontario, Manitoba and Nova Scotia — have created statutes to protect car buyers. Even then, those laws have their limitations. Critics say Manitoba’s law doesn’t adequately define what a lemon is, and each law only covers dealerships, not private sellers.

If you don’t qualify for legal ‘lemon-aid’ your options are slim.

There’s the “free, fast, and friendly” Canadian Motor Vehicle Arbitration Plan (CAMVAP), a binding arbitration process funded by the auto industry. However, it only applies to certain makes and model years. Being a 2010 model, and a BMW, Bursac’s car was doubly ineligible.

Even then, used-car owners face a tougher fight since manufacturers can claim a car’s defects are the previous owner’s fault.

Each province and territory has its own consumer protection laws that provide remedies for defective goods, but they don’t protect car buyers or penalize automakers.

George Iny, president of consumer advocacy for the Automobile Protection Association in Canada, says that creates an unjustifiable exception.

"Very few retailers would refuse to take back really defective goods,” he told the CBC. “Car makers and car dealers do that every day."

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