SB234: California Lemon Law for our Troops

Governor Schwarzenegger signs bill to expand California’s auto lemon law
to protect our Troops.
Senator Ellen Corbett, author of SB 234,
to expand California's lemon law to protect
our troops and their families.

Capt. Patton (U.S. Navy), Rosemary Shahan (CARS President),
Sergeant Major Wayne Bell (U.S. Marine Corps.),
Ellen Turnage (Lt. Kindig's attorney), Senator Liz Figueroa,
and photo of Lt. Nathan Kindig (U.S. Navy) speak to
reporters at Capitol press conference, urging improved
consumer protections for troops stationed in California
from lemon vehicles, auto frauds, and predatory lending practices.
Photo by Neil Michel, Axiom Photo Design, 2006.
Bill extends lemon law to military
Los Angeles Times
July 21, 2007

California is now the first and only state in the nation to specifically protect active duty military troops whose vehicles are “lemons,” regardless where their vehicles were purchased or are registered. The new law will take effect January 1, 2008.

The new law was inspired by a particularly courageous consumer, Lt. Nathan Kindig, who serves in the United States Navy as a physicians assistant. When Lt. Kindig bought a new 2004 Dodge Dakota truck, he had no idea he was in for such a wild ride. Now the ordeal he and his family experienced at the hands of DaimlerChrysler has sparked improved lemon law protections for all 160,000 active duty troops stationed in California.

Before he bought the truck in Washington state, Lt. Kindig carefully researched ratings of trucks and chose one that promised to be safe and reliable. And for a while, it was. Then it started to overheat. When he returned from his first tour in Iraq, he took his fiancée and 7-year-old daughter with him to visit his parents in Arkansas. Shortly before they arrived, the truck overheated and left them stranded on the side of the road. It had to be towed to a local dealership for repairs. There it stayed for about a week. During the precious time Lt. Kindig had with his family on leave, he had to borrow his parents’ car simply to have wheels.

Thus began a long saga of repeated overheating episodes. Once, they crossed the Arizona desert in blazing midday heat, rushing to make it back to California in time to report for duty, with the widows rolled down and the heater going full blast–as a dealer had suggested, to keep the engine from seizing up.

Finally, after many attempts to fix the overheating failed, a dealer in Southern California conceded it was not repairable and advised Lt. Kindig to get a lawyer. He found Ellen Turnage, a seasoned lemon law attorney in San Diego. When she contacted DaimlerChrysler, their attorney acknowledged that if Kindig were protected by California’s lemon law (widely considered to be the best in the nation), D/C would buy it back right away.

But–California’s lemon law applies only to vehicles purchased in the state. And Kindig bought his Dakota in Washington. So–DaimlerChrysler refused to give him a refund. While he waited for justice, he had to continue making monthly payments on a vehicle he and his family couldn’t drive. This caused them severe economic hardship, especially since his wife had planned to use the truck to haul furniture and generate income restoring antiques, to help supplement their meager military pay.

Daimler/Chrysler’s attitude didn’t sit well with Turnage, who began to complain about Kindig’s treatment. His plight came to the attention of Rosemary Shahan, President of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety. Shahan, who was married to a Navy Judge Advocate General (JAG) officer for 20 years, sympathized with Lt. Kindig. She began to contact lawmakers in Sacramento and raise their awareness of California’s lemon loophole that leaves troops at the mercy of stonewalling auto manufacturers.

Chrysler sold Navy Lt. Nathan Kindig a lemon vehicle, then refused to repurchase it. His testimony, recorded by CARS while he was stationed in Pensacola, Florida, and presented before the CA Senate Judiciary Committee,played a huge role in persuading legislators to vote for SB 234.
At the urging of CARS, Senator Liz Figueroa (D-San Leandro), chaired a special Joint Sunset Review Committee hearing to delve into scams that afflict military personnel stationed in California. At the hearing, representatives of the U.S. Armed Forces and consumer groups, including CARS, testified. Lt. Kindig testified live via phone from his duty station in Iraq.

Shortly before the hearing, D/C agreed to repurchase Lt. Kindig’s lemon, but on terms that would cost him thousands of dollars, compared to what he would have received if he were protected by California’s lemon law. In order to maximize the refund Lt. Kindig received, Ellen Turnage agreed to forego her attorneys fees and represent him pro bono publico (for the public good).

Moved by Lt. Kindig’s account of his lemon ordeal, Senator Figueroa authored legislation to expand protection under California’s auto lemon law to include our troops, regardless where they buy their lemons. However, since the bill was introduced late in the session, it didn’t get assigned to any committee, and died. Then Senator Figueroa left office, due to term limits.

However, her successor, Senator Ellen Corbett, widely respected as one of consumers’ staunchest champions on the California legislature, took up the cause. This year, she is the author of SB 234. The bill attracted widespread bi-partisan support, and has passed unanimously in both houses of the California Assembly before the Governor signed it into law.

Watch video of US Navy Lt. Nathan Kindig's testimony about his Chrysler lemon, which CARS presented before a hearing of the California Senate Judiciary Committee:
    Among the supporters of SB 234:
  • Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety (CARS), sponsor
  • Lt. Gen. Michael Lehnert, Commanding General, United States Marine Corps, Marine Installations West
  • Navy Federal Credit Union, letter of support signed by Vice Admiral Cutler Dawson, (Ret.), President and CEO
  • California State Commanders Veterans Council
  • National Guard Association of California
  • Consumer Federation of California
  • Consumer Attorneys of California
  • Charles S. Cooper III, Major General, USAF (Ret.)
  • Lt. Col. Steve Lynch, USAF (Ret.)
  • Consumer Action

CARS commends Lt. Kindig for standing up and speaking out on behalf of all our troops, to help spare them the hardships he and his family endured. No one who is serving our nation should have to worry about a seriously defective “new” automobile causing them economic hardship or putting their families’ lives in jeopardy.

Thank you to all who worked to help sweeten California’s recipe for lemon-aid for our troops and their families.
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