C.A.R.S. and Military Families

Sweet Victory for Military Family
Toyota drops lawsuit, buys back unsafe lemon car
Christina and John Snell and their son, with their new 2017 RAV4
After a two-year ordeal that started when Toyota sold them an unsafe lemon RAV4, Army Tank Commander John Snell and his wife Christina are celebrating a very sweet victory.

Their ordeal started after a Toyota car dealership in Georgia sold the Snells a new Toyota RAV 4. About a year later, it began breaking down at unpredictable moments, leaving Christina stranded on winding country roads in the middle of winter in Germany, where John was stationed. At first, Toyota refused to repair their vehicle unless they paid for the parts and labor out of pocket in advance. Even after they persisted, Toyota failed to provide the necessary parts, leaving them without a vehicle for months. Eventually, a panel of arbitrators ruled that their RAV 4 was unsafe and declared it a lemon. Toyota was ordered to take back their lemon vehicle and replace it, but they refused. Instead, they sued the Snells.

Why? Toyota wanted to get a ruling in court that would allow them to get away with selling defective new cars to military families in our country, without having to honor the warranties if the families are later stationed outside the U.S. and take their cars with them.

This is shameful. As Christina Snell wrote in a petition she filed on Change.org:

Christina and John Snell at a military ball, before their son was born
"I could not be more proud of my husband, who is a highly decorated Army Tank Commander. We're both honored to be a military family. When we learned we were going to be transferred to a duty station in Germany, we talked it over and decided to buy a brand new car, so we wouldn't have to worry about having reliable transportation while coping with all the challenges that come with being stationed overseas. When we went to a local Toyota dealer in Savannah, Georgia, we asked whether Toyota would honor the warranty, even if we were serving abroad. We were repeatedly assured that Toyota is a global company with dealerships and repair facilities around the world, and there was no problem. It even said in the warranty book that 'If you are using your vehicle outside the United States, US territories and Canada and need warranty service, contact a local Toyota dealership….The warranty repairs should be completed in a reasonable amount of time, not to exceed 30 days.' So we bought the new RAV 4.

Unfortunately, Toyota does not want to honor that commitment or their warranty. They claim that because we are in the military, and took the car with us to Germany, they do not have to comply with Georgia's auto lemon law. We are determined to fight back. Toyota boasts they made over $18 billion in profits last year. They should not make those profits at the expense of military families who are serving our nation and putting their lives on the line to help protect all of us from our enemies."
CARS heard about their ordeal, and helped them and their attorney, Michael Flinn, raise awareness about Toyota's outrageous and disgraceful conduct toward the Snells. Over 155,000 people signed the Snell's petition on Change.org, urging Toyota to buy back their lemon car. Many wrote comments such as "Toyota should be banned from selling cars on any military base."

For months, Toyota stonewalled. They even tried to keep evidence about John Snell's tours of duty and his military medals and awards from becoming part of the record before the Court. To his credit, Flinn did not back down, and never wavered in his defense of the Snells and their rights. Finally, Toyota agreed to drop their lawsuit against the Snells, buy back their lemon car, and replace it with a new 2017 RAV4. Plus they paid some fees. Under Georgia's lemon law, Toyota has to brand the title of the lemon RAV4 as a "manufacturer buyback," to help alert consumers about the car's history. They also have to repair the defects and provide at least a 12-month warranty.

An added bit of good news: Toyota also had to give up on winning an appellate court decision that could have allowed them to deny lemon law protections to ALL military families who ship their cars to duty stations overseas.

Many thanks to all who signed Christina's petition on Change.org. We are proud to salute Christina and John Snell for their principled perseverance, and for their courageous and exemplary service to our nation. They have played an important role in preserving important lemon law protections for ALL of our military heroes and their families.
CARS tells Toyota: Stop selling unsafe lemons to military families
Toyota sold John and Christina Snell a new unsafe lemon RAV 4
     CARS has joined Christina and John Snell in calling on Toyota to buy back their unsafe lemon car, and stop suing them -- because they are in the military and took their new car with them to their duty station in Germany. John Snell is a highly decorated military hero serving in the U.S. Army. As Christina wrote in a petition on Change.org:

     "In 2013, a Toyota car dealership in Georgia sold my Army husband and me a new Toyota RAV 4. About a year later, it began breaking down at unpredictable moments, leaving me stranded on winding country roads in the middle of winter in Germany, where we were stationed. At first, Toyota refused to repair our vehicle unless we paid for the parts and labor out of pocket in advance. Even after we persisted, Toyota failed to provide the necessary parts, leaving us without a vehicle for months. Eventually, a panel of arbitrators ruled that our RAV 4 was unsafe and declared it a lemon. Toyota was ordered to take back our vehicle and replace it, but they refused. Instead, now they are suing us."

Act Now: Help send a message to Toyota: stop selling unsafe lemon cars to military families

Military seeks improved protections from unscrupulous auto dealers
abandoned auto sales lot
Cpl. William Woods served 2 tours in Iraq.
The U.S. Department of Defense, Secretary of the Army, and Secretary of the Air Force have identified predatory auto dealer lending as a threat to military readiness and national security. They were joined by Holly Petraeus, Head of the Better Business Bureau's Military Line, who helped raise public awareness of the serious financial problems faced by Servicemembers and their families, due to auto dealer scams.

For decades, the Federal Trade Commission has turned a deaf ear to pleas by military officials and individual members of the Armed Forces for help. At a hearing before the House Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, an FTC official even denied that auto lending is a problem for military personnel - - despite overwhelming evidence of the problems documented in official studies, data calls, testimony, memorandums, and news reports.
Read more: Letters from Military and news reports about sleazy auto dealers preying on Military Service members

abandoned auto sales lot
~ Rosemary Shahan presents Cpl. Woods with his new car.
CARS works to improve protections for military Servicemembers and their families
The military has identified financing by unscrupulous auto dealers as the #1 financial readiness problem encountered by troops and their families.

Report by KPIX-TV in San Francisco: Marine Veteran, after serving two terms in Iraq, is cheated by shady auto dealer near Camp Pendelton.

Wall Street Reform
Dept. of Defense Seeks New Cop on the Beat to Protect Troops from Unscrupulous Auto Dealers.
Will Congress Protect Troops, or Sleazy Auto Dealers?
abandoned auto sales lot
~ Photo by Neil Michel, Axiom Photo Design, 2006.
Lt. Nathan Kindig (U.S. Navy, shown in enlarged photo), Capt. Patton (U.S. Navy), Rosemary Shahan (CARS President), Sergeant Major Wayne Bell (U.S. Marine Corps.), Ellen Turnage (Lt. Kindig's attorney), and California State Senator Liz Figueroa, 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. Lt. Kindig spoke via phone, live from his duty station in Iraq, and described his ordeal over his lemon Chrysler truck.

CARS succeeds in expanding California's Auto Lemon Law to Protect
Military Troops Stationed in California
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.

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.

Lt. Kindig tells about his horrible experience with a Chrysler lemon:
    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.

U.S. Secretary of the Army McHugh:

"Many of our Soldiers have fallen victim to predatory lending practices and...unscrupulous car dealerships and lenders." Read more...

U.S. Secretary of the Air Force Donley:

"...greater Government oversight of automobile financing and sales for our Airmen will help protect them and reduce unnecessary financial strain on our already overburdened Air Force families." Read more...

U.S. Department of Defense urges Congress to help protect troops

"The Department of Defense would welcome and encourage [Consumer Financial Protection Agency] CFPA protections provided to Service members and their families with regard to unscrupulous automobile sales and financing practices, provided such protections would not limit access to legitimate products. Read more...

Department of Defense Data Call summary: based on responses from 841 officers who provide financial counseling to all 4 branches of the United States Armed Forces. Read summary...

Star-spangled rip-off
Why car buyers in the military are vulnerable to bad deals

Edmunds.com report, posted Jan. 5, 2012

" ... some car salesmen who actively solicit military members and loudly praise their service nevertheless target them for rip-offs, frauds and overcharges." Read article...

Follow the Money
Recently Congress granted auto dealers a special exemption from being regulated by the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. This, despite the fact auto lending is a $850 billion business, and auto dealers are the #1 source of consumer complaints to the Better Business Bureau and state and local consumer protection agencies.

Surprise -- campaign cash played a central role in the dealers' win against consumers, including the military.

In the past two decades, auto dealers have lavished more than $25 million in campaign contributions on Congressional candidates, with 75% going to Republicans. They have repeatedly reaped rewards in return, at the expense of consumers and taxpayers. Last year, Congress gave auto dealers more than $3,000,000 in taxpayer dollars, through the "Cash for Clunkers" program -- with no strings attached to protect car buyers from predatory dealership lending. Auto dealers have also benefited from TARP and TALF and other bailout funds.

The biggest beneficiary of auto dealer campaign cash: U.S. Sen. John McCain. He has accepted more than $717,000 from auto dealers. Despite his military background, Sen. McCain turned a deaf ear to the military community, and voted to exempt auto dealers. Ironically, Arizona has some of the most high-profile cases involving auto dealers preying on troops.

Read more: auto dealers ripping off military Servicemembers

Read more: auto dealers' campaign contributions

An End to Shady Dealers
New York Times, May 11, 2010

Even the Pentagon has weighed in, insisting that automobile purchases and dealer-assisted financing should be part of any new financial legislation because low-income military people are victimized in large numbers by shady car dealers that set up shop just outside many bases. Officials say distractions caused by these bad auto deals could affect the readiness of the armed forces. Read more...

The Pentagon versus the Auto Dealers
Huffington Post, May 12, 2010

President Obama yesterday spoke out against a "special loophole" sought by the country's auto dealers... Dealers engage in "powerbooking" and "yo-yo financing...." Read more...

The Military Coalition urges the U.S. Senate to stand up for our troops against unscrupulous auto dealers

The Military Coalition is comprised of 31 nationally respected military advocacy organizations representing more than 5.5 million active duty military Servicemembers, veterans, their families and survivors. Read more...

Auto Dealers, Pentagon square off;
Increased oversight of loans fought

Detroit Free Press, April 25, 2010

"...an amendment by Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback to exempt car dealers from Dodd's bill 'will allow unscrupulous dealers to continue to take advantage of service members and their families.' 'We can't have lenders continuing to prey on our military families,' said Katie Savant, deputy director of government relations at the National Military Family Association." Read more...

New Front in Battle over Financial Regulation
Wall Street Journal, April 22, 2010

"...among the lobbyists crowding Congress are representatives of U.S. military personnel, who are in a pitched battle with America's car dealers....U..S. car dealers want to be excluded from new financial regulations...A coalition of more than 30 military organizations is urging lawmakers to resist the exclusion of the auto dealers, arguing that soldiers are being targeted by predatory lenders. The coalition says it is a problem affecting military readiness." Read more...

Cpl. William Woods on duty in Iraq
~ Cpl. William Woods on duty in Iraq
Marine Corporal William Woods served two tours of duty in Iraq as a mortarman. He is also fluent in Arabic, and served as a translator between his command and Iraqi officials.

Congress may improve protections for military members from shady auto dealers.

Huffington Post, March 14, 2010 
read more

Concerns over troops getting rooked by shady car dealers have prompted the Pentagon to get involved in the fight over a Consumer Financial Protection Agency.

The Economist, March 15, 2010 
read more

Pentagon brass want a new consumer watchdog agency to regulate auto dealers so they don’t rip off troops.

Politico, March 9, 2010
read more

Cpl. Woods with Rosemary Shahan
~ Cpl. Woods with Rosemary Shahan of C.A.R.S.
After a shady auto dealer refused to give him back his own car, Iraq war vet and Marine Corporal William Woods was without wheels since August, 2009. That made it hard for him to look for a job -- until CARS President Rosemary Shahan presented him a Valentine's Day gift of $3000 to purchase a used car. Cpl. Woods is all smiles at the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Sacramento, where he unwrapped his "new" used car. His dog Haley looks pretty happy too. But -- does she have a license to drive?

Update (July, 2010): "With his new set of wheels, Cpl. Woods found two new jobs, and was also able to drive to his younger brother's high school graduation.

CARS gives Iraq war vet Valentine's Day gift of a "new" used car, after dealer ripoff leaves him without wheels since last August.

CBS KPIX-TV Channel 5, February 12, 2010
read more

Marine Judge Advocate General (JAG) Officer describes how auto dealers scam our troops.

read more

CARS gains enactment of new law to expand protection under California's Landmark auto lemon law to military personnel stationed in CA.

Bill passes unanimously in state Assembly and Senate, is signed by Gov. Schwarzenegger.

read more

Lawsuit alleges that Dick Edwards Auto Plaza scammed soldiers "power booking" – financing phantom items.

Kansas City News,
 July 30, 2009
read more

"I love a mark in uniform: Kidnapping. Falsified documents. Hooters nights. Meet the sleazebucket car dealers who prey on our troops."

Mother Jones,
 July / August 2009
read more

Army puts Arizona dealership off-limits.

Automotive News,
 August 12, 2008
read more

Military base declares dealerships off-limits; Ex-cons threaten soldiers.

Arizona Daily Star, July 13, 2008
read more

Holidays are Open Season on Military Wallets; Auto Dealer Charges Marine $45,000 for $3,200 1995 Dodge Neon.

San Diego Union-Tribune, December 12, 2005
read more

After car breaks down, Iraq vet wages new battle -- with dealer.

Sacramento Bee, April 14, 2005
read more

Some Creditors Make Illegal Demands on Active-Duty Soldiers.

New York Times, March 28, 2005
read more

Auto scams are #1 source of consumer headaches for troops stationed in California.

Testimony by military legal officers and representative of Navy Marine Corps Relief Society
Assembly Banking and Finance Committee hearing, March 11, 2005.

read more

Car Dealers Rip Off Our Troops; Scamsters Preying On Military Families.

Dishonest repair shops, dealerships and lenders often take advantage of those in the armed services. A charity works to assist those in need.

The Los Angeles Times, April 2, 2003
read more

Marine Corps finds…
…that buying cars causes more problems than any other single financial factor, and financial problems can endanger the troops themselves, their unit, and the mission itself.

read more
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C.A.R.S. Mission
CARS is a national, award-winning,
non-profit auto safety and consumer
advocacy organization working to
save lives, prevent injuries, and
protect consumers from
auto-related fraud and abuse.

to everyone who has supported CARS' work, including the more than 573,500 people who have contributed financially to CARS, signed or shared CARS' petitions, and / or posted personal comments.

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Buyer Beware! Auto dealers use
forced arbitration
to get away with cheating customers
Even when car dealers flagrantly violate consumer protection laws, you may not be able to get justice. That's because almost 100% of car dealers stick "forced arbitration" clauses into their contracts. If they cheat you, and you try to take them to court, they can just laugh at you. That's because they can get your case kicked into arbitration -- a secret, rigged process that favors big, corrupt lawbreakers. The dealer often gets to choose the arbitration firm, and even the arbitrator who hears your case. Unlike judges, arbitrators are perfectly free to ignore the law.

Dealers claim that arbitration is quick. But Jon Perz in San Diego had to wait over 8 years in "arbitration limbo" before he finally got justice, after Mossy Toyota sold him an unsafe car. CARS produced a short video exposing what happened. More than 1.3 million people have watched our video on YouTube:
See the billboard CARS displayed
right next to Mossy Toyota's car lot,
and read more about how Jon finally won.

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