Toyota owners could use California's lemon law, says advocacy group

A Sacramento-based consumer advocacy group is urging consumers who have experienced multiple problems with runaway Toyotas to consider relief under California's lemon law.

The group, Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety (CARS), on Tuesday also urged Toyota officials to replace or offer refunds on vehicles with sticking gas pedals.

"Why not repurchase the car and treat it as a lemon buyback?" asked Rosemary Shahan, president of CARS and a nationally known advocate for motor vehicle buyers' rights. "We're hearing about consumers who have two or three of these (unexpected accelerations), but (Toyota) won't buy it back."

Generally, the state's lemon law applies to problems arising in the first 18 months or 18,000 miles of vehicle ownership. The law presumes that an automaker has made a "reasonable number" of attempts to repair a vehicle during that time.

California's lemon law provides for car owners to get a refund "if the vehicle has a life-threatening safety defect, and if it has not been remedied after two repair attempts," Shahan noted. For other types of defects, the number of repairs to trigger the lemon presumption is four.

Attempts to get comment from Toyota representatives were unsuccessful.

Citing consumer testimony in Washington, D.C. Tuesday before a congressional commmittee investigating Toyota's acceleration problems, Shahan said that when "customers have experienced such a frightening incident, rather than subject them to repeated harrowing experiences, it would make more sense to simply provide the car owner with a refund … Then Toyota can treat the runaway cars as lemon law buybacks and, most importantly, keep possession of them and fix them before they re-enter the auto marketplace."

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