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Driving a lemon? There's help

I followed the proper procedure under Florida's Lemon Law to get satisfaction on an unresolved brake system problem in my 1993 Ford Ranger.

The Lemon Law Board agreed unanimously that Ford should refund the purchase price. I returned a form accepting this decision, at which point Ford was supposed to contact me to make necessary arrangements for turning in the vehicle.

Although I've made several calls to Ford and the board, I still have not received a settlement. Christopher Vitek

Response: Ford says it has repurchased your vehicle. We're happy to hear that the Lemon Law is functioning, however slowly.

For those readers who do not understand what the Lemon Law is or how it works, we offer this summary:

New or "demo" motor vehicles purchased or leased in Florida for personal use are covered by Florida's Lemon Law for 18 months or 24,000 miles from the date of sale.

During this period if an authorized service agent is unable to repair a manufacturing defect after three attempts, or if your car is out of service for a total of 15 or more days while repairs are being made, you have the right to initiate proceedings under the Lemon Law.

You may seek relief under the law even after the rights period ends if the manufacturer was notified of the defect during the 18 months or before 24,000 miles elapsed.

Faults that affect vehicle safety, vehicle performance or reliability and vehicle resale value are considered by the Lemon Law Board. It does not cover off-road vehicles, motorcycles, mopeds, trucks weighing more than 10,000 pounds or the living facilities of recreational vehicles.

To present a winning case to the Lemon Law Board there is one thing you must do: Get and keep all service-related records.

Some new car dealers will fix a problem under warranty and pat you on the back, saying there is no charge and no paperwork. But with no work order, this repair attempt cannot be officially documented and will not count toward the three repair attempts required by the board.

Insist on a fully completed work order every time a repair is made under warranty. Make certain that the date, mileage, license number, owner's name and car model are entered and clearly legible.

If the three repair tries or 15 out-of-service days apply to your vehicle, the first step you must take to qualify for state arbitration is to notify the manufacturer _ by certified letter _ of the problems you have experienced and the actions you have taken to date.

The manufacturer has 10 days after receiving your letter to respond and give you a chance to take the vehicle for final repairs to a reasonably accessible repair facility within a reasonable time after you receive this response. The manufacturer then has up to 10 days to remedy the problem once the car is in the shop.

If the manufacturer does not comply with this procedure or if your vehicle still has the same problem after the repair attempt, you must request a settlement through the manufacturer's informal dispute settlement program.

Should the manufacturer have no such program or should it not resolve the issue to your satisfaction, then you can notify the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services that you wish to request a ruling by the New Motor Vehicle Arbitration Board (Lemon Law Board).

This request must be made within six months after the expiration of the Lemon Law rights period or within 30 days after final action by certified procedure, whichever date occurs later.

If the board accepts your request it will hear the dispute within 40 days and give a decision within 60 days of your request.

Should the board find in your favor, the manufacturer has 40 days to give you a new replacement vehicle or full cash refund of the purchase price plus trade-in vehicle value, plus out-of-pocket expenses. You will be allowed full reimbursement for special equipment installed (telephone, TV, roof racks, etc.) that are not removeable.

You will be charged a nominal mileage fee for the use you got from the vehicle, and this reduces the final award given.

It is helpful to have friends and neighbors testify before the board about problems they have observed with this vehicle. Also, keeping a diary with dates of problems and repairs will help support your case.

Action solves problems and gets answers for you. If you have a question, or your own attempts to resolve a consumer complaint have failed, write: Times Action, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or call your Action number, 893-8171, or, outside of Pinellas, (800) 333-7505, ext. 8171, to leave a recorded request for Action.

Requests will be accepted only by mail or on our voice mail system; calls cannot be returned. We will not be responsible for personal documents, so please send only photocopies. If your complaint concerns merchandise ordered by mail, we need copies of both sides of your canceled check.

We may require additional information or prefer to reply by mail; therefore, readers must provide a full mailing address, including ZIP code.

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