Toyota is going toe-to-toe with a military family over a lemon law case, appealing a panel's ruling that ordered replacement of a RAV4 that had been taken overseas during deployment.
John and Christina Snell bought their 2013 RAV4 in Savannah, Ga., and shortly afterward were ordered by the Army to a base in Vilseck, Germany. While there, Christina Snell started having problems with the vehicle:
The dashboard lights would flash and, at times, the vehicle would stop operating while she was driving it.
According to her attorney, T. Michael Flinn of Carrollton, Ga., Snell made repeated visits to a German dealership to get the problem fixed. The problem was caused by a faulty antilock brake system actuator, which forced a recall of 295,000 Toyota and Lexus vehicles in 2014. The Snells' RAV4 was not included in that recall.
On the last attempt, the dealership kept the RAV4 for 35 days before solving the problem. That exceeded the limit spelled out in Georgia's lemon laws, which say vehicles out of service for 30 or more days are considered eligible to be declared lemons.
Last September, an arbitration panel ruled in favor of the Snells, saying they should get a replacement vehicle. But Toyota is appealing the ruling, arguing that it is not responsible because the RAV4 was taken off U.S. soil.
"We need to get something done to make sure the warranties follow servicemen overseas."
T. Michael Flinn, attorney
In a court filing, Toyota said it will argue that a RAV4 sold in the U.S. is "materially different" from one sold in Germany.
The scanning tools used to diagnose problems in U.S. cars are different from those used in Germany, the company said, and the people manning the service department in Germany didn't speak English, leading to delays.
Toyota said it shouldn't be held responsible for the amount of time it took to fix the Snells' RAV4.
In a statement toAutomotive News, Toyota said it has a policy of providing "goodwill warranty coverage" to U.S. military serving overseas. "While Toyota cannot comment on the specifics of this case, we have worked directly with the Snell family to address their concerns," the statement read.
The case, which heads to the Superior Court of Georgia for trial early next year, has prompted a consumer advocacy group to lobby for a law that would force companies to adhere to their warranty promises even when products are taken overseas by members of the military on active duty. Rosemary Shahan, president of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, said she and the Snells have been in talks with the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation about creating legislation that would guarantee military members on active duty would get warranties honored.
Shahan pushed for a similar law that was passed in 2007 in California that protects military service members under California's lemon laws, even for a vehicle purchased outside California. That's important for military service people, who move every two to three years on average.
Flinn said he hopes there will be political willingness to pass a similar law that covers overseas deployments.
He said, "We need to get something done to make sure the warranties follow servicemen overseas."