March 11, 2011
by: Todd Dills Overdrive Magazine
There's only a couple effective lemon laws in the country that actually provide protection from "defective" Class 8s for buyers. If you've as yet missed my March cover story in Overdrive on the subject, click on the images here to read, or access the text version here. Among sources was Mike Noll, a retired owner-operator in Sun Prairie, Wis., whose career ended "on something of a sour note," as runs the story's beginning. A new truck he bought in 2000 was built with componentry he eventually figured was meant for a smaller vehicle or engine than his large 600-hp unit.
After several different problems - Noll's truck was in the shop in the neighborhood of 100 days in the first year he owned it - he utilized Wisconsin's lemon law to make a replacement claim to the truck manufacturer. Wisconsin's lemon law discourages manufacturers not honoring lemon claims by awarding automatic double damages to any truck owner who wins a lemon case in court. Noll's case the truck manufacturer wanted to take at one point all the way to federal district in Chicago, but then settled for an amount Noll notes was at least much greater than what it would have cost to just have replaced the vehicle to begin with.
Had Noll's over-the-road tractor been bought in any state in the nation other than Wisconsin or Nebraska, legally he would have had little to no recourse with the manufacturer once numerous attempts to address the vehicle's problems at the dealer failed. This has observers in Wisconsin and elsewhere asking whether more states ought to offer legal lemon protection to owner-operators, in particular, who unlike fleets may not bring as much bargaining power to the manufacturer/dealer/buyer relationship. Wisconsin lemon law attorneys Vince Megna and Lawrence Alan (Larry) Towers certainly recognize the benefits of a strong law like Wisconsin's.
Truck manufacturers, however, insist such laws, written with car buyers in mind in the early 1980s, don't take into account the closeness of the relationship between commercial buyers, including owner-operators, citing buyer involvement in the spec'ing process and more factors. They disagree categorically with broad application of car lemon laws to trucks. But more and more, attorney Towers says particularly, manufacturers honor lemon claims on vehicles in Wisconsin fairly quickly, as long as the claim meets the stipulations of the law. Some suggest that, for owner-operators/fleets that can afford to do it, buying in Wisconsin simply for the lemon law protection may be a way to bring attention to the dearth of lemon laws in other states. Find out more about it all in my story.
After we put the piece to bed last month I made contact with Minnesota state rep Torrey Westrom, who at the time was looking seriously into whether truck lemon law may make sense in Minnesota, which shares an eastern border with Wisconsin. He told me the state was looking into the "possible introduction of a law, adding semis to the lemon law in Minnesota. We're looking at that right now and trying to figure out the ramifications and also the level of interest and support."