A military couple whose U.S.-purchased 2013 Toyota RAV4 SUV experienced major mechanical problems while they were stationed in Germany has had their vehicle replaced by Toyota after the company dropped an appeal that argued the couple was not protected under rules known as "lemon laws."
When Army Sgt. John Snell and his wife Christina purchased the new vehicle in Georgia before their permanent change of station move, the dealer told them that the warranty and rules protecting them against catastrophic vehicle defects, or "lemon laws," would apply, they said.
But when a faulty anti-lock brake system actuator caused major mechanical problems, the Germany-based dealership was unable to make repairs in under 30 days, the time cap required by Georgia before the car is declared a "lemon." Rather than replace the car, Toyota said the law did not apply because the couple was out of the country. The repairs took more than 90 days, Christina Snell said.
A Georgia panel ruled last year in the Snells' favor, but Toyota filed an appeal, saying that it had covered the costs of the repairs.
"Toyota doesn't believe this delay in fully repairing the vehicle in Germany qualifies it for repurchase, as the Snells requested in arbitration," Aaron Fowles, a Toyota spokesman, said in a statement posted in October to Change.org where the Snells had a petition on the case.
But instead of going through with the appeal, Toyota offered to settle the case late last year -- a move Christina Snell believes was forced by the thousands of signatures and hundreds of comments her petition about the case received on Change.org.
The Snells said they did not want any additional cash as part of the settlement -- just their car to be replaced and some lawyer fees to be paid.
"I told my lawyer, 'I'm not demanding anything,' " Christina Snell said. "I don't know what they expected, money or additional payment. I just really wanted my car replaced."
Toyota did not respond to requests for comment about the settlement.
Under the settlement, the couple was permitted to trade in their 2013 vehicle and received a new 2017 RAV4 this month, Christina Snell said.
The settlement is a big victory for military consumers, said Rosemary Shahan, who leads the lobbying group Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety. She worried an appeal victory for Toyota could have resulted in car manufacturers no longer honoring lemon laws for any military personnel who take their vehicles to overseas duty stations.
The lawsuit "signaled what Toyota wanted was an appellate court decision that they could then use in every case where someone in the military took their car with them overseas," she said. "It would've set a very harmful precedent, and other manufacturers would've been then able to cite that."
Instead, the settlement "sends a very healthy message to manufacturers," she said. "Toyota is very big. They thought they could get away with this."
Christina Snell said in the end she is disappointed Toyota didn't do what she believes to been the right thing to start with.
"I was disappointed by a company that couldn't be forthcoming," she said. "After all this is said and done, I realize Toyota has the right to appeal ... but I don't think they did that in the best interest of the consumer."
-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.