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Top 4 Consumer Myths

Linda McMaken

It seems like there are some consumer myths that just don't want to die. These myths are so entrenched in our collective consciousness that many consumers are still not aware that they are false. Consumers are at a great disadvantage when they don't know the facts, and this lack of knowledge can cost them.

You Have Three Days to Return a Car

Out of all the many driving myths out there, this is one of the biggest myths still believed by many consumers. Once you sign a contract to purchase a vehicle, it's yours and you have no legal right to return it within three days. It seems like this myth is confused with a consumer's ability to take advantage of a three-day window when he or she has made a purchase via door-to-door sales or at a trade show, which does give you a three-day return option.

There are no U.S. states in which returning a vehicle is legally allowed. The only way you can return a vehicle is to have the dealer state in writing on your purchase contract they will accept a return within a specific time period. Otherwise, you'd better be completely certain that you are happy with your choice.

Also, you should be aware that a car dealer can ask you to return the vehicle. Often, a dealer will allow a buyer to take a car before his or her credit is approved. By law, the dealer still owns the car until the dealer is paid either by you or the financial institution that is providing the loan.

You Can Bring the Car Back

In an effort to boost sales and consumer confidence in its product, General Motors offered for a limited time, a return program on its vehicles. The deal was that you purchase a GM product and drive it for 60 days. At the end of that time, if you weren't happy with your GM car, you could return it. While that sounds like a great incentive and it was on many levels, consumers were advised to read the fine print.

The deal included several stipulations such as: the vehicle must have less than 4,000 miles; there must be no more than $300 worth of damage to the vehicle; an additional $500 was added to the list price for participation in the program; the buyer forfeited any cash-back incentives. However, if the vehicle was wrecked, the deal would be voided. Furthermore, if you died, your family could not return the vehicle. The buyer also forfeited the sales tax if the vehicle was returned after 30 days.

It's a Lemon

Although every state has lemon laws, they are not all the same. This law helps protect consumers when a manufacturer's warranty is not honored, or when a vehicle is defective and not repairable. The law is intended to cover the refund or replacement of the vehicle. If you bought a lemon and have a problem, you should contact the Better Business Bureau (BBB) regarding specific laws in your state.

Many consumers assume the lemon law only applies to cars or trucks. The law in fact, applies to nearly every vehicle - vans, motorcycles, recreation vehicles, boats and ATVs. Even leased vehicles are covered under most state lemon laws.

If you have a used vehicle, you may still be covered, as many states do offer a lemon law for them. There may also be a manufacturer's warranty that can be applied, or there could be a dealer warranty that falls under the lemon law.

Stores Must Offer Refunds

A common misconception is that stores must offer you a refund. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) stores do not have to offer you a refund at all. Most retailers offer a return policy as a good business move to keep customers happy.

The exception is if you "buy an item in your home or at a location that is not the retailer's permanent place of business." This is known as the 'cooling-off' rule.'

It gives consumers three days to change their minds and return a purchase of $25 or more. There are, however, exceptions to this rule and those exceptions vary by state.

Each store, retailer, manufacturer and merchant can have a different return policy and different policies on different types of merchandise. A policy that applies to electronics will not necessarily apply to clothing, for example. There are federal laws that can help a consumer if they are having difficulty making a return on a defective item. You can contact the Federal Trade Commission and file a complaint and you can also find help at the state level at the BBB. Many companies have been busted by the FTC for making false claims.

Retailers often have exceptions, time limits and very specific policies on returns. You should always ask in advance what their policies cover. Most states (not all) do require stores to clearly post their return policy.

The Bottom Line

It's easy to be confused about return policies, lemon laws and your rights as a consumer. The best advice is to take a few minutes to ask a store about its policies. Before pulling out your wallet, read the fine print on any financial statement or contract and seek legal advice when necessary.

Great sources for knowing your consumer rights are an Internet search or a phone call to the Better Business Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission.

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