What is a Technical Service Bulletin (TSB)?

January 27, 2011

A Technical Service Bulletin, often abbreviated TSB, is an instruction, issued by manufacturer, about a specific repair issue on a particular year, make ad model vehicle. Think of them as a midpoint between a normal repair attempt and a Recall.

Sometimes, the manufacturer identifies a defect with a vehicle, but it judges the problem is not a serious safety concern.  So the manufacturer prepares a TSB, which details how to fix this known problem, and sends it to dealerships and mechanics. The next time a consumer comes in complaining of this defect, the dealership is supposed to apply the TSB to take care of the problem.

While a recall generally applies to all vehicles of a certain year, make, and model,  sometimes only certain vehicles in the production run demonstrate the actual defect. This is another situation in which a TSB might be issued. The cost of a full recall is judged too expensive, because not every vehicle actually needs the repair. But the manufacturer knows about the problem, so it issues a TSB, which it knows will only be applied if a consumer shows up at the dealership complaining about that problem.

If enough people complain about the same problem with their vehicles, a manufacturer may issue a TSB even though it did not previously believe a problem existed. The TSB may contain research by the manufacturer’s engineers about how to eliminate the problem or how to diagnose if the problem is identical to the one other consumers have reported.

A TSB can be issued without the manufacturer having a solution to the problem.  A TSB could merely contain the manufacturer’s position as to why the problme is not really a defct that needs to be repaired. A TSB may just inform mechanics that the problem is known to be widespread, but a solution is still being developed. A TSB may be issued with a proposed solution for the complaint, but prove to ultimately be ineffective in fully and finally resolving the problem .

The Wikipedia article on TSBs suggest that they contain no obligation to fix a vehicle for free, but the fact a manufacturer saw fit to issue one creates  legal issues. For example, failing to fix a vehicle subject to a TSB may breach an implied warranty or be considered an unfair or deceptive trade practice. If a problem persists past the expiration of warranty, a TSB may be proof that the repair was not completed or at least not completed properly. In that case, the manufacturer issuing the warranty may have an obligation to now complete the repair, even if the vehicle is outside the warranty period.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)  maintains a good resource for checking whether your vehicle has a pending TSB. Your local dealership should also have easy access to a database to check whether the TSBs apply to your vehicle.

New Lexus recall

January 26, 2011

Toyota, which owns Lexus, has announced a recall of 245,000 vehicles, including 2006-07 GS 300 and GS 350, 2006-09 IS 250, and 2006-08 IS 350. The problem is the “insufficient tightening of the fuel pressure sensor.”  For most of the 245,000 vehicles, this is probably not a serious enough concern for a recall, and no accidents have been reported yet.

However, fuel could leak into the engine compartment. This is not just messy, but may constitute a significant safety hazard if the fuel ignited, for example, in a collision.

Furthermore, this appears to be a good sign that Toyota is taking seriously its obligation to consumers to alert them to known problems. There is often nothing more frustrating for consumers who, after several failed repair attempts, learn about a Technical Service Bulletin or Recall that directly relates to the vehicle’s problem. This is also often very good evidence that manufacturer knew, or should have known, about the problem, thus making more than a single repair an unreasonable number of attempts.

Tractor Trailer lemon laws

January 9, 2011

The Missouri lemon law specifically excludes “commercial motor vehicles,” and most tractor trailers are used for a commercial purpose.

Similarly, the federal lemon law only applies to products “normally used for personal, family, or household purposes,” though that phrase does leave some wiggle room.

Only in Wisconsin does the state lemon laws apply to tractor trailers, where there have been other big verdicts in the past.

The idea seemed to be that individuals need the attorney fee-shifting found in the lemon laws, while commercial ventures do not need the same economic lift. Unfortunately, that is rarely true, as many private lessees and owner-operators of tractor trailers do not have their own attorney or cannot afford an attorney’s hourly rate. Losing even a few days because of repair attempts can be the difference between profitability and disaster.

In Missouri, we rely on the Uniform Commercial Code to provide at least some legal protection. The Uniform Commercial Code provides for “implied warranties” as well as a more traditional breach of contract. If the tractor trailer was repaired under a warranty, but was not fully and finally fixed, then the warrantor has not lived up to its obligation. The warranty may not guarantee a perfect vehicle, but if it promises a fix a defect, that means the vehicle should not have similar or additional problems after a repair attempt.

The damages for these cases is still the difference between what you actually paid for your vehicle, and what you would have paid, back at the time of purchase, if you had known then what you know now about your vehicle.

An attorney, like Law Office of Bryan Brody, can still handle the case on a contingent basis, but the fees would have to be subtracted from what the consumer would otherwise be owed, because there is no provision for making the manufacturer or warrantor pay your attorney’s fees. The good news is that if the facts of the case are good enough and the price of the tractor trailer is high enough, then it should make it worthwhile it to pursue a case.

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