When Life Gives You Lemons...
We were taken by surprise by a lemon law claim recently filed against Tesla by a Wisconsin lawyer, describing himself as the "Lemon Law King", who says that we ignored his client's three demands for a buy-back after alleged problems with a Model S.
First, let us state that we believe in lemon laws – they exist to protect customers against cars that repeatedly suffer defects. That's a worthy thing to address. We also make a point of going above and beyond in customer service, which extends to buying back cars on fair terms from any customer who ultimately remains unsatisfied with their vehicle. We never want someone to be unhappy in their ownership of a Model S.
In this case, however, there are good reasons to be skeptical of the lawyer's motivations. The service record shows that the Tesla service team did everything reasonably possible to help his client and they were continuing their efforts to service his vehicle right up until the point the suit was filed with no warning. Indeed, our service team, which has been in contact with the customer numerous times since November, is still trying to resolve his stated concerns, many of which have elusive origins.
This lawyer's claim strikes us as unusual on several counts. For a start, it contradicts the general customer experience as measured by outside surveys. The annual Consumer Reports survey, for instance, gave Model S top marks for owner satisfaction, with a score of 99/100, the highest rating of any car ever. That doesn't mean a single customer can't have a bad overall experience, but it makes it highly unlikely. The claim also doesn't jibe with the other accolades afforded to the car, including Consumer Reports' "Best Overall" designation for its Top Picks 2014 awards, and the 2013 Motor Trend Car of the Year award.
More tellingly, however, there are factual inaccuracies in the lawyer's story. The customer did not make three demands for a buy-back. The only time any such claim was made was in a legal form letter sent to Tesla in November 2013 as a prerequisite for pursuing the claim in Wisconsin. Our service team was in close contact with the customer both before and after we received the letter, and the possibility of a buy-back was never mentioned during those discussions.
To give you a sense of our service relationship with this customer, it's worth considering our efforts to resolve two of his main complaints. One related to malfunctioning door handles. Even though our service team wasn't able to replicate the issue with the door handles as described, we replaced all the handles anyway. Despite the fix, the customer said the problem persisted. We were never able to reproduce the alleged malfunction but offered to inspect the car again and are still trying to do so.
Another issue was that the car's fuse blew on numerous occasions. Each time, our engineers explored all possible explanations and were never able to find anything wrong with the car. Still, just to be sure, we replaced several parts that could have been related to the alleged problem – all at no expense to the customer. When the fuse kept blowing despite the new parts, and faced with no diagnosis showing anything wrong with the car, the engineers were moved to consider the possibility that the fuse had been tampered with. After investigating, they determined that the car's front trunk had been opened immediately before the fuse failure on each of these occasions. (The fuse is accessed through the front trunk.) Ultimately, Tesla service applied non-tamper tape to the fuse switch. From that point on, the fuse performed flawlessly.
It's also of interest to note that this particular lawyer filed a lemon law suit against Volvo in February last year – on behalf of the very same client.
We are continuing our efforts to work with the customer and are happy to address any legitimate concerns he has about his Model S. Customer service remains of utmost importance to Tesla, and no Model S owner should be unhappy with their car. However, we would also like the public to be aware of the potential for lemon laws to be exploited by opportunistic lawyers.