Rust on new Fla trucks? Lemon Law helps new owners fight back

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Two South Florida drivers want to know why their brand new trucks look like they had used parts or were driven on the salt covered roads up north.

Michael Gallagher bought a Toyota Tacoma hoping to one day hitch a boat to fish in. Before he could do that, his new truck decreased in value.

"You would never expect this," said Gallagher.

Random rust spots on Gallagher's driveway were his only clue there was a problem.

"I eventually crawled up under the vehicle and went whoa!" exclaimed Gallagher.

Snapshots show rust covering the undercarriage. It's a problem Gallagher remembers from his time in the snow belt, but the sun belt?

"Should a vehicle really rust in the state of Florida within one year?" questioned Gallagher.

Chris Wurster noticed the rust on his Ford truck one day after he bought it.

"I stuck my head up underneath here and it is covered with rust. It looks like a used axle," said Wurster.

To get a better look underneath, we brought the truck to MCI Institute of Technology.

"Normally if I rub this I should see clean metal," said MCI Institute of Technology professor Chris Cilella.

In his 34 years in the car repair industry, Cilella said this is only the second time in his career he's seen a new car with this much rust.

"This is a brand new vehicle and if this looks like this now what's it going to look like in two or three years," questioned Cilella.

The experts say why this happened is anybody's guess. A manufacturing issue may be to blame or something got on it during transit like road salt, a corrosive chemical, or excessive salt water that was never washed off.

"Whatever got on this, some sort of coating is coming off and allowing it to rust," said Cilella.

With just a few hundred miles on his new truck, Cillella had to file a claim under his rust warranty.

"I don't think I should have a truck that's been taken apart and reassembled when I just bought a new truck," Wurster said of his Ford truck.

While Ford is willing to replace Wurster's rusty parts, Toyota is not.

Gallagher took his fight to the National Center for Dispute Settlement. The agency handles auto warranty disputes. The organization ruled in favor of Toyota and against Gallagher.

Gallagher kept fighting. He he hired attorney, Patrick Cousins.

In a December letter, Toyota told Cousins, "After having both dealerships inspect the vehicle, it has been determined, that the rust on the undercarriage of your vehicle is the result of external forces and is not covered by Toyota's New Vehicle Limited Corrosion Perforation Warranty. Therefore, we cannot offer you any assistance at this time."

"I mean really? It's just preposterous," said Cousins of the external force claim.

In South Florida, that external force is often saltwater. Cousins said the closest Gallagher's truck comes to the water is the parking lot near the beach. Just like other South Florida cars.

"I don't know if you parked it on the beach and were throwing salt water on it for weeks and wanted it to rust, I'm not sure it could rust like this," said Cousins.

The whole thing has left a sour taste in Gallagher's mouth. He's using the lemon law to fight back.

It applies to cars that are up to two years old and have been to the shop three times for the same problem or spent more than 15 days there. Those days don't have to be consecutive. The Florida Attorney General administers the lemon program. There are specific forms you need to fill out to alert the manufacturer to the possible defect, and give them an opportunity to repair it.

"If you are successful, you get out of your vehicle within 40 days," said Cousins.

As the days ticked closer to a lemon law hearing, Toyota reversed its previous decision. Acting out of an abundance of customer service, Toyota said it offered to refund Gallagher for the purchase of his truck. The two sides are still working out the details of the deal.

"I told Toyota, this is not about the money. It's not about the vehicle. It's because it's just not right," said Gallagher.

Toyota Full statement:
"As part of our ongoing efforts to put customers first, Toyota has been working with Mr. Gallagher directly since October 2013 to address his concerns, and we will continue to do so.  We continue to stand behind the quality and reliability of our vehicles and hope to have this issue resolved soon."

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