VW Settles Suit on Defective Cabrio Tops

Posted: January 7, 2004 at 6:25 p.m.

SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) -- Volkswagen's legal team was in a San Francisco courtroom Wednesday, taking steps to settle a lawsuit involving the popular VW Cabrio. It's a story Contact 4 has been tracking for more than a year.

"It just rips right off," says Belinda Arge, tearing a tiny piece of her Cabrio convertible top off. "There's nothing to it. It's like paper."

We first began looking into complaints about VW Cabrios in August of 2002. Three Bay Area owners had Cabrios of the same year and same color, with the same problem.

After our first report, more than 40 others came forward with similar tales of disintegrating vinyl convertible tops. We took their complaints to Volkswagen. Some complainants got free replacement tops. Others only had to pay half the replacement cost, with VW footing the other half of the bill. But the rest got no help at all from VW. And that's why the company was accused of breaking California's "secret warranty" law.

"When a manufacturer has secretly decided to give warranty coverage to people who have cars with known defects, even though they're beyond the factory warranty period, they have to extend that benefit to all owners," explains attorney Mark Anderson, with San Francisco-based Kemnitzer, Anderson, Barron & Ogilvie, LLP.  Anderson sued VW on behalf of Belinda Arge, one of the Cabrio owners in our original group.

The lawsuit accused VW of refusing to offer repair benefits to all Cabrio owners.

"They should've sent everybody a letter, every owner, a letter saying, `Here's what we'll do for you.' In other words, they're not allowed to just give it to the people that complain."

After Belinda's lawsuit was certified as a class action, Volkswagen agreed to settle, and to extend the warranty to Cabrio owners not just here in California but across the country too.

According to court documents, VW is agreeing to pay for free replacement tops for cars that developed problems within 5-years of purchase, or VW will reimburse you if you paid for a replacement out of pocket.

If your Cabrio's problems developed between 5 and 10 years after purchase, VW will pay 50 % of the cost for replacement, or will reimburse you for half of your costs.

Wednesday was the preliminary hearing to approve the settlement terms. A final hearing is scheduled for March 23rd. Once that's done, Cabrio owners should be getting notices in the mail, including details on how to file a claim.

(Copyright 2004, KRON 4. All rights reserved.)

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