Learn Your Lemon Laws


lemon laws

What do you do when you’ve purchased a lemon? Learn your lemon laws to find out.

You diligently saved your money for years to have enough to buy a brand new car off the lot. You’re in love with your vehicle, and everything seems to be going great. You couldn’t be happier. Then it happens. Something mechanical malfunctions, and your new car suddenly isn’t worth what it was. Your health and safety are in danger. Your new car is a lemon.

Why can’t you just take your new car back to the lot and demand a new one? In some instances you can, especially depending on the terms of your warranty. Most retailers will work to keep their customers happy, but if they don’t, you have legal recourse under the Federal Lemon Laws.

History of Lemon Laws

In 1975, Congress enacted a piece of legislation called the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act–Public Law 93-637, also known as the Lemon Law. Although this act broadly covers all consumer goods, the target of the law was inequitable automobile warranties. The adoption of this law served as a historic landmark for consumer rights.

The Lemon Law is designed to prevent manufacturers from drafting clearly unreasonable warranties that are prejudiced against consumers. The laws also make warranty lawsuits against car companies economically possible, since an award of attorney’s fees is built into the law.

After Congress passed the national law, many states stepped up to create their own, unique lemon laws. Today, all 50 states have automobile lemon laws that protect consumers who have faulty passenger vehicles, trucks, and sport utility vehicles under warranty.

There is no “lemon law” in Canada. You will instead have to use the voluntary arbitration program for the resolution of motor vehicle warranty disputes. You can find more information about the Canadian Motor Vehicle Arbitration Plan (CAMVAP) here.

Warranty guidelines

Lemon laws provide a way to compensate vehicle owners (and lessees in some instances) for products (namely automobiles) that don’t meet the safety standards for quality or performance.

Federal lemon laws protect consumers from mechanical malfunctions on their vehicles. They also ensure that the warrantor of the vehicle will pay your attorney fees should you win your claim, since they will be proven guilty of a breach of warranty.

Under the federal lemon law act, consumer rights may extend beyond those written in the consumer’s automobile warranty or purchase contract. Express and implied warranties are the two types of warranties that a court of law would take into consideration if you were to file against a company for a lemon vehicle.

Express warranties are any written statement published by the manufacturer of the vehicle, such as those in advertisements and owner’s manuals. Implied warranties, however, are more comprehensive and ensure the owner of the product that the manufacturer has met the minimum standards of quality. Implied and express warranties will vary by state.

Express warranties are written statements. Implied warranties are more comprehensive.

Never throw away the warranty booklet you receive with the purchase of the vehicle. It contains valuable information you can use to help pursue your rights as a consumer per your state’s legislation.

When Does the Auto Lemon Law Apply?

For the lemon law to apply, the vehicle must be considered to have a nonconformity, a condition or defect that impairs the value, use, or safety of the vehicle, and is unable to be repaired after a reasonable attempt to fix the problems. The reasonable number of repair attempts required before the lemon law applies will vary by state.

Lemon laws may also apply if your vehicle ends up with the mechanic for extended periods of time. In many states, the conditional standard is 30 days or more in the first year.

What Qualifies as a Lemon?

Every state documents their lemon laws under their complex legal codes, but those codes can be difficult to parse and decipher. The Department of Motor Vehicles’ Lemon Law Guide is a plain English, layman’s term guide to lemon laws available for each, specific state. It will help you to educate yourself about your rights under your state’s legislation.

If you have car difficulty, but you aren’t sure if you vehicle qualifies as a lemon, use this DMV state-by-state guide to figure out whether your vehicle qualifies. It will also show you how your state handles claims.

Let’s look at an example of state’s criteria. The following guidelines apply to the state of New York.

A car is covered under the New Car Lemon Law if all of the following apply:
1. The car was covered under a manufacturer’s warranty for the first buyer.
2. The car was bought, leased, or transferred in the state of New York within the vehicle’s first 18,000 miles or 2 years from original delivery (whichever is earlier).
3. It’s registered in New York.

New York and many other states also have a Used Car Lemon Law for cars that are more than two model years old, or have up to 100,000 miles.

Each state is different, but you will see similar qualifiers for whether or not your vehicle is a lemon in each state.

Not sure if your car is a lemon? Check out the DMV’s state-by-state guide.

What are your rights?

Although consumer lemon law requirements vary by state, almost universally, your vehicle must have been purchased with a warranty for it to qualify as a lemon. In general, every new vehicle owner (or long term lessee) will have received some type of notice or warranty booklet from the dealership or manufacturer. It is this warranty that holds your vehicle’s manufacturer accountable under the lemon laws. Vehicles bought “As Is” would not be covered by lemon laws.

Do lemon laws apply to lessees?

There is no one standard ruling yet, on whether or not lessees have rights under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act. For example, New York State ruled against lessees while New Jersey ruled that the Act protects both new vehicle purchasers and lessees. According to the Center for Auto Safety, most courts “are taking a common-sense approach and siding with New Jersey’s [decision].”

The majority of the time, once you have established that your vehicle is a lemon, your state will mediate between you and the automobile manufacturer. That being said, there is a process you need to follow. Without the proper recourse, you will not be able to have your vehicle repaired or replaced, or get your money refunded. To get what you deserve under the law, be sure to follow this procedure:

1. Notify the manufacturer in writing how you believe the vehicle to be flawed
2. File a Lemon Law Complaint
3. Receive restitution (if the manufacturer is deemed at fault)

Once you follow your state’s lemon law guide to see if you qualify for a claim, you’ll want to find out how long of a timeframe you have to file that claim. You don’t want to miss filing deadlines, or omit required paperwork that could prevent you from receiving restitution.

How to file a complaint

To file a complaint, you will need to complete a five step form that takes about five minutes to fill out. You will need:
• Your email address
• Your vehicle’s VIN
• Make, model, and year of your vehicle
• Any documentation that could relate to your complaint, including police reports or insurance photographs

File your complaint as soon as you can. It’s only through consumer complaints like yours that the NHTSA can be tipped off to serious problems. They use individual complaints in public petitions to investigate and then initiate recalls on defective automobiles. Information in your complaint will be public so that they can force the automobile manufacturer to take responsibility for their actions. Know that not all complaints will be investigated or lead to a recall.

It’s only through consumer complaints that the NHTSA can be tipped off to serious problems.

Unfortunately, not all lemons get recalled. This might happen if not enough consumers lodge complaints, or if there isn’t enough evidence for the NHTSA to move forward with a recall.

Written notice

To have a case against a manufacturer, you must first send a written notice, known as the Opportunity to Repair or Cure. Some states require that the consumer contact the state’s lemon law office to receive the correct manufacturer’s address prior to sending the written notice. The process for sending in your written statement will vary by state, though, so be sure to read your state’s lemon law guidelines thoroughly before sending your written notice. Also, keep in mind that the notice should be sent before the Lemon Law Rights Period expires.

After the manufacturer has received your notice, and the vehicle has been delivered to their facility to be repaired, most states require that they have repairs completed within seven to fifteen days. If they aren’t able to fix the problem after four attempts, or if it has been out of commission for 30 days or more because of the problem, then you’ll be able to continue with your lemon recourse, according to your state’s guidelines. (Again, the number of attempts and days out of commission will vary from state to state.)

No matter which course of action your state requires, always act in accordance with your state’s unique lemon law guidelines. Following the proper procedure will increase the likelihood of a quick resolution to your lemon dispute.

What if your dealer refuses to fix the problem?

If you have notified the dealership about your vehicle’s defects, and they refuse to fix the problem, you can then notify the manufacturer of the dealer’s refusal to make the necessary repairs. Once the manufacturer receives that notice they have 20 days to start fixing the problem. If the manufacturer refuses to fix the problem as well, or if they are unable to fix your vehicle, you may be entitled to a replacement vehicle or purchase price refund.

You have a lemon but can’t afford a lawyer

Under the lemon laws, if you win your case in court, the manufacturer will have to pay all of your court and legal costs, including attorney fees. You can also find legal representation for your lemon case completely free of charge. Even if you don’t win, you won’t be faced with crippling legal debt for seeking restitution for your lemon vehicle.

You can find legal representation for your lemon case completely free of charge.

You’re successful in court. Now what?

What happens if you can successfully prove in court that your vehicle is a lemon? Each case will be different, but depending on the severity of the problem one of several things may happen. You might:

• Be awarded a brand new vehicle
• Be offered a buyback
• Receive a partial refund and extended warranty

How to stay safe

Always be aware of trending recalls, but don’t rely on them alone to keep yourself safe. Just because a vehicle hasn’t been recalled doesn’t mean it’s perfectly safe to drive. Keeping tabs on technical service bulletins for your vehicle can help keep you aware of any new or potential problem with your vehicle. The NHTSA Technical Service Bulletins Search Engine allows consumers to search by a single year, make and model. However, they’re not a silver bullet. NHTSA notes that not all bulletins related to defects are included.

Before making a new purchase, always do a quick search into the manufacturer’s complaint history. If they have a history of keeping consumers at risk longer than necessary, then you may want to think about going with a different automobile company. You don’t want to purchase from a company that puts their profit margins over the safety of their customers.

Always use the Lemon Laws to your advantage. They were put in place to ensure that manufacturers are held accountable for their actions and their products. The legislative process provides a platform where your voice will be heard, and the laws can be fulfilled. If you’re wary of engaging with the courts to address your faulty vehicle, remember that the lemon laws were created to help the consumer. Without lemon laws, John Doe the plumber or Jane Smith the teacher wouldn’t have the means to go up against billion-dollar corporations.


Have you ever bought a lemon? Share your experience in the comments!

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