Lemon Laws

Lemon Laws make it easier for the buyer of a new vehicle to sue for damages or replacement if the dealer or manufacturer cannot make it run properly after a reasonable number of attempts to fix the car.

The technical definition of a "lemon" is a new vehicle that has a "substantial problem that isn't fixed within a reasonable number of attempts, or that has had a certain number of days out of service."  Here’s where it gets tricky.  How do you define the meaning of substantial problem, reasonable number of attempts, and certain number of days? 

There are general federal and state lemon laws that you can review to see if your car fits the bill.  Three sets of laws apply to defective vehicles and products in the United States:

The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act - Magnuson-Moss is a federal law that protects the buyer of any product that costs more than $25 and comes with a written warranty. The act prevents manufacturers from drafting unfair warranties.

The Uniform Commercial Code - The UCC applies to all 50 states and covers contracts dealing with the sale of products. The UCC gives the consumer the right to a refund or replacement of a lemon. The UCC, however, does not define a lemon, so it's up to a court to decide if an auto company must give you a refund or a new car.  The Magnuson-Moss act and many state lemon laws also provide for attorney fees under the UCC.

State-Specific Lemon Laws - Most state lemon laws specify that a manufacturer must provide a refund or replacement for a defective new vehicle when a substantial defect cannot be fixed in four attempts, a safety defect within two attempts or if the vehicle is out of service for 30 days within the first 12,000 - 18,000 miles or 12 - 24 months. Success in using state lemon laws depends on keeping good records, providing the right notice and using arbitration programs where required. 

Document Everything - Document everything you have regarding your vehicle and its history.  This includes all repair orders, service records, purchase contracts, warranty book and the owner’s manual that came with your car.

Take Notes - Conversations you have with your dealership or mechanic about your vehicle and its “lemon” potential can be forgotten or misunderstood.  Include the date, time and what specifically was discussed.  This includes phone calls and in-person contact.

Technical Service Bulletins (TSBs) - Manufacturers send instructions that alert dealerships to specific defects or necessary repairs in certain models. They are never divulged to the public, although you can often find them on the Internet.  If you don’t ask, your dealer probably will not provide you with this information.  So speak up and ask your technician to write your request on the repair order.

Keep Good Records - When you have repair orders in your possession, organize each repair attempt by date, the number of times the vehicle has been in the shop, and how many days total your vehicle has been out of service.