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Lemon Law

Buying a car is an exciting and significant purchase. However, discovering you purchased a defective vehicle can cut your excitement short. It is important to educate yourself on various aspects of the car purchasing process, including financing, selling tactics, and consumer protection laws such as lemon laws.

Being well-informed on the laws that protect consumers from defective motor vehicles can save you money and stress.

FindLaw's Lemon Law section covers several topics, including your rights as a consumer and how to get the best outcome possible when purchasing a vehicle. You can find articles that will help you understand:

  • How to protect yourself before going to a dealership
  • State-specific car lemon laws
  • Extended vehicle warranties
  • Tips for buying a vehicle
  • How to avoid auto dealer fraud
  • When to contact a lemon law lawyer for help

What Is a Lemon?

Just because you think your car is a lemon doesn't mean it qualifies as a lemon under the law.

Lemon laws address irreversibly malfunctioning new motor vehicles and protect consumers who have purchased a defective vehicle, or a “lemon." These laws cover defects that occur within a certain period or mileage after purchase.

While lemon laws primarily protect owners of new vehicles, they can also extend to some used and leased vehicles.

Lemon laws often cover more than just common passenger vehicles and include:

  • Motorcycles
  • Sport utility vehicles (SUV)
  • The motor vehicle or van portion of recreational vehicles (RV), campers, and motor homes

Each state has its own lemon laws, so it's essential to check the laws of your state to see if your car qualifies as a lemon. While the specifics of each state's lemon laws vary, there is a general framework of lemon laws. Generally, a vehicle qualifies as a lemon if:

  • It has a substantial defect covered by warranty that occurs within a specific time period after the purchase
  • It continues to have the defect even after a reasonable number of attempted repairs

The substantial defect and reasonable number of repair attempts depend on the definitions in your state.

In most states, a substantial defect is covered under an express warranty and affects a serious function or expectation of the car. If there is such a defect, the manufacturer or dealer has a reasonable number of attempts to repair the problem before a vehicle meets the criteria of a lemon. Again, each state has its own definition of how many repair attempts are reasonable.

If your car meets the qualifications of a lemon, you fall under the protection of lemon laws. If so, the auto manufacturer must repurchase the vehicle and issue a reimbursement or replacement.

Federal Consumer Protection and Remedies

In addition to state lemon laws, federal law protects buyers who purchase any product that costs more than $25 and comes with a written warranty. Known as the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, this Act prevents manufacturers from creating grossly unfair warranties.

This federal law differs from state lemon laws in that it covers all products with a warranty, not just motor vehicles.

The Act also provides a way to bring an action to recover any attorneys' fees incurred during a lawsuit. An attorney can help you determine if the terms of your warranty rise to the level of grossly unfair.

The federal lemon law requires that you first contact the manufacturer, who should already have notice due to attempted repairs. If you aren't satisfied with the settlement that the manufacturer offers, you may have to go through arbitration before you can file a lawsuit against the manufacturer.

Arbitration is a form of legal dispute resolution, similar to mediation, that provides an alternative to filing a lawsuit. In general, it's more streamlined and cost-conscious than going to court.

Extended Warranties and Lemon Laws

The term “extended warranty" can be misleading. Most vehicle extended warranties are actually service contracts. This means that instead of promising your vehicle continues to meet certain expectations, the party issuing the extended warranty agrees to repair the vehicle in the event of a covered breakdown or defect.

Because of this, vehicles with expired manufacturer warranties, even if the owner opted in or purchased an extended warranty, are not covered under most lemon laws.

Defective Vehicles and State Laws

Since each state sets its own lemon laws, vehicle owners should know the regulations for their area. This includes the timeframe for filing a lemon law claim and the specific number of repair attempts needed.

Some states' lemon laws offer more protection for vehicle owners, while other states' laws offer fewer protections for consumers, often in the form of shorter lemon law periods or other limitations on coverage.

While lemon laws are most often designed to address issues with new vehicles, some states have extended protections to used cars. The criteria for used vehicles may be different.

For example, California's lemon law applies to used vehicles if they are still under a manufacturer's new car warranty. Any remaining time on the warranty period protects the new owner of the vehicle. Further, certain members of the Armed Forces stationed or residing in California at the time of purchase are protected by the state's lemon law, even if they purchased or registered their vehicles in a different state.

Some states' lemon laws also cover expenses like towing, diagnostic testing, and rental cars.

Most states require vehicle manufacturers and dealers to disclose “lemon buybacks" to buyers. This means vehicles that have been bought back as a lemon must be clearly marked, often with a decal, and defect information included in the title. Failure to properly disclose lemon buybacks is sometimes referred to as “lemon laundering."

Bought a Lemon? Talk to an Attorney

If you purchased a new vehicle with significant defects, you may have a lemon law case. Consider talking to a lemon law attorney in your area to help guide you through this process. An attorney with experience in your state's lemon laws can review your purchase, defects, and repair attempts and help you determine the next best steps.

Working with an attorney can help protect your rights if a manufacturer is not cooperating with you or the law. They may even be able to help secure a refund or replacement vehicle for your lemon.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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