Lemon Law Basics
Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed June 20, 2016
One of the government's jobs is to protect consumers from fraud and defective products. To protect consumers from defective cars, states have enacted "lemon laws." These laws give car buyers the right to receive a refund or new car, if the new car they purchased has serious defects or mechanical problems. Typically, the car dealer or manufacturer must be given an opportunity to fix the problems before a buyer's rights under lemon laws take effect. FindLaw's Lemon Law Basics section provides information about state and federal car buyer protections and the basics of how state laws govern car repairs. In this section, you can also find car buying tools and resources as well state-specific lemon law information. Finally, you can find a guide to finding and hiring an attorney if you believe you bought a lemon.
The Definition of a Lemon
Lemon laws are enacted by each state, which means that they will vary from state to state. For this reason, each state will have its own definition of what qualifies as a lemon. Generally, however, a lemon is defined as a new car that has a substantial defect that can't be fixed even after a reasonable number of attempted repairs. While the definition of substantial defect will depend on the lemon laws of each state, most states define a substantial defect as a defect that affects a serious function or expectation of the car. Most states also require that the defect is one that is covered by an express warranty. Typically, states also allow the manufacturer or car dealer to try and repair the defect before a buyer's rights under the lemon law is activated. Each state has its own definition of how many attempts to repair a car is reasonable, and the number may vary depending on the defect.
Car Repair Shops
Even if you purchase a new car that isn't a lemon, chances are you're going to need a car repair at sometime during your ownership of the car. Unfortunately, it can often be hard to find an honest and good mechanic at a fair price. The best way to go about finding a good car repair shop is to be a well-informed consumer.
There are basically three main types of car repair shops: car dealerships, general repair shops, and auto repair chains. Car dealerships are usually a safe choice because the mechanics will be familiar with your type of car. But, dealerships are usually more expensive than other types of car repair shops, so most people choose to take it to the dealership when the work is covered by warranty. General repair shops can usually offer less expensive labor, but parts can cost more than at a dealership. It can also be difficult to know if the mechanics are good, honest, and familiar with your type of car. Finally, auto repair chains generally focus on one or two particular areas of a car. These types of chains are good for specific routine maintenance - such as oil changes or balancing and aligning tires - and are relatively inexpensive because they work on a high volume of cars.
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you end up at a bad repair shop. While you might be unhappy with the service, it's important to know that if you decide not to pay for the services on your car, the shop may be legally entitled to keep your car. In many cases, the shop owner can obtain a mechanic's lien, which would allow the mechanic to keep and sell the car if the bill is not paid in a timely manner.
Hiring a Consumer Attorney
If you think you've purchased a lemon, you have legal rights. Generally, a consumer can handle the problem of a lemon him or herself. However, if you find the lemon law process to be too complicated or the manufacturer is being difficult, you can contact a consumer attorney to help you.
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