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Secret Warranties, Recalls, and Lemons

Buying a car is one of the most significant purchases most consumers will make. People who live in places without robust public transportation systems rely on their vehicles to get their families to work, school, doctor's appointments, and anywhere else they need to be. That's why it's important for any vehicle purchased to be safe to drive and in good working order. Vehicles that are not mechanically sound at the time of purchase may be repaired or even exchanged at no additional cost to the consumer in one of three ways.

Secret Warranties

Car manufacturers will occasionally discover a design defect in vehicles that are already on the market. In such cases, the manufacturer will send a notice to all dealerships that the defects should be repaired at no cost to the car owners. However, the notices aren't always published, and some dealerships fail to inform car owners about the defects. These dealerships typically won't perform the necessary repairs unless the car owners complain about the mechanical defect.

Some states, including California, Connecticut, Maryland, Virginia, and Wisconsin, require car owners to be notified of these "Secret Warranties." However, even if you don't live in one of these states, you may be able to find out if there's a secret warranty notice on your vehicle. Other resources and organizations such as the Center for Auto Safety and have more information on safety defects and other recalls. If you see a bulletin about a repair to your vehicle, be sure to take a copy to the dealership and ask for the necessary repairs.


Some repairs are so important that car manufacturers publicize them either online or by sending notice directly to the car owners. These are known as "recalls" and can cause some negative publicity for the manufacturer. However, recalls serve the important function of notifying consumers about dangerous defects. If you receive a recall notice, call a mechanic right away to schedule the repair. It should be performed at no cost to you.


Sometimes, a new car just keeps having problem after problem, and no amount of repairs seem to make the car function properly. These cars are known as "lemons." Fortunately, people who purchase lemons can often get them replaced. Most states and the federal government have laws concerning lemons. Typically, a car is considered a lemon if a mechanical defect cannot be repaired after four attempts, or if the car was out of use for thirty days during the first 12,000 miles of use.

Car owners will typically have to prove they've purchased a lemon before a dealership will agree to exchange the car for a working model. For this reason, new car owners should keep detailed records of all mechanical failures and repairs, including the date of the failure, the mileage at the time of the failure, exactly what kind of repair was performed, and copies of all the repair bills. If car owners still encounter trouble, they should find a local attorney who specializes in lemon law to assist them.

For more information, see FindLaw's sections on Buying a Car and Product Warranties and Returns.

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