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When Is It Too Late to Return a New or Used Car?

driving car, hands on steering wheel
By Christopher Coble, Esq. on August 02, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Is there anything better than that new car smell? And is there anything worse than a new car that spends all day sitting in the shop? Automobiles, new and used, are serious investments, which is why most states have so-called lemon laws that require dealers or manufacturers to either fix or buy back vehicles with seemingly irreparable defects. Lemon laws can vary from state to state, however, so when is it too late to bring a lemon car back to the dealer?

Here's a look:

New and Used Lemons

All 50 states have lemon laws regarding new cars. And their requirements vary regarding the time you have to report a lemon, who to report it to, and how many attempts the manufacturer or dealer can have to repair the vehicle. A few examples:

  • Alabama: 1year or 12,000 miles from delivery of the car, whichever comes first, and repair attempts occur within the first two years or 24,000 miles.
  • California: 18 months or 18,000 miles from the date of purchase, whichever comes first, to return a car if it is determined to be a lemon.
  • Florida: 24 months to discover defects.
  • Illinois: 1 year or 12,000 miles from date of delivery of a new vehicle, whichever occurs first.
  • Pennsylvania: 1 year following date of actual delivery to consumer, first 12,000 miles of use, or during time covered by the warranty, whichever comes first, to report any issues.
  • Wyoming: 1 year of taking delivery of the vehicle.

Six states also have used car lemon laws providing express warranties for used vehicles depending the car's mileage:

  • Hawaii: 90 day/5,000 mile warranty for vehicles with less than 25,000 miles.
  • Massachusetts: 90 day/3,750 mile warranty for vehicles with less than 40,000 miles.
  • Minnesota: 60 day/2,500 mile warranty for vehicles with less than 36,000 miles.
  • New Jersey: 90 day/3,000 mile warranty for vehicles with less than 24,000 miles.
  • New York: 90 day/4,000 mile warranty for vehicles with less than 36,000 miles.
  • Rhode Island: 60 day/3,000 mile warranty for vehicles with less than 36,000 miles.

Lemons Laws and Cooling-Off Contracts

In addition to lemon laws for new cars, some states, like California, require used car dealers to include cancellation option agreements for sales contracts. The Golden State requires dealers to inform consumers about such agreements, which cost around $250 for a car listed at between $10,000 and $30,000. But they allow the buyer to return the vehicle within two days if they have a change of heart.

The amount of time you have to alert a dealer to a malfunctioning car, and the amount of repair attempts you have to undertake before declaring that car a lemon, will vary depending on where you live. If you have more specific questions, you can contact the consumer protection division at your state attorney general's office, or get in touch with a local consumer protection attorney.

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