You've bought a car. It has every feature on your wish list.
But then significant problems arise that require numerous and lengthy trips to a mechanic, and even then it may not be fixed. You may have a “lemon” car on your hands.
You also have recourse.
Federal lemon car law
On the federal level, the Magnuson-Moss Act of 1975 was passed to protect consumers and covers defective vehicles. Magnuson-Moss requires that warranties are understandable and enforceable. Moreover, all states have lemon laws that bear a number of similarities.
State lemon car law
Disgruntled owners of new cars may have a case if the vehicle’s warranty doesn’t provide satisfaction. That is, state lemon laws typically require a car and truck manufacturer to repair defects within a reasonable time; otherwise, a consumer may be entitled to a new vehicle or full repurchase.
What is a reasonable time?
Standards for time, mileage and repair attempts vary among states. In some states, a car may meet the criterion of a lemon if there is a catastrophic defect that cannot be repaired in one attempt. The American Bar Association recommends that those who think they may have a lemon research lemon laws by state.
In New Jersey, for example, a car may be covered if there is a problem that reduces the safety, use and value of the car within the first two years from the original date of delivery or 24,000 miles of driving, and there have been at least three repair attempts. A vehicle may also qualify as a lemon car if the owner cannot use if for a total of 21 days over this period, according to the New Jersey Lemon Law. Some other states require four repair attempts and 30-day periods of inoperability.
Spotting a lemon car
Most states stipulate that defects must be substantial for a car to be deemed a lemon. States vary regarding what is recognized as a “substantial defect”; problems involving a vehicle’s major operational systems usually meet this threshold. Minor issues may not qualify a car as a lemon, although there are gray areas.
Leaks can reflect a minor problem, but they may also indicate something more serious. The same holds true with odd vibrations that occur at certain speeds and even bad odors that defy easy fixing. If something is chronic, you may have a lemon car.
Many state laws require consumers inform the manufacturer of problems that are occurring, and you may even be required to contact the dealer, depending upon your state law.
The American Bar Association recommends that you hold all your repair or service receipts. This may be of particular importance if you’ve had issues while traveling to a distant location where it was impossible to drive to a repair shop stipulated by the seller.
Consumers should carefully read repair invoices before signing, ensuring that the date, the mileage at the time of the repair and the amount of time the vehicle was out of service are accurate. Such invoices should clearly document problems and repairs so the consumer can show that the same issue persists.
Used cars lemon law
If you buy a pre-owned vehicle, you may also run into trouble with what you think is a lemon. However, only a few states have lemon law protection for used cars.
Other states may offer consumers some statutory protections, however, the protections for used cars are more limited than the lemon laws applicable to new cars. You can check what your state offers here. When buying a used car, your best bet is to carefully check out the vehicle to avoid a lemon. Click here for tips on avoiding lemon cars as well as a checklist you can use when inspecting a used car.
Ultimately, it’s important to be informed about your state’s lemon laws and to know your rights before you make a purchase to ensure you are in the best position to protect yourself if the vehicle you buy is not all it seems.