Lemon Laws

What Is a Lemon Vehicle?

A car that has a problem that substantially reduces its value, safety or usability may be considered a lemon. Each state has its own definition, but generally, if a mechanic has had to try to fix the same problem an excessive number of times within a specified period or a certain number of miles, the car may qualify as a lemon.

What Are the Lemon Laws?

The federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act and state lemon laws are in place to protect consumers when they purchase a car. While these laws most often apply to new vehicles, some also cover used cars if the purchasers were given express written warranties on them by the dealer or seller.

Making a Claim

Before making a claim under a state or federal lemon law, vehicle owners must first notify the vehicle's seller or manufacturer so that they can try to repair the vehicle. It’s advisable for the buyer to make this notification in writing so that they have a record of it. After the manufacturer or seller has attempted to repair the problem without success, the buyer can then choose to pursue legal action.

Lemon laws are generally designed to favor alternatives to formal litigation. State, federal and international laws may include mechanisms for arbitration or mediation between consumers and auto manufacturers. While mediation helps the two parties come to a mutual agreement, arbitration involves a decision made by a neutral third party that is usually binding.

Arguing the Case for a Lemon Law Violation

In order to reach a favorable settlement, the car buyer will generally want to collect and retain certain documents for use as evidence. They may include the following:

  • A copy of the notice sent to the seller or manufacturer
  • Copies of the service and repair records relating to the defect
  • A copy of the vehicle's warranty
  • Brochures and advertisements about the vehicle

Proving a lemon law dispute will typically involve showing that the defect greatly reduced the car's usability and value and that the manufacturer or seller was given enough chances to try to fix the problem. In some states, the purchaser is required to go through arbitration under procedures established by the manufacturer.

Arbitration usually begins with the consumer filling out an application form and mailing it to their state's consumer protection agency. Although this process is free of charge, the application may include numerous questions, so consumers often seek professional assistance and provide their attorney's information as a point of contact. Many states also institute time limits for how long manufacturers have to respond to claims.

Potential Remedies

A buyer who comes to an agreement through arbitration or wins a lawsuit will usually be entitled to a cash refund or a replacement vehicle of comparable value. Under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act and about half of the state lemon laws, purchasers may also recover attorney's fees.

How an Attorney May Help

An attorney in a lemon law case can make an initial determination about whether a particular purchase is covered under the statute. If coverage exists, the attorney can contact the seller or manufacturer and try to resolve the issue through negotiation. In the event a settlement can’t be reached, the attorney can then file a civil lawsuit on behalf of the client.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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