By Aaron Larson
July, 2003; Last Reviewed Jan. 2011
- What Is "Lemon Law"?
- When Do Lemon Laws Apply?
- Document The Car Problem
- How To Make A Lemon Law Claim
- Used Cars, Leased Cars, and Motorcycles
- Lemon Law Remedies
- Other Available Remedies
The term "Lemon Law" is given to a body of law that is designed to protect the buyers of new cars from certain problems with their newly purchased cars. Lemon law claims are made against the manufacturer of the vehicle, not the dealership that sold you the new car.
A new car typically qualifies as a "lemon" when it has a defect that substantially affects its use, safety, or value. Lemon laws may be implicated by problems including having a car that repeatedly won't start, which has brake problems, or which doesn't properly shift gears. Ordinarily there must have been repeated unsuccessful efforts to repair the same car problem before lemon law will apply. In most states, three or four repair attempts are required. There may be a threshold number of days the car is under repair at the manufacturer's facility before lemon laws apply. Please check your local law - in some states the failure to fix certain major car problems on the first attempt may trigger the state's lemon law.
Under lemon law, the repair attempts must occur within a warranty period, typically defined by statute. That warranty period may not be the same as the manufacturer's warranty.
Please note that lemon law focuses on problems from the same defect. A new car which has a dozen different problems during the warranty period, but no recurring problems, is not a lemon in the eyes of the law. (As noted below, the owner of such a car may have remedies available under other laws.)
It is very important that you properly document your lemon law claim. For information on how to document a lemon law claim, please see this associated article: Documenting Your Lemon Law Claim.
The process for making a lemon law claim varies from state to state, depending upon where you purchased the vehicle. In some states you will make your claim without a lawyer. In other states it very much helps to involve a lawyer in your case.
In some states, lawyers will be able to collect attorney fees if they win your claim. Even in states where attorney fees are not awarded under state law, an attorney may be able to recover fees on the basis of a successful claim under the federal "Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act". Some states require that a vehicle owner who is unsuccessful in lemon law litigation to repay the manufacturer's legal fees. It makes sense to discuss the laws of your state with an attorney before deciding how you will proceed.
In most states, lemon laws apply only to new car purchases, and not to leased cars. Some states have lemon laws which protect the buyers of used vehicles. Few states have lemon laws that apply to motorcycle sales. Please note that even for vehicles which are not covered by lemon laws, other remedies may be available.
Sometimes, manufacturers will attempt to get consumers to go to arbitration to resolve disputes over "lemon" vehicles. Many consumers will be able to resolve lemon law claims themselves, perhaps prior to arbitration, or perhaps as a result of it.
You may wish to consult with a lawyer before agreeing to arbitrate your lemon law claim, as you may not be required to arbitrate your claim and the process can be frustrating. A lawyer can help you figure out if arbitration would be helpful, or if you will be better served by filing suit.
Depending upon the circumstances and applicable lemon laws, the remedy available to a car buyer may involve the repurchase of the car by the manufacturer, possibly with an additional payment for funds invested in the car, less a mileage offset. Sometimes the manufacturer will provide a new replacement vehicle. Some states permit recovery of legal fees.
For information on your state's lemon law and contact information for manufacturers, please consult with the Better Business Bureau's lemon law website.
Lemon laws are not the only remedy available to people who purchase "lemon" vehicles. Even if you do not qualify for a lemon law remedy due to the nature of the trouble with your car (e.g., a cosmetic issue, such as peeling paint, or an annoyance such as a malfunctioning dome light or radio) or due to a repair which either fixes the problem or at least diminishes its effect on the car, you may nonetheless have a claims for breach of warranty or under your state's "consumer protection" laws.
Copyright © 2003 - 2011 Aaron Larson. All rights reserved. No portion of this article may be reproduced without the express written permission of the copyright holder. If you believe you may lawfully use a quotation, excerpt or paraphrase of this article under the Fair Use exception to copyright law, except as otherwise authorized by the author of the article, you must cite this article as a source for your work and include a link back to the original article from any online materials that incorporate or are derived from the content of this article.