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The Sour Truth About the Lemon Law

When Is A Car Considered A Lemon

In 2017, there were over 3,000 lemon law cases in the United States.

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The top three vehicle brands for those appearances were Ford, General Motors, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. Ford led the way for cases by far, though.

While buying a home is the biggest purchase that almost any American will make, automobiles come in at a close second.

When you spend so much money on something, there have to be ways of protecting yourself. Even though car manufacturers perform a series of tests to ensure their products are safe for the road, periodic defects are an inevitability.

That's where lemon laws come into play. They're there to protect the consumer.

But what is the lemon law? Here's a guide that will break it down for you.

lemon law

What Is a Lemon Law?

There isn't just one lemon law. There are many lemon laws, and those laws were created by the government to protect American consumers. It's their job to protect citizens from defective products and fraud.

The laws offer remedies and solutions that go beyond the scope of a vehicle manufacturer's warranty. Even though the warranty might obligate a manufacturer to make repairs at no cost to the consumer, those warranties don't include maximum periods for the completion of those repairs.

Warranties also don't trigger buy-back requirements if the repair can't be completed in a certain period.

While the criteria for these laws vary from state to state, new vehicle lemon laws require that a given auto manufacturer repurchase any vehicle that has a significant defect, especially if they cannot repair that defect within a reasonable amount of time.

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Lemon Laws Vary from State to State

Lemon laws vary from state to state in that some states only cover certain classes of issues. For example, a state may cover vehicles purchased for personal use but not for business use.

There are a few states which have limited lemon laws about used vehicles. And some states even have lemon laws that apply to pet purchases!

For every situation, lemon laws consider things like:

  • The nature of the issue with the vehicle
  • The number of days that the automobile is unavailable to the consumer
  • The number of repair attempts made

If repairs can't be made in the total number of days that are described in the state's statute, the manufacturer is then obligated to buy back the defective vehicle.

While many people think that the dealer is responsible, this is a misconception. The dealer is in no way responsible for buying back the vehicle because the fault lies with the manufacturer.

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What Qualifies as a “Lemon?”

To qualify as a lemon under most of the state laws, the car in question must:

  • Have a “substantial defect covered by the warranty that occurred within a certain number of miles or period of time after the car was bought
  • Not be fixed after a reasonable number of repair attempts

A “substantial defect” is a problem that's covered by the warranty that impairs the vehicle's value, use, or safety. Things like faulty brakes or steering issues are both examples of substantial defects.

Minor defects are things like loose radio knobs or loose door handles. Those minor defects, unfortunately, don't meet the legal definition of a “substantial defect.”

The line between substantial and minor, however, is not always clear.

Things like horrible smells or defective paint jobs have even qualified as substantial defects in the past.

The defect can't have been caused by abuse, and it has to occur within a certain number of miles or a certain period of time.

If your vehicle's manufacturer reimbursed you for your defective purchase and you want to take a go at driving a used car this time around, check out these brilliant tips on negotiating used car prices.

lemon law

The Dealer Gets to Make Reasonable Repair Attempts

If your vehicle has a substantial defect, you still must allow the manufacturer to make a “reasonable” amount of repair attempts before your car is deemed to be a lemon.

Typically, you have to meet one of the following criteria to be protected under your state's lemon law.

If the defect isn't a serious safety defect, it has to remain unfixed after three or four repair attempts. This rule varies from state to state, though.

If the defect is a serious safety defect (like involving brakes or steering), it must remain unfixed after just one repair attempt.

If your vehicle is in the auto shop after a certain number of days (usually 30 in one year) to fix substantial warranty defects, it may meet the definition of a lemon.

As soon as your car meets lemon law requirements for your state, you get to obtain a refund or replacement car from your vehicle's manufacturer.

You have to notice the manufacturer of the defect in every state. And if you aren't offered a satisfactory settlement, many states require that you go to arbitration before a court.

Lemon Law Arbitration

Every state and manufacturer is different. In a lot of cases, the manufacturer will select the arbitration program for you.

If you get the chance to choose yourself, you'll probably benefit more from choosing a state consumer protection agency rather than the manufacturer's in-house program.

Lemon Laws Are There To Protect You

The lemon law was created to protect consumers from things like fraud and product defects.

Those laws always protect defects having to do with safety. But when it comes to minor issues, those laws won't always help you replace or refund your hefty purchase.

And if your car is used beyond a certain point, the chances are that you won't be able to make a claim.

But even if your car is junk, you can still make some cash by selling it!

Do you want to know what you could get for your old car? Get an offer here.

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