Buying a car can be an exciting event. But how discouraging it can get if a long-awaited car turns out to be defective. When it comes to a used car, a person buying it is usually very cautious, inspecting its ins and outs. However, a car rolled off the assembly line may also hide serious malfunctions. In this article, we are taking a closer look at what a lemon car is and what a person should do if they end up with one.

What Is a Lemon Car?

First, let’s define a lemon car and why it’s called “a lemon.” Imagine you’ve been envisioning a particular car since your college days, and finally, you are in a position to purchase this brand-new model from a dealer. However, to your dismay, the motor vehicle starts to malfunction after just a few trips. The disappointment you experience is akin to the sour, unpleasant taste of biting into a lemon.

A “lemon” car is one that harbors multiple or one substantial defect, which substantially impedes the vehicle’s safety, usability, or value and persistently resists repair within a specified number of attempts or within a certain time frame. In essence, if you acquire a brand-new car that suffers from a significant, seemingly irremediable defect, you’ve unfortunately bought a “lemon.” The defects that qualify a car as a lemon often relate to critical components like the engine or braking system, which, when flawed, make the vehicle operation a safety hazard. However, minor comfort or aesthetic design flaws do not typically qualify a vehicle as a lemon.

So, what should you do if your brand-new car turns out to be a lemon? Thankfully, you’re not without recourse. Both federal and state levels provide lemon laws to safeguard consumers. The lemon law is designed to protect you, offering a pathway to resolution should you find yourself in possession of a lemon car.

Vehicle-Related Legal Forms

Knowing vehicle-related federal and state laws is crucial to protect your rights and secure yourself from buying a malfunctioning car. And it’s always better to have quality legal templates to create lawyer-approved documents. They may help you to keep track of and gather all the necessary vehicle paperwork.

Lemon Laws and Requirements

The federal lemon law aims to protect consumers in the event that they purchase a defective vehicle. This law, also known as the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Federal Trade Commissions Improvement Act (1975), applies to car safety defects.

According to the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, if a new vehicle has a factory defect but is still under the manufacturer’s warranty (usually 1-2 years), it’s the manufacturer’s liability to fix this issue. Usually, a vehicle is considered a lemon if the automaker tries to eliminate the defect within 30 days or in four attempts and fails. After that, the car becomes subject to immediate redemption by the dealer. In addition to the car’s purchase price, the dealer is obliged to refund all the taxes the consumer pays, including the registration of the car with the local Department of Motor Vehicles.

Apart from the federal law, each state has its own lemon laws. As a rule, state lemon laws complement the federal ones; some states, such as New Jersey, Washington, and Rhode Island, offer detailed regulations specifying the number of car repair tries and a period for defect elimination. Other states, like California and Alaska, use the term “reasonable number of repair attempts.”

Does a lemon law cover used motor vehicles?

A lemon car usually refers to a brand-new car still under warranty but with a substantial defect. However, some states also provide regulations for used cars purchased from dealers. For example, you may refer to lemon laws in Massachusetts and New York if your used car is under 15,000 and 18,000 miles, respectively.

As a rule, lemon laws apply to a used car bought from an authorized dealer and are covered by a warranty period. You cannot apply lemon laws if you buy a used car from a private party. Generally, the laws are similar for both new and used automobiles. The main difference between new and used car lemon laws is that a person buying a brand-new lemon vehicle must appeal to vehicle manufacturers, and a person buying a used lemon car must appeal to dealers to fix the issue.

Does the lemon law apply to leased vehicles?

It’s essential to realize that lemon laws aren’t just applicable to purchased vehicles; they also extend their reach to leased vehicles. The core intent of these laws is to provide consumer protection from defective vehicles that fail to meet certain quality and performance standards.

Now, every state’s lemon laws might vary, but they typically cover new cars within a certain period or mileage after the lease begins. For instance, if your leased vehicle develops a significant defect that the dealer cannot fix within a reasonable number of attempts (usually three or four), you might have a lemon on your hands. The problem, however, must substantially impair the use, value, or safety of the vehicle.

One should be mindful that it’s not just any minor defect that can trigger a lemon law claim. The issue has to be significant. Perhaps the engine continually fails, the brakes are defective, or the steering mechanism is faulty – these are instances of substantial defects that could warrant a claim.

In the event that your leased vehicle qualifies as a lemon, there are usually two primary remedies available to you: replacement or repurchase. Replacement involves the lease company providing you with a new, comparable vehicle, while repurchase involves refunding the amount you’ve paid toward the lease.

Documentation is crucial to supporting a lemon law claim. Keep meticulous records of all repair attempts, communications with the dealership or lease company, and the impact of the defect on your use of the vehicle.

What If You Purchase a Lemon Car?

So, what if life has given you a lemon in the form of a car? Can lemonade be made out of the dud? Fortunately, federal and state lemon laws allow you to claim a replacement or get your money for the vehicle back. Follow the next steps to get rid of your lemon vehicle successfully.

#1. Talk to the seller

It would be best to act fast when you realize your new vehicle is a lemon. First, you must address the dealership or manufacturer and explain the problem. As a rule, they must make all the repairs under warranty. If the problem does not disappear, you must apply the lemon law and start the buyback process.

#2. Check the state lemon law

You must be aware of the lemon law applied in your state. As mentioned above, there may be different requirements regarding a certain number of vehicle repairs or which cars can be considered lemons. If your state does not provide protection in this matter, you should not worry—you can always seek help on a federal level.

#3. Keep track of your actions

Keeping track of all your actions and good records, including repair orders and a vehicle history report, is a must, as it helps to pursue legal action later. This will ensure that you have evidence of trying to fix the necessary number of times and during the required period. It’s also crucial to send a formal letter to the manufacturer specifying the issue and your actions and indicating that the same problem continues to pop up anyway. The letter should also explain your intention to get a refund or replacement vehicle according to the state lemon laws.

#4. File a consumer complaint

Suppose the dealer or automaker fails or refuses to fix your problem with a defective car. In that case, you must ask for mediation through the National Automobile Dealers Association or file a complaint with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

If the manufacturer rejects any claims, you are recommended to find a lawyer or a dispute resolution organization specialized in such a matter and go to a small claims court. However, a lawsuit is considered a last resort since such lemon law cases are usually resolved through arbitration.

#5. Get a refund or replacement vehicle

As a rule, the law is on the side of the consumer, and the automaker must repurchase or replace the defective vehicle. In the first case, you will be refunded the money, including the car’s price and any additional charges. In the case of the replacement, a consumer gets an identical vehicle but fully operational.

How to Avoid Buying a Lemon Vehicle?

When it comes to brand-new vehicles, it can be challenging to identify hidden malfunctions. The best thing to do is to check the overall reliability of the car’s model and make. Some brands and models tend to get into the lemon category more often than others. A typical example is the Dodge Dart (1963-66). Such brands as Toyota and Lexus manufacture more or less reliable cars.

Malfunctioning used cars are easier to distinguish. For example, you can request a vehicle history report, inspect the car’s interior and exterior, and look for technical service bulletins (TSB) and auto recalls. You are encouraged to take your time when selecting and buying a vehicle.

Published: Nov 18, 2022