Lemon laws have been enacted to help consumers be protected from buying defective cars that have repeated and unfixable problems. In order to get a refund or a replacement car, a car must qualify as a “lemon.”

In order for a car to qualify as a lemon under most state laws, the car must (1) have a substantial defect that is covered by warranty that has occurred within a certain period of time or number of miles that the consumer bought the car, and (2) car has not been fixed after a reasonable number of repair attempts

What is a Substantial Defect under the Lemon Law?

A “substantial defect” is a defect that is covered by the warranty of the car that impairs the ability to drive the car, decreases the value of the car, and makes the car unsafe. These can be things like a faulty brakes, steering problems, and anything the effects the car’s safety. Minor problems like loose knobs or door handles are not considered substantial defects. In all states, the substantial defect must occur within a certain period of time after the car is bought and the purchaser should not have caused the substantial defect.

What is Making Reasonable Repairs Mean under the Lemon Law?

In order to recover under your state’s lemon law, you must allow the dealer or manufacturer of the car to make reasonable repairs or a number of attempts to fix the car before your car is considered to be a lemon. Generally, you must meet one of the following requirements to be protected under your state’s lemon law:

  • If the defect is a serious safety defect the car must remain unfixed after 1 repair attempt.
  • If the defect is not a serious safety defect, the car must remain unfixed after 3-4 repair attempts
  • If the car is in the repair shop a certain number of days (usually 30 days in a one-year period) to fix one or more defects, it can be considered a lemon.

How Do Lemon Laws Protect Automobile Purchases?

Lemon laws protect consumers who purchase defective automobiles. When someone buys a car, it should be free from substantial manufacturing defects. If it has serious defects, which cannot be permanently repaired in a reasonable amount of time, then the car’s manufacturer is obligated to replace or otherwise the person buying the car.

How Do I Know If My Car Is a Lemon?

Lemon laws vary from state to state, and in some instances, the federal lemon law will also be available. Some states have lemon laws only for new cars, while other states include used or leased cars. The federal lemon law will typically only offer remedies for warrantied vehicles. Generally, a lemon law will classify a car as a “lemon” if the car:

  • Needed a certain number of repairs within a specified period of time or specified number of miles.
  • Has been “in the shop” for more than a certain number of days.

State law specifies all the number of repair attempts, period of time, number of miles, and number of days. The federal lemon law uses a “reasonableness” standard, where adequate repair attempts must be made to a warrantied vehicle before it qualifies as a lemon.

What If I Think My Car Is a Lemon?

The first step should be contacting the dealer who sold the car. If the car is new, then the manufacturer should be contacted as well. If your car meets the lemon law requirements for your state, as a purchaser you have the right to get a refund or replacement car from the manufacturer or dealer.  Describe the problem as best as possible, and inquire as to what either intends to do. If the dealer or manufacturer is resistant or uncooperative, informing them that the lemon laws of state and potentially the federal lemon laws may apply can potentially change their tune, and they may offer to work out the problem right then and there.

The next step may be legal action. Some states require the parties to engage in arbitration, which can be complex and intimidating. In arbitration, all the parties sit down with a neutral mediator who tries to resolve the problem. In states where arbitration is not required, or the arbitrator’s decision is not binding, the consumer can sue the dealer, manufacturer, or both. Going to court can be very difficult.

What Are the Remedies of Lemon Law Violations?

If a consumer successfully shows that a car is a lemon, the dealer or manufacturer will have to do at least one of the following:

  • Refund the cost of the vehicle minus an amount of money for the car’s use up to that point
  • Replace the car
  • Pay for all the necessary repairs
  • State law will generally determine which of these options is available to the dealer or manufacturer.

Do I Need an Attorney to Help Me with My Lemon Law Problem?

Lemon laws can be complex and often frustrating to understand. Moreover, in the event of a disagreement between consumers and dealers or manufacturers, this situation can go from confusing to outright incomprehensible. Having an attorney help you with your consumer lawyer problem can not only make life easier, but it can help secure a fair and equitable result is reached. A consumer protection attorney will know how to get the results you want, and bring a lawsuit on your behalf if needed.