Lemon Laws

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 What Are Lemon Laws?

Lemon laws are laws that have been enacted in every state that provide consumers with a remedy if they purchase a vehicle that turns out to be a lemon. “Lemon” is a slang term for a vehicle that does not operate as it should.

There are federal as well as state lemon laws. In general, these laws involve a manufacturer’s breach of warranty.

A lemon requires repeated repairs and is in a repair center longer than it is in its new owner’s driveway. Vehicle lemon laws in each state govern purchases of vehicles that are defective.

In general, a state lemon law will characterize a vehicle as a lemon if it meets the following criteria:

  • Number of repairs: The vehicle required a certain number of repairs within a specified period of time or within a specified number of miles; and
  • Amount of time in the shop: The vehicle has been in a repair shop for more than a certain number of days.

The laws in each state will specify the number of repair attempts, the number of miles, the period of time, and the number of days that is required for a vehicle to qualify as a lemon in the state. For example, under New York state’s lemon law, a new vehicle may be considered a lemon if it meets the following criteria:

  • It has a defect that substantially impairs the value of the vehicle; and
  • The owner has to report it within 2 years of delivery or before the odometer registers 18,000 miles.

If a dealer cannot repair the defect after four attempts or if the vehicle has been out of service due to repairs or other issues for a total of fifteen days, an owner may be entitled to a refund of the purchase price or to a replacement vehicle. This law in New York also applies to vehicles that are leased.

With a leased vehicle, the owner would be entitled to a refund of their down payment as well as any lease payments they made, minus any service fees that were applied under the lease agreement. There is also a federal lemon law that may apply in certain cases.

The federal lemon law applies a reasonableness standard. This means that adequate repair attempts must be made to a warrantied vehicle before it will qualify as a lemon.

The federal lemon law also offers remedies for a vehicle if it is covered by a warranty. If an individual has any questions about their state’s lemon laws, they should consult with a lemon lawyer.

A lemon lawyer represents individuals who seek relief under the lemon laws in their state. There are several similarities between state lemon laws, including:

  • The majority of state lemon laws cover new vehicles exclusively;
    • There are only seven states that have lemon laws that apply to purchases of used cars;
  • The lemon laws in most states cover only cars, light trucks, and SUVs;
  • The federal lemon law applies to additional types of vehicles, including:
    • ATVs;
    • motorhomes; and
    • boats; and
  • In most states, lemon laws apply only to personal use vehicles. Under federal laws, an individual can file a claim for a business vehicle as well.

What Is a Substantial Defect Under the Lemon Law?

Every individual state defines a substantial defect under its lemon law. For example, in the State of Texas, a vehicle may be characterized as a lemon in several different ways, including:

  • The owner has made four attempts to have the problem fixed within a period of two years or before 24,000 miles have registered on the odometer;
  • The car has been out of service for a total of 30 days or more during the first two years or 24,000 miles;
  • The vehicle has a defect that creates a serious safety hazard;
    • A serious safety hazard threatens the owner’s life as well as drastically impedes their ability to operate their vehicle in a normal manner or substantially increases the risk of a vehicle fire or explosion;
      • Again, the owner would have to have attempted two repairs during the first 24 months or 24,000 miles of ownership.

What Does Making Reasonable Repairs Mean Under the Lemon Law?

The definition of terms, including making reasonable repairs, will depend on the laws of the state. In California, the lemon law requires that a purchaser provide the manufacturer with a reasonable opportunity to repair the vehicle.

Courts in California have interpreted this to mean that the purchaser is required to provide the manufacturer with at least one reasonable opportunity to repair the vehicle. If the manufacturer cannot do so or fails to do so, the purchaser of the vehicle has fulfilled their legal obligations.

How Do Lemon Laws Protect Automobile Purchases?

The remedies that each state offers to owners of vehicles that qualify as lemons will depend on the lemon law in that state. In many states, purchasers of new vehicles are offered a complete refund of the purchase price or a new vehicle to replace the defective one, which is a significant protection for a new automobile purchase.

An individual should keep in mind that a state lemon law does not provide the only recourse for an individual whose vehicle is not performing as it should or has a defect. The majority of new vehicles today are sold with manufacturer’s warranties that cover certain parts of the car.

Although warranties may be limited, they can offer a way for an individual to obtain relief for their new vehicle issue. Additionally, an individual may have purchased a more extensive warranty that provides them with more coverage than the standard one.

An individual may need to consult with an auto warranty lawyer in order to determine if a warranty is in place that may offer them relief.

What Should My Next Steps Be if I Suspect My Car Is a Lemon?

The procedure for claiming a remedy under a lemon law will depend on the state. In Texas, for example, an individual has to file within six months of whichever event occurs soonest:

  • The expiration of the warranty;
  • The passage of two years after the date of delivery; or
  • The odometer has registered 24,000 miles since the day the vehicle was first delivered.

In the State of Texas, an individual may file a lemon law complaint online with the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles. In any state, an individual may make their own efforts to make the manufacturer provide them with relief.

If an individual’s efforts fail, their next steps will depend on the state in which they reside. If an individual has any questions about the process, they should consult a lemon lawyer in their state.

What Remedies Do Lemon Laws Provide?

The remedies available will depend on the laws of the state. In many states, however, the remedies are the same as those in Texas and New York, a full refund of the purchase price or a replacement vehicle.

If an individual lawsuit against a car dealer or manufacturer and is able to prove their vehicle is a lemon, they may be entitled to the following remedies:

  • Refund the cost of the vehicle minus an amount of money for the vehicle’s use up to that point;
  • Replace the vehicle; or
  • Pay for all the necessary repairs.

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

If you believe your car may be a lemon and you have made repeated attempts to get it fixed, you should consult with an auto lawyer. Your lawyer can advise you of the lemon law in your state, what vehicles it may apply to, and what remedies may be available.


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