Just about the worst thing that can happen when you buy a new car is for it to turn out to be a lemon. If this has happened to you, you are not alone. Approximately 1% of all new cars are lemons. All states have enacted “lemon laws” to help those who’ve purchased cars that turn out to be lemons.

What Qualifies as a Lemon?

In order for a car to be considered a lemon two criteria must be met:

  • The car must have a substantial defect that occurred within a certain time of the purchase of the car.
  • The car must continue to have this defect even after you have made reasonable attempts to repair it. In most states lemon laws only apply to new cars but some states have laws for used cars.

What Is a Substantial Defect?

A car has a substantial defect if there is something wrong with the car that impairs the car’s use, safety, or value. For example, faulty brakes or headlights are a substantial defect. On the other hand, loose knobs on the radio are not. The line between what are substantial defects and what are minor defects is not always clear. Problems that seem minor, like defective paint jobs or horrible smells, have been found to be substantial. All lemon laws require that the substantial defect occur within a certain period of time after the purchase of the car (usually one or two years) or within a certain number of miles (typically between 12,000 and 24,000).

How Do I Know if I’ve made Reasonable Attempts to Repair My Car?

Even if your car has a substantial defect, it is not a lemon unless the defect remains even after you have made reasonable attempts to repair it. This usually means that you must make a certain number of attempts to repair the defect. Some common standards for reasonable repair attempts include the following:

  • For serious safety defects involving the brakes or steering, one attempt is reasonable.
  • For defects that are not serious, you must make three to four attempts to repair it, although this number can vary by state.
  • If your car is in a repair shop for a certain number of days in one year (usually 30 days), it may meet your state’s definition of a lemon.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

Lemon laws can be very complex and they vary from state to state. An experienced auto lawyer can inform you of the law in your state and can help you get a refund for your lemon or a replacement car.