It’s not easy being on the wrong end of a vehicle purchase. When “buyer beware” is a lesson learned the hard way, consumers might fear that they will be left without recourse. However, depending on what you purchased, who you bought it from and what state you were in, you might be able to use the law to your advantage.
When consumers buy a bad vehicle, the law is often on their side. Lemon laws are designed to protect buyers and give them a tool to make sure they aren’t left holding the bag after purchasing a problem vehicle. Of course, it’s not a given that a car will be covered by a lemon law. Here are a few things that you should know about most lemon laws in the United States.
Lesson #1 - Lemon laws generally apply to new vehicles, with some exceptions.
In most states, used vehicles aren’t covered by lemon laws, unless the vehicle is still covered by the manufacturer’s warranty. In fact, the warranty is usually the most important factor in a buyer’s quest to have a vehicle repurchased or replaced. It’s also worth noting that some states, including New York, Connecticut and New Mexico, have lemon laws that offer some protection for used car buyers, even if they are not quite as binding as their laws for new car buyers.
Lesson #2 - Lemon laws usually give the manufacturer a few chances to repair a vehicle.
In most cases, each state’s laws specify the number of repair attempts that a manufacturer must make to fix a vehicle before they are required to compensate a consumer. The number of attempts required might also vary for different types of defects. For example, in California, buyers can file a claim using the lemon law after two repair attempts if the defect is safety-related, as opposed to four attempts if the defect is not safety-related.
Lesson #3 - In many states, you can either get back the cost of your vehicle or get a new vehicle to replace the old one.
Many lemon laws give manufacturers a little bit of flexibility when it comes to whether a consumer gets back their money or is given a new car. If a manufacturer gives a buyer payment instead of a replacement, the amount might be reduced to account for the number of miles the buyer put on the vehicle before the problems began.
Lesson #4 - Keeping good records is always a wise move after a vehicle purchase.
When a buyer uses the lemon law, they might be asked to provide records of repair attempts. Whenever you buy a new vehicle, keep a copy of everything, including any repair bills and letters of correspondence with the vehicle's manufacturer. You can never have too many records when filing a claim.
Lesson #5 - Some states’ lemon laws apply to other goods, too.
Lemon laws often apply to several other products, in addition to new vehicles. Again, it often comes down to the manufacturer’s warranty and the language used in the document. In that sense, lemon laws sometimes offer broad protections for consumers that purchase new warrantied products.
Lesson #6 - You can go it alone, but an attorney will be very useful.
Consumers are often given the option of seeking compensation through an arbitrator, and they do not have to seek the services of an attorney. However, due to the lengthy and paperwork-heavy process, many consumers find that having an attorney familiar with lemon laws makes life much easier. An attorney can greatly reduce the amount of work required on behalf of a consumer, and they can also help maximize the payment offered by a manufacturer.
It’s not always easy to tell if a vehicle is going to give you problems after you drive it off the lot, so lemon laws are a very comforting safety net for consumers. If you think you might have purchased a lemon, make sure you check your state’s laws. While the lessons above are good general guidelines, the laws vary from one state to another. Always make sure to keep records and receipts for repairs and - when in doubt - look at the warranty.
Aaron Fhima is a partner and attorney at Neale & Fhima, LLP. The firm represents clients across California with personal injury and lemon law claims.