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What’s the Lemon Law for Cars? The Important Things to Know

Buying a new-to-you used car can come with some anxiety. Even brand new vehicles can have problems that you don’t know about during the test drive and purchase negotiations.

While the chances of buying a car lemon are low, how do you know if you’re getting a good car? What’s the dealer trying to hide from you? The car might seem okay, but you never really know what you’re getting until you sign the papers and drive it off the lot. 

What do you do if you purchase a “sour” vehicle? Keep reading to learn what’s the lemon law and if there is anything you can do about your car.

What is a Lemon Law?

State lawmakers provide protections for people purchasing a new car. Without being an expert on every make and model of a new car, consumers won’t always know if their new car has a problem before they finalize a purchase. 

Many car experts recommend hiring a third-party mechanic to inspect a car before buying it—even for new vehicles. However, that’s not always feasible, or a fool-proof way to prove a car is defect-free. 

Lemon laws offer car buyers a way to seek compensation for cars that need repairs immediately after purchase. A new car should run without issue. Your state’s lemon law holds dealers and manufacturers accountable for selling vehicles without significant repair issues. If a new car has a problem, these laws require manufacturers to repair the problem or reimburse buyers for repairs.  

What is a Lemon?

In regards to cars, lemons are newly-purchased vehicles that have ongoing problems without a repair solution. In most states, lemon laws apply only to personal vehicles. However, not all personal vehicles can qualify as a lemon. 

A car can qualify as a lemon if:

  1. it has a significant (or “substantial”) defect covered by the warranty 
  2. the problem occurs within a specific time period or designated number of miles immediately following the purchase of the car
  3. attempts to repair the problem don’t fix the car

As long as you didn’t cause the issue through misuse of the vehicle, you might have a lemon. Whether the dealer knew the vehicle had a problem before they sold it to you—or not—doesn’t matter when pursuing a lemon law claim. Don’t settle for driving a bad car when you have options to receive compensation for repair costs. You might also have the option to return the car for a refund. 

What is a Substantial Defect?

The term “substantial” is critical to determine your car’s status as a lemon. If you have a shifter knob that falls off or the navigation system blinks on and off, you don’t have a substantial defect. 

However, a significant safety issue—like breaks that don’t work or the steering doesn’t steer—can be a substantial defect worthy of pursuing a lemon law claim. 

What Do I Do if I Have a Lemon?

Lemon laws vary from state to state. Every state has a lemon law for new cars, but only a few states have lemon laws for used vehicles. Consult the laws for your state to know if your car qualifies. 

To pursue a claim, you need excellent documentation.

  • Collect all of the paperwork regarding the purchase of your car. 
  • Document when you first noticed the problem. 
  • Keep records and receipts of all repair attempts. 
  • Save all communication with the dealer about the problems with your new car. 

If the defect falls under a warranty, the dealership should repair it free of charge. However, if the repair doesn’t resolve the problem, you need documentation of the failed repair to prove you have a lemon. 

Be sure to keep track of how long your car is in the shop for repairs. You’ll find different timeframes depending on your state. In many cases, if your vehicle is in the shop for repairs for more than 30 days with a six-month to one-year timeframe, you can qualify for the lemon law. 

If the attempts to fix your car go beyond a “reasonable” number of attempts, you can use that in your claim. In most states, three to four repair attempts without a successful fix qualifies as “reasonable.”

File a Claim 

The claim process can be tedious, but you don’t deserve to drive a car that has problems before you realized what you bought. Stay organized and persistent through each step of the claim process.

Many states that you start with a complaint letter to the vehicle’s manufacturer or directly to the dealership. That letter should include:

  • Details about the car’s problems,
  • Documentation about the number of repair attempts and the results of each attempt
  • Costs of those repair attempts
  • Unmet requests for solutions throughout the repair process

To follow the correct lemon law process in your state, consult a lawyer. In California, follow these steps in the process to file a claim.

Negotiate a Settlement

Ideally, the dealership or manufacturer is willing to negotiate a settlement after you file a claim. A settlement helps both parties avoid litigation to win your lemon law case. With legal help during the claim process, you’ll make a solid case with supporting documentation to help everyone reach an agreeable settlement.

Knowing What’s the Lemon Law Helps You Buy With Confidence!

Buying a new car should be fun! Most new car purchases go off without a hitch. In the rare case of a bad vehicle, knowing what’s the lemon law can help you recover from a broken car that should have been the new car of your dreams.

Don’t get stuck with a new car you can’t drive! Follow the process for your state to take action. If you found this information helpful, be sure you check out our other automotive blogs!