If you recently purchased or leased a defective new or used car that the dealer cannot repair despite multiple attempts, you might have what is referred to as a “Lemon.”
But, what is a lemon law car?
For a car to qualify as a “lemon,” it must have substantial defects covered under warranty that the manufacturer fails to fix permanently after reasonable repair attempts.
Fortunately, you may have certain rights and remedies under your state’s lemon laws to get you into a new car (Read below for more).
Relevant Articles to Read:
- How Many Miles Should A Used Car Have
- Possible Red Flags or Signs of a Scam When Buying a Car
- What Kind of Lawyer Do You Need to Sue a Car Dealership
- Reason to Sue a Car Dealership
- Is It Illegal To Sell A Car Without Disclosing Problems
Table of Contents
The Legal Definition of a Lemon Car
A car is legally considered a “lemon” if it has a substantial defect covered under warranty that persists after a reasonable number of repair attempts.
Common defects involve issues with safety components like faulty brakes or steering malfunctions. But comfort features like broken A/C systems can also qualify in some states.
To be deemed a lemon:
- The defect typically must occur within the first 1-2 years or 12,000 – 24,000 miles from the original delivery date
- You must allow the dealer multiple chances (usually 3-4) attempts to fix it
If those criteria are met, state lemon laws require the manufacturer to provide financial remedies. This usually means:
- Replacing your defective vehicle with an acceptable comparable new car
- Refunding the full purchase price (minus certain usage deductions)
So, lemon laws give car buyers important protections when new vehicles become irreparable duds.
But how exactly do they work? Continue reading below for more relevant information…
Key Factors for Qualifying as a Lemon
While lemon law eligibility can vary somewhat between states, there are general criteria regarding defect severity, repair attempts, and reporting timeframes.
Minor defects like paint scratches or rattling vents typically don’t qualify a car as a lemon. The issues must:
- Substantially impair the vehicle’s safety, use, or value
- Persist despite multiple repair attempts
More specifically, in CA, for example, to qualify as “substantial impairment,” an issue must prevent a part from operating as designed. Problems like faulty air conditioning or broken speakers would likely meet this threshold.
Number of Repair Attempts
Most state laws presume you’ve allowed a reasonable number of repair attempts if:
- A serious safety defect remains after 1-2 tries
- Any other covered defect continues after 3-4 separate visits
- The vehicle was out of service at least 30 total days
These attempt limits account for parts delays and diagnostic troubleshooting before labeling a car a lemon.
Additionally, states only cover defects arising during set periods, often:
- 24 months or 24,000 miles from the original vehicle delivery
- Duration of the express manufacturer’s warranty
So those are the main factors dealers, state regulators, and arbitrators will assess to determine lemon law eligibility.
Used Car Lemon Laws – More Limited Protection
While every state has lemon laws for new vehicles, protection for used car buyers is far more constrained. Just seven states explicitly extend lemon laws to certain used cars:
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
The common requirement is a remaining manufacturer’s warranty or dealer warranty when purchased. For example, CA covers used cars still under the original new car warranty or certified pre-owned (CPO) vehicles.
Because warranties are limited on used cars, qualifying them as lemons with persistent defects is inherently more difficult.
You’d need to prove the chronic issues were present when purchased but not apparent at that time.
For the broadest protection, only buy used with valid manufacturer or dealer warranties remaining. And thoroughly inspect any vehicle before finalizing a purchase.
What To Do When You Have a Lemon Car
Now that you know the basics of what constitutes a lemon, here is an overview of the process to take care of a lemon car and exercising your rights under the law:
- Document Everything – Meticulously record all defects and repair attempts, dates in the shop, and interactions with the dealer. Obtain copies of repair invoices and part orders.
- Send Notice to the Manufacturer – Formally request a buyback or replacement vehicle via a certified letter detailing the issues and number of attempts to fix them.
- Request Arbitration – To qualify for legal presumptions of reasonableness, you must participate in “good faith” arbitration if the manufacturer has a state certified program. If not satisfied, you can still pursue legal action afterwards.
- Negotiate a Settlement or Sue – Even without going to court, just having a lemon law attorney involved often motivates settlements. If negotiations fail, a lawsuit using your documentation is the last resort. See: What Kind of Lawyer Do You Need to Sue a Car Dealership?
While each state differs in processes and eligibility rules, this framework protects both new and used car buyers struggling with irreparable vehicles.
How Lemon Laws Help Protect Car Buyers
Essentially, lemon laws hold auto manufacturers accountable for vehicles with chronic, unfixable defects still under their new car warranties.
They exist because standard warranties guarantee repairs for vehicle problems but have no defined end date to complete them.
So, car companies could string consumers along for years with ineffective repair attempts.
Lemon laws establish reasonable time limits – forcing buybacks or replacements when repairs aren’t completed expediently. This table summarizes the protections:
|3-4 tries for the same defect
|3-4 tries for the same defect
|Typically 24 mo / 24,000 mi from purchase
|Limited, must have valid manufacturer or dealer warranty
|Replacement or refund
|Varies greatly, the consistent issue must show unfixable chronic defect
So those are the basics of what these laws do. Next let’s look at exactly what vehicles qualify and how states differ.
My Final Thoughts on Lemon Cars
Understanding how to exercise these rights is invaluable for any consumer with serious automobile defects.
I hope this guide empowers you with everything you need to know regarding lemon laws.
Never hesitate to contact an attorney if you suspect you’ve purchased a qualifying lemon vehicle.
Manufacturers rely on legal teams to avoid claims, so you will need experienced representation to level the playing field.
How Much Does a Lemon Title Affect Value?
Estimates vary, but a lemon title can reduce a car’s value by 15-25% or more compared to similar vehicles without the branding
Sources and References: