autohitch logo
What Is A Lemon Law Car

What Is A Lemon Car

A lemon car is a vehicle that has significant, recurring defects that substantially impair its use, value, or safety. These defects are covered under the manufacturer’s warranty but cannot be repaired after a reasonable number of attempts.

Lemon laws exist to provide legal protection for people who purchase those types of defective vehicles.

What is a Lemon Car

Key PointsDescription
Defective VehicleA lemon car has one or more substantial defects that affect its safety, value, or usability.
Warranty CoverageThe defects must be covered under the manufacturer’s warranty for the vehicle to qualify as a lemon.
Reasonable Repair AttemptsThe manufacturer must be given a reasonable number of opportunities to repair the defects, as defined by state lemon laws.
Failure to RepairIf the defects persist after a reasonable number of repair attempts, the vehicle is considered a lemon.
What is a Lemon Car

Lemon laws vary from state to state but generally define a lemon car based on the following criteria:

Substantial Defects

A lemon car must have one or more substantial defects that significantly impair its use, value, or safety. Here are a few examples of those types of defects:

  • Faulty brakes or transmission
  • Engine problems
  • Electrical issues
  • Suspension defects

Minor problems, such as a malfunctioning dome light, typically do not qualify a vehicle as a lemon.

Warranty Coverage

The defects must be covered under the manufacturer’s written warranty for the vehicle to be considered a lemon. This warranty can be an express warranty (a specific promise from the manufacturer) or an implied warranty (a legal guarantee of quality and performance).

Reasonable Repair Attempts

State lemon laws specify the number of repair attempts that a manufacturer must be given to fix the defects before the vehicle can be declared a lemon. This number varies by state but is typically between three and four attempts for the same defect.

Some states also consider the number of days the vehicle is out of service due to repairs. If the vehicle is in the shop for a certain number of days (usually 30 or more) within the first year or 12,000 miles, it may qualify as a lemon.

Failure to Repair

If the manufacturer is unable to repair the substantial defects after a reasonable number of attempts, as defined by the state’s lemon law, the vehicle is considered a lemon. At this point, the consumer may be entitled to a refund, a replacement vehicle, or compensation from the manufacturer.

The Most Common Lemon Law Vehicles

Based on my research, here are some of the most commonly cited car brands and models that tend to have higher rates of lemon law cases and defects:

BrandCommon Lemon Models
BMWVarious models across the 1 Series through 7 Series, M and X models. Common issues include transmissions, engines, electrical systems.
Mercedes-BenzG-Class, AMG models. Issues like oil leaks, suspension failure, engine misfiring, transmission problems, faulty brakes.
Jaguar Land Rover/Range RoverRange Rovers and Land Rovers with issues like infotainment systems freezing, liftgates not working properly.
Fiat Chrysler/Stellantis (Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram)Transmission issues, engine problems, electrical faults, airbag defects across various models.
General Motors (Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, Cadillac)Cadillac Escalade, Chevy Suburban/Tahoe, Silverado with transmission, fuel injector, and other safety/drivability defects.
NissanIssues with CVT transmissions, airbags, fuel systems across models.
TeslaDespite innovative reputation, issues with windows, seatbelts/airbags, electrical systems.
FordModels like the Explorer, F-150 with transmission issues, engine stalling, steering and brake problems.
Most common lemon law cars

What to Do If You Purchased a Lemon Car

If you believe you have purchased a defective or “lemon” vehicle, there are some important steps you should take:

  1. Document Everything: Keep detailed records of all repairs attempted, including dates, mileage, descriptions of the problems, and copies of all repair orders and receipts. This documentation will be crucial evidence.
  2. Notify the Manufacturer: Most lemon laws require that you give the manufacturer or their authorized repair facility a reasonable number of attempts to fix the defect(s). Send written notification to the manufacturer about the problems, using a method that provides proof of delivery.
  3. Understand Your State’s Lemon Law: Lemon law provisions vary from state to state, so research your state’s specific requirements. Key factors include the number of repair attempts allowed, the length of the warranty period covered, the types of vehicles included, and the remedies available (refund, replacement, etc.).
  4. Follow the Lemon Law Requirements Precisely: To take advantage of your state’s lemon law protections, you must meet all the criteria and follow the required procedures exactly. This often includes time limits for making claims.
  5. Seek Help from a Lemon Law Attorney: Lemon law cases can be complex. An attorney experienced in lemon law and your state’s provisions can guide you through the process and represent you in possible arbitration or legal proceedings against the manufacturer.
  6. Consider Arbitration: Many states require consumers to participate in an arbitration program before filing a lemon law lawsuit. The arbitration is typically an informal hearing where you can present evidence about the vehicle’s defects.
  7. Pursue Legal Action if Necessary: If arbitration is unsuccessful or the manufacturer still does not comply, you may need to file a lemon law lawsuit in court to pursue a refund, replacement vehicle, or other compensation.
  8. Act Quickly: There are strict time limits under lemon laws, so it’s crucial to take action as soon as you suspect your vehicle qualifies as a lemon. Delays could undermine your ability to enforce your rights.

The lemon law process can be complicated, but taking the proper steps and having an experienced attorney on your side can maximize your chances of obtaining the compensation you deserve for a defective vehicle.

Lemon Law Remedies

When a vehicle is deemed a lemon under state or federal lemon laws, consumers may be eligible for the following remedies:

  • Refund: The manufacturer must refund the full purchase price of the vehicle, minus a reasonable allowance for the consumer’s use of the vehicle before the defects were discovered.
  • Replacement: The manufacturer must provide a comparable replacement vehicle, free of defects.
  • Compensation: In some cases, the consumer may be entitled to additional compensation for expenses related to the defective vehicle, such as rental car costs or towing fees.

It’s important to note that lemon laws vary by state, and the specific remedies available to consumers may differ. Additionally, consumers must follow the proper procedures outlined in their state’s lemon law, which may include participating in an arbitration process or providing written notice to the manufacturer.

How To Avoid Buying Lemon Cars

While lemon laws provide legal protection for consumers, it’s always better to avoid purchasing a lemon car in the first place. Here are some tips to help you identify potential lemon cars:

1. Research the vehicle’s history

Obtain a vehicle history report from a reputable source, such as Carfax or AutoCheck, to check for any reported accidents, flood damage, or previous lemon law buybacks.

2. Inspect the vehicle thoroughly

Carefully inspect the interior and exterior of the vehicle for signs of damage or wear that may indicate underlying issues.

3. Test drive the vehicle

During the test drive, pay attention to any unusual noises, vibrations, or performance issues that could indicate a defect.

4. Check for recalls

Research any open recalls for the specific make, model, and year of the vehicle you’re considering, and ensure that any necessary repairs have been completed.

5. Consider a pre-purchase inspection

Hire a qualified mechanic to perform a pre-purchase inspection to identify any potential issues before you buy the vehicle.

Do Lemon Laws Apply to Used Cars?

Most state lemon laws only cover new vehicles that are still under the original manufacturer’s warranty when purchased. So, used cars are typically not covered.

However, there are some states that are exceptions to the rule that will provide limited protections.

Lemon Laws for Used Cars in Certain States

In several states, including California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, and New York, used cars may be covered by lemon laws under the following conditions:

  • The car is purchased from a dealer (not through a private party sale).
  • The car meets specific age and mileage limits at the time of purchase.
  • The dealer provides some type of warranty on the used car.

Federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act

Additionally, the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act may offer recourse for defective used cars if:

  • The dealer provided a written warranty.
  • However, it’s important to note that the protections under this Act are more limited than those provided by state lemon laws.

Specific State Lemon Laws

Some states, such as Rhode Island, have specific “used car lemon laws.” These laws give buyers refund or replacement rights if:

  • The dealer cannot fix defects after a reasonable number of repair attempts during the warranty period.

Should You Buy a Lemon Buyback?

Are Lemon buybacks a good deal? I’ll list the pros and cons below and let you decide if a lemon buyback car is for you:

Pros of Buying a Lemon Buyback

  1. Significant discount: Lemon buybacks are typically sold at a much lower price compared to similar vehicles without a buyback history.
  2. Mandatory repairs: The manufacturer is legally required to repair the defect that led to the buyback before reselling the vehicle.
  3. Warranty transfer: The remaining original manufacturer’s warranty transfers to the new owner.
  4. Additional warranty: Some manufacturers provide extra warranty coverage on the repaired components.

Cons of Buying a Lemon Buyback

  1. Potential persistent issues: Despite repairs, there is a risk that underlying problems may still exist.
  2. Branded title: The vehicle will have a branded or lemon title, which significantly reduces its resale value.
  3. Financing challenges: Some lenders may be reluctant to finance a vehicle with a branded title.
  4. Higher insurance rates: Insurance premiums could potentially be higher for a branded title vehicle.

Ultimately, the decision to buy a lemon buyback depends on factors such as the specific vehicle, the nature of the defect that caused the buyback, the thoroughness of the repairs, and the extent of the discount offered.

Experts recommend getting a very thorough pre-purchase inspection, checking that there is a well-known fix for the defect applied, and negotiating a large enough discount (20%+ off market price) to make it worthwhile.

Sources and References:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Picture of Steve Momot - Author

Steve Momot - Author

Steve, a seasoned expert in the automotive industry, formerly held a car dealer license in Florida. With extensive experience spanning across car trading and mechanical work, he founded Autohitch. His mission? To guide both buyers and sellers through the intricate maze of car purchasing, ensuring a seamless and informed experience. Outside of the automotive world, Steve has a passion for fishing and capturing the beauty of nature through photography.


Share on.

Table of Contents