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Auto Lemon –Can Your State's Lemon Law Help You?

Buying a car is not like buying a radio; you cannot return it to the store for a refund if you do not like it, or if it has a manufacturing defect. In fact, for many years, if you purchased an automobile that came from the factory with defects, you were just stuck. You could try to get the dealer to repair the problem, but if the problem continued and the dealer could not repair it, you were out of luck.

In 1982, the luck of owners of so-called “lemons” changed for the better, as California and Connecticut passed the nation’s first “lemon laws.”

These laws, spawned by consumers who had waged tireless battles against major auto companies, allowed owners of defective automobiles to seek compensation or replacement with the help of their respective states. These laws swept like wildfire throughout the country, and now all 50 states have some form of the lemon law.

The specifics of the lemon laws will vary from state to state, but in general, they define a “lemon” as a vehicle that:

  • Has a “nonconformity” that affects the safety, use, or value of the vehicle, and
  • The nonconformity has not been successfully repaired after a “reasonable” number of attempts, and/or
  • The vehicle has been out of service for a total of a certain number of days for repair of the nonconformity.

  • The length of the warranty period also varies; coverage typically runs anywhere from one year or 12,000 miles to two years or 24,000 miles. As previously stated, the specifics vary from state to state, particularly the number of repair attempts that constitute “reasonable” and the number of days that the vehicle must be out of service in order to qualify. In some states, repairs that affect the brakes or other safety equipment need only one repair attempt to qualify as “reasonable.”

    Restitution is fairly consistent from state to state; it usually requires the manufacturer to either replace the vehicle with one of comparable value, or refund the

    purchase price, along with taxes, registration and delivery fees. Some states leave the option of replacement or refund to the manufacturer, but most give the option to the consumer.

    What should you do if you think you have a lemon? You should:

  • Make sure that you document everything relating to repairs of the vehicle, including when and where it was repaired, who signed the work order and what work was done.
  • You should contact the manufacturer in writing, alerting them to the nature of the problem.
  • You should consult with your state’s Attorney General’s office to learn how your state’s law affects you directly.

  • You may have to go through an arbitration process; this involves both you and a representative of the manufacturer explaining your respective situations to a panel that will then provide a ruling. The arbitration ruling is usually binding on the manufacturer; they will have no recourse should the panel rule in your favor. Generally, if you don’t agree with the panel’s ruling, you still have the option of filing a lawsuit in court.

    You may wish to hire an attorney to represent you; there are plenty of lawyers who specialize in lemon law cases, and they can probably bring the case to a solution more quickly than if you handle the case yourself. Be sure to contact your state’s Attorney General’s office regarding the specifics of your own state’s lemon law. You don’t want to miss a deadline, or you could be stuck with your lemon for a long time.

    About the Author

    ©Copyright 2005 by Retro Marketing. Charles Essmeier is the owner of Retro Marketing. Retro Marketing, established in 1978, is a firm devoted to informational Websites, including, a site devoted to automobile lemon laws and, a Website devoted to information about debt consolidation and credit counseling.

    Written by: Charles Essmeier

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