A lemon most commonly refers to new cars with a substantial defect that is not fixable even after a reasonable number of repair attempts. Every state in the country has its own lemon laws that protect consumers from lemons. Federal law also provides additional protection by detailing guidelines for coverage by the manufacturer’s warranty. The BIG catch, however, is that the burden of proof is on the owner of the lemon to prove that the car qualifies for replacement or a refund.
How to Make Lemonade from a Lemon
Most lemon laws state that buyers are entitled to a remedy if their cars are out of service for an extended number of days due to failure or serviced over extended periods for the same problem. These laws vary by state and by the nature of the repairs covered. Some problems are obvious, like the car not starting, power loss or transmission failure, while others fall into a gray area, such as wind noise, fluid leaks and excessive tire wear. Because of this, remedies can vary greatly in lemon law cases, from full car replacement or repurchase by the manufacturer to small monetary awards to compensate for a minor issue that does not affect driver safety.
Here are the steps you should take if you think you might be the proud owner of a brand new, bright yellow lemon:
- Learn the lemon laws and how a lemon is defined in your state, what is covered and how much time you have to file a complaint. You may only have one year or less after delivery of your new vehicle to take action.
- Collect all records on your car, including purchase contracts, service orders and invoices
together with all warranties and the owner’s manual.
- Take notes on all conversations with the dealer and service technicians, recording any comments along with the time and date of all attempted repairs.
- Ask the dealer for a copy of all manufacturer’s technical service bulletins on your car.
- Track how long and how often your vehicle is in for repairs with dates, times in and times out.
- Call a lawyer that specializes in lemon law to help you understand your options and evaluate your case. Normally the call is free, and all legal fees will be paid for by the manufacturer if you win your claim.
For more detailed information, check out the lemon law page at NOLO.
How to Avoid a Sour Car-Buying Experience
Caveat emptor – let the buyer beware – is really your best defense in avoiding the dreaded lemon. In other words, do your homework before buying a car:
- Several organizations rate cars on reliability, including Consumer Reports, J.D. Power, Edmunds, The Center for Auto Safety and the Car Complaint Index as published in the The Car Book, just to name a few.
- Look up complaints on the car, van or truck you are considering. Start at Safecar.gov and search its national database on recalls, complaints and investigations. Also check for complaints at The Center for Auto Safety. And don’t forget Google and social media: Ask others in your network if they know anything about the cars you are considering.
- Go with a reputable dealer that is authorized to sell cars by the manufacturer.
- Test drive all of your options and be hyperalert for noises or poor handling. If something doesn’t feel right, trust your instincts.
- Learn your state’s lemon laws so you know what to do if something goes wrong.
And finally, once you have purchased a car, be sure to file away all the maintenance reports and receipts in a safe place (not in the car) just in case you need the documentation later. Learn more here from WikiHow, including tips on buying a dependable used car.
This article appeared in our June 2015 "You Should Know" e-newsletter.