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Soured On The New-Car Experience? Maybe You Bought A Lemon
Except for your home, your car may be the most expensive purchase you’ll ever make. It’s no wonder then that car makers are not quick to offer refunds or to replace defective products. Fortunately for the consumer there is the Lemon Law. Lemon laws have taken what was once a daunting challenge—getting automakers and dealers to take responsibility for defective products—and made it an expectation of car buyers. But merely knowing that the law exists does not amount to using it. To do this, the well-informed consumer must know a few lemon-law basics.
What is the Lemon Law?
Lemon laws are different from state to state, but they have the same purposes:
• to protect the consumer
• to require that manufacturers remedy problems under warranty
• to mark out procedures for resolving disputes between consumers and manufacturers
• to provide refund or replacement when a vehicle is not fixed
How do I know if my vehicle is a lemon?
To be deemed a lemon, your vehicle must meet these criteria:
• The car has a problem that is covered under the warranty, or it has been out of service for a minimum number of days—20 to 30 in most states.
• The problem impairs the car's use, value, or safety.
• You reported the problem to the authorized dealer within the law's time limitations (generally, 1 to 2 years or 12,000 to 18,000 miles).
• You've given the manufacturer or dealer opportunity to fix the problem.
How does the law work?
First, keep in mind that the burden of proof is on you the consumer, so document everything (more on this later). If your vehicle meets all of the lemon criteria, then the law allows for a full refund or, if the manufacturer offers and you opt for it, a replacement vehicle. Check your state laws for specific procedures and requirements.
What kind of expenses can I recover under the law?
In addition to a refund of the purchase price, the Lemon Law allows you to recover such expenses as:
• sales tax, license and registration fees
• finance charges
• attorney and other legal fees
• Lemon Law filing fee
What if my car is beyond the time/mileage limitation of the Lemon Law?
If the problem appears after the time and mileage limitations, you may still be entitled to compensation as there are other consumer-protection laws on the books—the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act and the Uniform Commercial Code are two federal laws; your state will also have its own set of consumer-protection laws.
What should I do now?
• Be sure you've given the dealer a reasonable opportunity to fix the problem. Reasonable in most states means 3 opportunities, the first being within the time/mileage limitation for that state.
• Keep accurate records of all repairs and correspondence with dealers and manufacturers. Where records aren't available (conversations with your dealership and service technicians, for example) keep written notes.
• If you think you've got a lemon, call an attorney specializing in consumer law.
Keep in mind that while the Lemon Law is for your protection, auto manufacturers are highly motivated and know the law better than you do. And though the Lemon Law provides you with certain rights, it also spells out your responsibilities in pursuing those rights.
So make sure your next steps are the right steps. If you're convinced that you're driving (or nursing) a lemon, call an attorney who knows the law as well as the automakers do. The law is there for you—don’t get stuck with a lemon.
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