“I just got a lemon.”
You’ve probably heard of cars referred to this way, when one thing after another goes wrong. If you’ve experienced ongoing trouble with your new car, your state may have laws that will provide significant protection and a resolution for your problems.
Lemon laws vary by state, but they generally offer a degree of protection for people facing more problems than are reasonable for a new car.
What Constitutes a Lemon?
There are a few situations that most states recognize as grounds for lemon-law protection:
- A problem – the same problem – that the dealer can’t fix despite repeated attempts.
- A high number of different problems. If you have an oil leak, and then your power seats stop working, then your power steering fails, followed by the sunroof leaking, you may have a case. Even if each problem can be successfully repaired on the first try, a lot of problems overall may be grounds for a lemon-law claim.
- Catastrophic failure. Each of the above may be its own justification, but often the ultimate criterion – and the most effective way to quantify the overall impact of problems – is days out of service. If your car’s been at the dealer a certain number of days, or a certain percentage of the time that you’ve owned it, you may qualify for lemon-law protection.
Lemon-law statutes vary by state in terms of both time and mileage, but often it’s a four-year timeframe within which you’re protected. In some cases, even when the bumper-to-bumper manufacturer’s warranty has expired, and a car is four or more years old, you might be protected under consumer laws such as implied warranty.
Implied warranty is a protection against a failure that is completely unreasonable for the given timeframe, even when the explicit warranty has expired.
How Do You Pursue A Lemon-Law Claim?
First, you’ll want to contact a lawyer or firm that specializes in lemon-law cases. One of the benefits of most states’ lemon laws is that the cost of your legal representation is covered by the car manufacturer if you win the case. As a result, most law firms who handle these types of cases will represent you with the understanding that you won’t have to pay them anything. So, they’ll only take your case if they believe it will be successful. These cases are pretty formulaic, so it’s pretty simple for them to tell upon an initial consultation whether your claim is worth pursuing and whether they’re likely to be successful.
Two of the key steps in the process are:
- Give the dealer opportunities to resolve the problems. Take the car to the dealer’s service center with a clear explanation of the problem and see if they can fix it once and for all.
- Document, document, document. This is the most important thing – you’ll need service paperwork from the dealer for each time you’ve taken the car in, and you’ll want to make sure that the problem and a general description of what they did to try to fix it are included for each visit. (It may be better not to tell your dealer you’re pursuing a lemon-law claim but defer to your legal representation on that.)
So, what do you typically get in a successful lemon-law case?
Settlements vary by the individual situation, and by state – but a settlement might include a total buyback of the car (sometimes including payments and interest already paid.) Or the manufacturer may replace the car with a brand-new one – if you want to take a chance with the same make of car again.
The first step to take is always finding an attorney who handles lemon-law cases in your state and scheduling a consultation. They can answer your questions, advise as to whether they think you have a strong case, and how to proceed.
Grant Feek (pictured above, left) is CEO of Tred (https://www.tred.com/), which connects consumers with buyers and sellers of pre-owned cars for private-party, person-to-person transactions.