A person is driving home from the dealer, the sun is shining, the top is down, and everybody is checking out how cool they look. Gliding to a stop at a traffic signal, life can’t get any better. The signal changes to green; cars on both sides pull away.
The car doesn’t. The engine is dead.
The individual has it towed back. Dealer apologizes, calls and says it’s fixed a day later. It dies again. They repeat the process three more times. It dies again – and again – and again. They’ve decided to go legal.
Here’s what to do if a person bought a lemon.
Understand What Qualifies
According to the legal experts at Nolo.com, the new car must meet one of the following parameters to be considered a lemon.
- Have one or more substantial defects covered by the warranty that occurred within a certain period of time or a certain number of miles after buying the car.
- The problem has not been fixed after a reasonable number of repair attempts.
A substantial defect is defined as an issue impairing the car’s use, value, or safety; like faulty brakes or steering. Further, the defect must not have occurred because of anything the new owner did to the car. Also, keep in mind, the manufacturer gets a number of chances to make things right.
Further, the situation must meet one of the following standards to be protected under a state lemon law:
- If the defect is a serious safety defect-for example, involving brakes or steering-it must remain unfixed after one repair attempt.
- If the defect is not a serious safety defect, it must remain unfixed after three or four repair attempts, though the number varies by state.
- If the vehicle is in the shop a certain number of days-usually 30 days in a one-year period-to fix one or more substantial warranty defects, it may fit the definition of a lemon.
Further, if the car is out of service for repairs because of the issue beyond a certain number of days (between 15 to 40 days, depending upon the state) it can also fall under lemon laws.
If The Situation Qualifies
Inform the dealer about wanting a refund or another car. The buyer is entitled to a new, comparable vehicle – or a refund of the full purchase price under the lemon laws in most states. If they acquiesce, the buyer is good to go.
If they don’t, contact the Office of the Attorney General in the state in which the car was bought. They will have a procedure to follow to file the claim. In most cases, filing will lead to a hearing before an arbitration board.
If given a choice, go with a state consumer protection agency arbitration program, rather than a manufacturer’s in-house program or a private arbitration program.
If things go well, the manufacturer will be directed to replace the car or refund the money. If the money is refunded, use it to satisfy any car loans incurred on the vehicle and apply for another one to replace the car. They’ll also need to inform the lender if the car is replaced.
Hold on to the service records so they can show how often the buyer took the car into the shop during the hearing. They’ll also want to provide any other documentation indicative of their attempts to get the dealer to fix the car.
The Buyer Might Need a Lawyer
If the case is strong and documentation is solid, the buyer might be able to handle things alone. However, if it’s a bit sketchy, or they’re nervous about the situation, use their state’s Bar Association to locate a lawyer in the area who is well versed in lemon law litigation.
The attorney will help the buyer determine the validity of their claim and whether it’s worth going to the hearing. They’ll incur fees, but the manufacturer will be directed to pay them if they win as part of the settlement.
And yes, going through all of this can be both frustrating and time consuming. However, knowing what to do if buying a lemon will set a person on the path toward a positive outcome much sooner.