Lemon-Aide for Problem Cars

Significance of Lemon Laws

Ah, lemons: tangy, fragrant, juicy, and flavorful. So desirable for dining, so undesirable for cars. Lemon Laws don’t regulate how much juice goes into desserts. They cover the responsibilities of manufacturers, dealers, and consumers when it comes to cars that can’t stay out of the repair shop.

Unlike the yellow fruit, a vehicular lemon leaves a bad taste in your mouth and a dent in your wallet. Lemon Laws give consumers important protection against poorly made and even dangerous cars. And Lemon Laws are not important just for someone whose new car keeps conking out at stoplights. While it’s great to know car maintenance tips to stay up on your car, they won’t help you with a lemon. These regulations make life a little better for everyone who sits behind the wheel.

  • So Lemon Laws aren’t for fruit growers? State Lemon Laws deal with problematic new or leased passenger vehicles, and some even handle used models. The federal version of the Lemon Law, aka the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, covers consumer product warranties in general. And what do you know? That one includes both new and used cars. So consumers potentially have more than one place to turn for help.
  • Do I have a lemon? How do you know if that piece of…metal in the driveway qualifies as a lemon? The idea varies a bit from state to state, but, in general, regulations consider warranty timelines, number of repair attempts, total days out of commission, and seriousness of defects. The issue must have shown up early in your ownership. And, naturally, the problem can’t be caused by user abuse or neglect.

Because of the definition of a lemon, an owner must become a packrat right from the start, hoarding any communications about the problem child, such as correspondence with the manufacturer and repair orders. And don’t forget to keep track of the exact dates and mileage of that work. Also, not to be repetitive…but to repeat: if you misuse your car, don’t follow standard service recommendations, or make so many alterations to your vehicle that it becomes a hovercraft, Lemon Laws won’t apply. You and your clunker will be on your own.

  • What’s a Lemon Law going to do for me? Glad you asked! If your sad little car meets the legal requirements for a lemon, you can request a replacement vehicle. It must be the same as or at least comparable to your reject…without its maddening problem, of course. But if you’ve had it with cars and plan on walking the rest of your life, you could ask for a refund instead. The dealer or manufacturer will, essentially, repurchase your vehicle. (Bonus! You won’t have to pay anyone to tow it away!)

But wait! There’s more! You also might be eligible for expenses you’ve laid out. You know, those rental car costs, towing bills, repair invoices…you’ll never get back the frustrating hours and hours you spent tearing your hair out, but you may get some bucks back in your pocket.

  • But I’m lucky; I don’t have a lemon. Well, good for you. Hope it stays that way. There actually aren’t all that many cars that get the lemon label. But even if your car purchases have all been smooth sailing, you benefit from Lemon Laws. No, really. If lemon after lemon after lemon comes rolling — or limping — off the assembly line, it can get expensive for a company. Manufacturers, therefore, have real monetary incentives to send out non-lemony cars. Plus, if there are problems, fixing them fast is going to cost businesses less than letting them slide.
  • I think my car is a lemon. What do I do? First, cry. No, wait, that’s not productive. Rant and rave. Hhmm…that won’t help either. Try this: if you think your car fits the definition of lemon, contact the dealer. Remember all those records you’ve been keeping about repeated repair attempts and days in the shop? Bring ‘em out. If you make a reasonable case and the dealer sees trouble ahead, you might get some satisfaction. If not, prepare for battle.

Each state has a specific method for submitting a Lemon Law complaint. Typically, you have to file paperwork with the Attorney General’s office or Department of Motor Vehicles. Sometimes this might get you an arbitration session run by a third party. If you’re happy with this settlement, the manufacturer is required to go along with it. Done and done!

Of course, you can always hire a lawyer, and some firms specialize in Lemon Laws. This may draw out the process, but keep a stiff upper lip. Even if your car doesn’t exactly qualify under your state’s Lemon Law, remember the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act? It may still apply.

Whether you go state or federal, as long as you have a righteous case, you’re golden. If you win, the manufacturer must pay all attorney fees and legal costs. Yes, yours, too. With that hanging over its head, the company may just be in the mood to settle. A victory for the little guy!

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