Consumer Law

Consumer Law Automobiles and Lemon Law FAQ

Q: A dealer misrepresented a used car as having a remaining factory warranty when it had expired. What can be done?

  • A:You cannot sue under the lemon laws, because typically the lemon laws are meant to return a consumer to the condition that he or she was in before buying the vehicle containing manufacturing defects. In your situation, you seem to be describing a matter of a failure to disclose information, or misrepresentation. Those are entirely different legal bases. Call your local county bar association for a referral to attorney who can advise you on this matter. Remember, however, that it will be the local dealer's word against yours, and you may have a difficult time proving your case if there isn't anything in writing.

Q: Are lemon law claims made against the dealer or manufacturer?

  • A:Any claim made under the lemon laws usually relates to manufacturing defects. Your complaints must be addressed to the manufacturer and not to the dealer.

Q: Are the results of an arbitration proceeding in a potential lemon law claim binding on the consumer?

  • A:Depending on the state you're in, the decision may or may not be binding on the consumer while it's binding on the manufacturer. On the surface, this may appear to be a good deal for the consumer. In reality, however, there is a major fly in this ointment: a manufacturer ordered to take corrective or replacement action because of an arbitration hearing is compelled to do so. But if the manufacturer prevails and the consumer loses, the manufacturer need do nothing more.

    If your state laws give you a right to take legal action after an arbitration hearing because the arbitration isn't binding on the consumer, the fact that the arbitration ruling went against the consumer may be admissible as evidence in any future legal proceeding. Should you later decide to sue the manufacturer, the results of this unfavorable decision will certainly be used against you, and may be highly damaging to your case.

Q: Are used cars covered by lemon laws?

  • A:In an increasing number of states, automobile lemon laws have been extended to apply to used vehicles. For example, a state law may provide that if a used car fails inspection within a certain period of time after it is purchased, the consumer may return the car or require the seller to repair it.

Q: Do lemon laws apply to all vehicles?

  • A:Automobile lemon laws are usually limited to cars, trucks and vans that are bought and used by consumers for personal, household, or family purposes, and don't cover commercial vehicles or motor homes.

Q: Do lemon laws cover new, used and leased vehicles?

  • A:It depends on your state's statutes. Some states include used vehicles along with new. In some states, only new vehicles are covered. Still other states include leased vehicles.

Q: How do I know if I have a lemon?

  • A:Automobile lemon laws define a "lemon" in a variety of ways:

    • The number of times the car has been repaired within a certain period of time.
    • The number of days the car has been in the repair shop within a certain period

    For example, a state law may provide that an automobile is considered a lemon if:

    • Within one year of purchase or before the car has been driven 12,000 miles, there have been four unsuccessful repairs or
    • The car has been in the shop for repairs for a total of 30 days or more

Q: I'm unable to get a title for the vehicle I purchased. What can I do?

  • A:Your question relates to fraud. You should contact your local Department of Motor Vehicles, or report the matter to the police and/or the district attorney's office. Of course, you can also bring a civil court action against the seller if you can adequately prove fraud.

Q: What is the procedure for resolving a claim?

  • A:Automobile lemon laws typically require the consumer to notify the dealer and manufacturer of a claim. The laws also require you to use non-court procedures such as arbitration to resolve disputes before going to court. Remedies available to consumers under these laws vary from state to state, but may include:

    • Returning the car for a refund of the purchase price (less some amount for the use of the car before it is returned)
    • A replacement car, or
    • Payment for excessive repairs

Q: What laws apply to automobiles?

  • A:At the federal level, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act applies. Each state has established "lemon law" statutes, generally enforced through the consumer protection division of the Attorney General's office.

    When dealing with lemon laws, the basic questions that an Attorney needs to have answered are:

    • Whether you bought the vehicle new or used
    • When it was purchased
    • The year, model, and manufacturer
    • The defect(s) that you are complaining of
    • How many repair attempts you've attempted on the vehicle

Q: When does the lemon law go into effect?

  • A:Lemon laws don't work on the basis of being "in effect." You can avail yourself of the lemon laws of your state so long as you qualify for the statutory requirements, which vary from state to state.

    Obviously, it won't work to drive a car with a manufacturing defect for an excessive period of time without complaining about it and then decide after such a long time that you want to have your money returned. So long as you diligently pursue attempting to have the defect repaired by an authorized dealer, and the manufacturer cannot make the repair, then you have a right to demand compliance with the lemon laws. Contact a local attorney familiar with the lemon laws of your state to find out whether your situation qualifies.

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