Lemon Laws are laws that impose replacement obligations upon automobile manufacturers in the event that a new purchased or leased automobile suffers from repeated mechanical problems. All states have Lemon Laws, and each Lemon Law is different.

What Vehicles Are Protected?

All purchased passenger cars, pickups and most SUVs fall within Lemon Law protection. Generally speaking, all lemon laws apply to new or nearly new cars. Most states protect leased cars–but not all states. Some states protect motorcycles and RVs, and some don’t. It is reported that nearly 1% of all new cars or nearly new cars suffer from reliability problems that can trigger Lemon Law protection. Of course, not all drivers pursue Lemon Law remedies.

What Constitutes a Lemon?

Again, what triggers the Lemon Law will differ by states. However, some general principals apply everywhere. Nearly all states impose a requirement that the defect from which a purported “lemon” suffers be a mechanical condition of some seriousness, or some defect that decreases the usefulness and enjoyment of the car. Defects are shown or proved in two ways: first is unsuccessful repair attempts on the same condition. Most states’ Lemon Law protection will be triggered after 3 or 4 unsuccessful repair attempts. So, assume a New York car has undergone 4 unsuccessful repair attempts to its transmission–the transmission is necessary to make the car go, so it is a substantial defect. The New York Lemon Law is triggered upon 4 repair attempts, and thus such a car would be entitled to Lemon Law protection. Keep in mind that some states impose a notice requirement (a letter sent to the dealer or manufacturer) before a claim can be pursued.

The other way that state’s measure a car a lemon is by “time in the shop”. Typically, 30 calendar days out of service will trigger Lemon Law protection, regardless of the number of unsuccessful repair attempts.

How Long Do I Enjoy Lemon Law Protection?

Lemon Law protection does not extend forever. Again, the length of Lemon Law protection varies by state. The Lemon Law protection period is calculated in two ways: first, by mileage, and second, by age.  For example, California’s Lemon Law protects new cars until they reach the age of 18,000 miles or 18 months, whichever occurs first. And, you can typically raise your Lemon Law claim after you pass the cut-off, as long as you  You should check your state law to determine if you still enjoy protection.

How Do I Pursue My Lemon Law Rights?

First, talk to your dealer, and if you get nowhere, talk to the customer service department of the manufacturer. Some manufacturers (Ford is an example) fight tooth and nail against Lemon Law claims. If the customer service route goes nowhere, it’s time to submit a demand letter (sample document here). The demand letter accomplishes a few things. It lets the manufacturer know you’re serious, and it lets the manufacturer know you are informed of your rights. Also, it serves as “official notice” to the manufacturer, which is required in some states.

If your demand letter does not yield results, you will need to proceed to either file your case in court (a lawyer will help a lot at this stage) or proceed through arbitration with BBB Auto Line. The Better Business Bureau system administers BBB AUTO LINE to help automobile manufacturers and individual customers resolve disputes concerning alleged manufacturing defects. Thirty-four companies participate in this program. This informal, out-of-court settlement mechanism is free to consumers.

The BBB Auto Line proceedings and paperwork are informal arbitrations conducted in 30 or 45 minute sessions at the offices of the local BBB. The arbitrators are typically practicing attorneys who volunteer their time to arbitrate disputes.

Hiring a Lemon Law Lawyer

Of course, there are law firms that specialize in Lemon Law claims. No doubt, the advertisements of several such firms are advertised on this page. Typically, the Lemon Law firms are effective, and are the obvious choice for pursuing a Lemon Law claim because that’s all they do. They know their state’s rules quite well. Most firms will work on a contingent basis, meaning they will divide any reward that you secure and take a sizeable chunk.

What About the Federal Lemon Law?

There is no specific federal Lemon Law. However, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act is a federal law that protects the buyer of any product that costs more than $25 and comes with a written warranty–and thus automobiles are covered. The act prevents manufacturers from drafting grossly unfair warranties. It also makes it economically viable to bring warranty suits by providing the award of attorney’s fees. In practice, Magnuson-Moss is rarely the sole basis for a Lemon Law claim because the state Lemon Laws offer more robust protection.

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