How to Tell if Your Car is a Lemon?

How to tell if your car is a lemon

You bring a new car home, but you noticed something is off. Perhaps, it’s a mechanical issue or a problem with its appearance. But thinking you have a lemon on your hands doesn’t necessarily mean that the lemon law will apply to you.

Every state has passed lemon law legislation, though some not all laws are the same. For example, some states cover used cars under their law, while others only afford new vehicles’ protection. 

So, how do you know you have a lemon? Below we cover the basics on identifying whether the vehicle you purchased would qualify as a lemon under your state’s law. 

What Qualifies a Car as a Lemon?

Most states have laws that state that a car must have significant defects as covered under the warranty period. However, the owner must also take action to deal with the problems directly with the car dealership or the manufacturer. This part of the law is generally known as a “reasonable number of repair attempts.” Definitions on what constitutes as reasonable repair attempts also vary by law. 

What Do they Mean by a “Significant Defect?”

A significant defect with a car is something pre-existing that was not caused by the car owner. It should be covered under the manufacturer’s warranty, as well as diminish the vehicle’s use and value. Significant defects in a car usually mean they are problems that could affect the driver’s safety and well-being. However, they don’t always have to be necessarily tied to security. For instance, paint that wears off might qualify as a significant defect. 

Figuring out whether your car’s specific problem qualify your vehicle as a lemon could be challenging. Issues such as these could require the eyes of an expert, like an attorney. 

How Many Repair Attempts?

Remember, you cannot have a valid lemon law claim if you don’t try and resolve the problem with the manufacturer. If you suspect you have a lemon, you should try and resolve the issue directly with the carmaker in the beginning. No attorney will take your case if you haven’t made a reasonable effort to repair the vehicle. If all goes well, the dealer or carmaker can repair the car, provide a replacement, or refund the amount you paid. 

How many repair attempts are required is another issue that will vary by law and by individual cases. Generally, the more serious the car’s problems, meaning the defect can severely compromise the driver’s safety, the fewer necessary attempts. Another thing to note is that in some cases, one repair attempt might be enough if the car has remained in the shop for an extended period of time. Once again, the definition of a reasonable number of attempts will vary by each state’s law and case. 

I Bought a Used Car, Will the Lemon Law Protect Me?

Not every state has lemon law legislation that applies to used cars. However, states like California have enacted provisions that include protection for used vehicle owners. Regulations that apply to these cars will differ from new car protections and consider factors like mileage, warranty periods, and additional factors. It is best to consult with your state’s law to see the exact phrasing. 

You’ve Identified You Have a Lemon, What Can You Do?

If you’ve done everything you can to mediate the problem with the manufacturer with no success, and you’ve confirmed that your state’s law affords you protection, you have a lemon. But what can you do about it?

Whether you decide to handle your own case or hire a lemon law attorney, there are several options. The first option is to deal with it directly through consumer protection and hope that the car manufacturer offers you a reasonable settlement. If the settlement is not in your favor, you could take the case to arbitration, where an independent panel will review the case and decide. If the arbitration panel rules against you, you still can appeal their decision or file a lawsuit against the manufacturer. However, the same rule does not apply to the carmaker if you accept the arbitrator’s decision. The company cannot appeal the decision. 

Lemon law cases can be fairly complicated legal issues. Even if you decide that you will represent yourself, it is always advisable to search for help and resources. If you don’t feel confident on your own, working with a reasonable attorney might be your best option. However, keep in mind that the strongest cases will always have the best evidence. Make sure to keep detailed records of your efforts and documentation. With good evidence on your side, it will be much easier to have a ruling in your favor.


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