It is extremely distressing to discover that your shiny new car is a dud. Unfortunately, the problem is not as uncommon as you might think. It is approximated that 1 percent of new cars fit into this category, having a substantial defect that cannot be successfully repaired after a number of attempts. Since 1975 when the “Lemon Law” (the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act) became federal law, the government has stepped up to provide greater consumer protection for the unlucky few who have more than their share of buyers’ (or leasers’) remorse.
The Lemon Law
The federal law that is now in place protects the buyer of any product that costs more than $25 and comes with a written warranty. Though the vast majority of Lemon Law cases involve cars, the law can be applicable to appliances as well. Designed to prevent manufacturers from creating unfair warranties, the Lemon Law provides a way for the wronged consumer to bring legal action and, if he or she wins the lawsuit, to be compensated for the risk and/or aggravation undergone. Attorneys who specialize in Lemon Law cases are best suited to handling such lawsuits since they have in-depth knowledge not only about the federal statute but about the state laws that also apply.
Most of the time, the Lemon Law is applied to newly purchased vehicles, but there are exceptions. If a used car comes to the purchaser with a written warranty, it, too, is likely covered. Since there are both state and federal laws that apply to Lemon Law cases, it is essential to have a skilled attorney to advise you as you go through the process of obtaining a just resolution. The procedure is complex and time-consuming — certainly not one for the inexperienced to attempt to navigate alone. Fore more information, check out my lemon law infographic.
In most states, in order for a vehicle to be considered a lemon two criteria must be met:
 It must have a “substantial defect” covered by its warranty that is apparent within a certain time frame from the date of purchase and  It must continue to have the defect after a “reasonable number” of attempts at repair. The number of repair attempts considered “reasonable” may vary state-to-state.
What constitutes a substantial defect?
A substantial defect is defined by law as a problem with the vehicle not caused by the owner that is significant enough to interfere with the car’s use, safety, or overall value. The laws of most states require that the defect be expressly mentioned in the warranty and must affect a serious function of, or expectation about, the car. Examples of major problems the law covers include faulty steering mechanisms or dysfunctional brakes, either of which makes it unsafe to operate the vehicle. Obviously, smaller matters, such as knobs that come loose or a glove compartment that won’t stay closed, are not in the same category.
Even though it may seem simple to differentiate substantial problems from insubstantial ones, this is not always the case, and regulations concerning such matters differ from state to state.. Something like a poor paint job may be considered negligible in one state, but count as substantial in another. In any case, the defect in question must occur within a certain time period or within a certain number of miles driven.
How many repair attempts are considered “reasonable”? Your car dealer must be given an opportunity to repair the defect before your vehicle can be considered a lemon. Generally speaking, the dealership is given three to four chances to correct the problem. It is, possible, however, that only one chance will be given; this happens when the defect makes driving seriously unsafe. Most states also have regulations limiting how much time your car may be in the shop during the course of a year. Usually, this period of time is 30 days.
Consumer Protection for Used Cars
In some states, the Lemon Law covers used cars that come with a warranty as well as leased or purchased vehicles. Other states may only cover cars that have only been driven a certain number of miles. In all states, the substantial defect must occur within a certain period of time (usually one or two years), or have only been sold once before. In some situations the Lemon Law will be effective only if the car is still under its original warranty. These discrepancies make it clear that you should engage the services of an attorney who has up-to-date knowledge about Lemon Laws in your state.
How Justice Is Dispensed
If your attorney can prove that your vehicle is, in fact, a lemon, you must officially report this information to the manufacturer (notwithstanding the fact that they should already be aware of the many attempted repairs they have made). They may offer you a satisfactory settlement at this point, but more likely you will have to go to arbitration, and, if necessary, file a lawsuit.
The Arbitration Process
The arbitration process regarding Lemon Law violations is free and takes place outside the courtroom. Depending on which state you live in, the manufacturer will choose or you will select an arbitrator or a panel of arbitrators to decide your case. At the end of arbitration, you may accept the ruling or sue the manufacturer in court. When you go to arbitration, or if you later take your case to court, your attorney will make sure that you have all the documentation to backup your claims, such as: receipts, service records, phone records, written communications from the dealership or manufacturer, and ads or brochures touting the product. Typically, manufacturers will be held to the standards they have claimed to meet in their advertising.
When You Win Your Lemon Law Case
Whether you accept a settlement after arbitration or win your case in court, you are entitled to either a full refund or a new replacement vehicle; the latter will come complete with a new warranty. In addition, you can expect full payment of your collateral costs, including registration fees, taxes, repair costs, towing charges, rental car fees, and reasonable legal fees. Though the process of resolving a Lemon Law case is inconvenient and often prolonged, with a skilled Lemon Law attorney at your side, you can anticipate being justly compensated in the end.