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Car Lemon Laws: Know Your Rights!


Think your Car is a Lemon? Your State may agree, but maybe not to your liking. Nearly all State Lemon Law Statutes are similar to the Federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act which makes breach of warranty a violation of federal law. All States have enacted their own Warranty Acts and many States have enacted specific Statutes that pertain to Automobile Warranties. You will need to research your particular States statutes to see what your rights are.

What is a Lemon?

A vehicle that continues to have a defect that substantially impairs its use, value, or safety. Generally, if the car has been repaired 4 or more times for the same Defect within the Warranty Period and the Defect has not been fixed, the car qualifies as a Lemon. All States differ so you should consult the State Statutes for your particular State.

Do I have a Lemon?

If the paint is peeling, the light switch came out when you pulled on it, the car makes "funny noises" but otherwise drives just fine, then No, you do not have a Lemon. If the brakes don't work, the car won't go into reverse gear, it won't start on cold mornings or hot afternoons, the rear door opens all by itself, or the car chugs along at 30 mph when it should be going 50 mph, then Yes, you may have a Lemon. Providing you've given the manufacturer an opportunity to repair the defect.

You may have a Lemon, but if you do nothing to protect your Consumer Rights, such as documenting your Repairs and allowing the Manufacturer a chance to fix the problem(s), you lose all rights under the various State Warranty Acts.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

The answer depends upon which State you Purchased or Registered your car in. In some States and with proper documentation, you simply file a Complaint. In other States, you will need to hire an Attorney.

Is a Used or Leased Car Protected?

It depends upon which State the car was purchased or leased in. Some states include used and leased cars in their Lemon Law statutes. Some states have separate laws for used vehicles.

Some states provide protection only for new cars. See the State Statutes for your particular State to determine what is covered. If you have a defective used car, leased car, or a car used for business purposes and your State Lemon Law does not cover these vehicles, you may still have recourse under the Uniform Commercial Code and the Federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act (providing you were given a written warranty). Consult with an Attorney that specializes in this area.

Tips to Protect Your Investment

Often times, your new car isn't suspected of being a Lemon until it is too late (out of warranty, over the mileage limit, etc). If you keep a record of every repair visit, starting with the first one, you will protect your rights under Consumer Laws.

Document everything! This includes notes, who you talk to, what is said, dates and times. Put your complaints in writing and keep a copy for yourself. Be sure to obtain a copy of any Warranty Repair Orders. Demand a copy if necessary and if the dealer will not give you one, be sure to document the fact. When you pick up your car, obtain an Invoice. The dealer may claim that you are not entitled to an Invoice because there were no charges (you were not invoiced for any repairs). It is up to you to prove repair attempts! The final Invoice shows what was or was not repaired.

Make absolutely sure the dealer records your complaint on the Repair Order exactly as you describe it. You must make sure to describe the defect exactly the same on each repair visit or you may forfeit your rights under the "reasonable attempts to repair for the same defect" clause.

Be sure that the date, time in, and odometer reading are recorded as well as the date and time you picked up the car. In most States you are covered by the Lemon Law if the vehicle has been in the repair shop for an accumulative number of days during the coverage period.

If your car fails in the middle of the desert or in the middle lane of rush hour freeway traffic, record the date and time, the amount of time you had to wait for assistance, whether or not you had to rent a car, and your general overall feelings. The emotional trauma dealing with a defective vehicle has a lot of bearing on your case should you need to go to arbitration or court.

If you think your car is a lemon and don’t know where to go, check with these sources to learn more about what you can do to protect your consumer rights.

                National Consumer Law Center

Publishes "Return to Sender: Getting Refund or Replacement for Your Lemon Car", available at bookstores nationwide; about $16. (202) 986-6060


Provides government recall and technical service bulletins by year, make, model, and engine options. 

                BBB Auto Line

                Council of Better Business Bureaus, Inc. (800) 955-5100 

                Local and State Consumer Affairs Offices

                Check your local phone book under "Government". These offices run arbitration programs and are often given high marks by consumer groups.

                Lemon Law America

                A web site that offers advice and legal referrals by state of attorneys specializing in lemon law rights.


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