How To: Use State Lemon Laws

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on April 20, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The only thing better than that new car smell might be getting your new car out on the open road for the first time. And there may not be anything worse than a new car that you can't seem to get out of the shop.

Lucky for us, most states have lemon laws to protect new car buyers from getting stuck with a dud automobile. While lemon laws can vary from state to state, they generally require dealers or manufacturers to fix or buy back a vehicle with a seemingly irreparable defect. But how do you actually make sure dealers abide by lemon laws?

Paperwork and Groundwork

Nearly all lemon laws require a reasonable number of repair attempts, or proof that the vehicle has been malfunctioning or nonfunctioning for a certain amount of time soon after purchase. The number of repair attempts that are reasonable may depend on the nature of the defect. For example, California's lemon law notes that "one or two repair attempts may be considered reasonable for serious safety defects such as brake failure".

While the exact number of repairs may vary, the best thing you can do early on in your car's life is document to the best of your ability exactly what repairs are made, when they are made, how long your car was out of use, and whether and how often the repairs needed to be repeated. Having this information will bolster any claim that your new ride is a lemon.

Warranties and Warranted Repairs

While some lemon laws will protect any car for its first few months or few thousand miles, some states may condition their coverage on whether the new automobile is under warranty. Many warranties are automatic for new cars, and you should make sure your car has a warranty.

You might need to be familiar with your warranty to make sure all of your use and repairs are made according to warranty specifications. You don't want to lose out on a claim be of a technicality. Also, if you're having continued problems, you may want to do some research -- often car makers will issue secret warranties for design or manufacturing defects, and in some states they are not required to alert buyers to the new coverage.

Stake Your Claim

Your first step in lemon law enforcement should probably be to your state attorney general's office. State AG offices often have consumer protection divisions that specialize in handling product defect cases. These offices can give you information on the particulars of the state lemon law, and may have claim filing requirements and you may need to request a manufacturer buy-back before you can file a lawsuit.

If the state office, dealer, and manufacturer are all unhelpful, you'll probably need to hire an attorney and sue in civil court. An experienced lemon law attorney can help file your claim, and may know if your issue is unique to your car or part of a larger manufacturing defect.

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