The average new car costs more than $36,700 and with such a high price tag, you expect that car to work flawlessly the minute you drive it off the lot. Unfortunately, some cars just seem to have issues that make owning them too much trouble or too expensive of a burden.
Luckily, the lemon law is in place to protect your investment and make sure you get a car that’s both dependable and safe.
Whether you’re buying your first car or trading in an older model for a new car, you need to familiarize yourself with the lemon law before you sign on the dotted line. Here’s what you need to know.
The Lemon Law Applies to New Cars
In most states, the lemon law only applies to new cars that are still covered under a manufacturer’s warranty. The law considers new cars “lemons” if they keep developing issues that stem from a manufacturer’s defect.
If the problems result from how you drive the car or the conditions it’s exposed to on the road, the lemon law won’t apply.
The lemon law doesn’t typically cover used vehicles. Instead, states expect used car dealerships to offer certain warranty guarantees on each car they sell. Keep in mind that the quality and duration of those guarantees vary from dealership to dealership.
If a used vehicle needs frequent repairs due to a manufacturer defect, it likely won’t receive protection under the lemon law. Instead, you’ll have to pursue a resolution with the dealership you purchased it from individually.
The Issue Must Qualify as a Substantial Defect
Automotive lemon laws only cover issues that qualify as a substantial defect. This means the damage must make the car either unsafe or more difficult to drive.
The defects can’t refer to something minor like a broken car radio or cosmetic damage.
If you’re wondering if your car has a substantial defect, think about the reason it keeps going into the shop. If it’s getting repaired to fix a safety issue like malfunctioning breaks or power steering, it’s likely a substantial defect.
If the car spends significant amounts of time in the shop because of frequent repairs or the repairs just won’t fix the issue, no matter how often you get them done, it’s likely a lemon.
Your Responsibilities as an Owner
As the vehicle owner, it’s your responsibility to get your car inspected and repaired as soon as the issues pop up. Ideally, you’ll be able to bring the car to the dealership for repairs.
Most car dealerships offer free maintenance on manufacturer’s issues as part of their guarantee when you buy the car.
If you don’t bring the car to your dealership, find an experienced and licensed mechanic to work on the car. Document each repair and hold onto the receipts for all work done.
Ultimately, it’s your responsibility to put forth the effort to get the car fixed. If you don’t, you won’t be able to make a claim under the lemon law even if the car would qualify as a lemon.
How to File a Claim
If your vehicle meets the qualifications under your state’s lemon laws, you’ll need to reach out to the manufacturer.
Most car dealerships will help you with the process if you purchased the car through them. However, you’re free to contact the dealership on your own to initiate the claim.
Once you contact them, you’ll need to furnish them with proof of the issue. This could be pictures of visible damage, receipts detailing the repairs you’ve had to schedule, and even mechanics’ statements of the damage.
The manufacturer will process the information and reach a decision on your case as soon as they can. This could take a few weeks depending on the manufacturer if you’re filing the claim on your own. Dealerships can often speed up the process and help you get into a new car more quickly.
What You Can Expect
The lemon law entitles you to either a refund of your full purchase price or a replacement vehicle, depending on your personal preference.
Most people settle on a replacement vehicle of the same make and model. After all, lemons are rare and if you love the features that make and model offers, a replacement is the best option.
Let your gut be your guide. If you’re not comfortable getting a vehicle replacement, discuss your options with your dealership and let them help you find the right new car.
Once you buy or receive your replacement vehicle, the lemon law coverage starts over. Should the new car have the same issues, you’re free to file another claim as long as you get the vehicle repaired according to the requirements in your state.
If a Manufacturer or Dealership Balks, Get Legal Help
Unfortunately, some manufacturers and car dealerships can drag their feet when processing lemon car claims. Worse, they can deny them outright if they feel your vehicle doesn’t qualify as a lemon.
If you find yourself in this situation, start researching your options. Contact lemon law attorneys in California and let them represent your case with the vehicle manufacturer.
Often, you’ll find that manufacturers process claims more quickly when you obtain legal representation.
Don’t Get Stuck with a Lemon
The lemon law is in place to help save you money on costly repairs while ensuring that you receive the safest car possible from the manufacturer. If you think your car is a lemon, don’t simply accept those high repair costs.
Contact the manufacturer or your local dealership and discuss your concerns. The sooner you start your lemon claim, the sooner you’ll be back on the road in a dependable car, truck, or SUV.
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