How lemon laws workEveryone’s heard of “lemon laws” – laws created to protect consumers from bad or defective new vehicles. But how do they work? Are they for used cars or just new cars? How do I make a lemon law claim? Here’s what you need to know:

Note: I am not a legal professional. This information is based on my personal experience and is not in any way a substitute for professional legal advice.

Lemon Law Basics:

You buy a new car (most states don’t have lemon laws for used cars). The new car has a problem during the period of the factory warranty that can’t be solved (any problem would be considered, provided it detracts from the ownership experience or impacts the value/utility of the car). The “can’t be solved” test varies state to state, but 3 unsuccessful repair attempts is usually enough to get the ball rolling on a lemon law claim. Most of the time, the manufacturer of the new vehicle will invite you to arbitration before the lemon law can take effect.

Getting a Lemon Law claim rolling:

In order to document that your vehicle’s problem can’t be solved, you’ll need your local dealers help. They’ll need to provide you with a repair order that shows they were unable to fix your problem – but the repair order MUST document the problem exists. “Could not duplicate” is not what you need – this is the hardest part of the process – getting the dealer to provide you with the right documentation. But that’s not enough, you must give the same repair facility every reasonable opportunity to fix your car before you have an actionable claim.

My advice would be to speak with your dealer’s service manager – he or she will be able to either help you with your claim or ask your vehicle’s manufacturer for arbitration.

Arbitration Tips:

A lot of times, manufacturers will want to offer you a free extended warranty in exchange for you officially dropping all lemon law claims. While this might be a good offer, you should carefully consider if this is a “low ball” offer. If the problem with your vehicle is severe enough, the manufacturer would have to buy your car back if the lemon law process were pursued. You don’t want to miss out on a good deal, but if your vehicle’s problem has to do with it’s basic function (say, for instance, the engine is constantly failing), you should expect a new car. My best arbitration advice – talk to all your local dealers, not just the one you’re working with. A service manager at a competing dealership may decide to give you some information just to make his or her competitor’s life a little harder. Same goes for competing dealer’s general managers and sales managers. If you’re nice and you respect their time, competing dealership managers can give you a wealth of information.

Used Car Lemon Laws:

If you purchased a used car with a problem, you’re probably out of luck. While some states have laws regarding buying a used lemon, they’re poorly written and hard to enforce. That is a legal process anyways – you’ll need to hire an attorney to guide you if you bought a used car with a lemon type problem. Not to be negative, but most of the time you’re not going to get anywhere.


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