You may be able to put the squeeze on a defective car’s manufacturer with some lemon law justice.

4 minute read

If your new car is plagued by a defect that can’t be fixed, you may not have to be stuck with the lemon for life. Not if your state lemon law has anything to do with it, anyway.

Once you’ve made diligent attempts to repair the car with no success and failed to find satisfaction through the manufacturer, filing a complaint through your state lemon law – a consumer law that protects car buyers – may be your next step.

Under many state lemon laws, the vehicle’s manufacturer may be required to replace the car with a new one or reimburse you with a refund. Some state lemon laws also cover certain used or leased vehicles. But how can you find out if your car counts as a lemon? And, if it does, what should you do about it?

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1. Your state has a lemon law

Your state has a lemon law

Most states have some form of a lemon law to protect car buyers when they buy a new car, and some lemon laws also cover used or leased cars. However, requirements vary greatly by state.

To find out whether your car may qualify under state lemon law, search your state consumer protection office, department of motor vehicles or attorney general website for the lemon law statute. You can also look up state lemon laws at the Better Business Bureau, but always verify accuracy with the official state website posting the lemon law.

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2. A defect is a serious safety hazard

If your car accelerates without warning or the brakes fail repeatedly, those could be considered safety hazards. However, if your car simply fails to start most mornings, that defect probably doesn’t pose a safety threat.

Your state lemon law ultimately defines what constitutes a safety hazard. For example, Washington’s lemon law defines a serious safety defect as a “life-threatening malfunction that impairs the driver’s ability to control or operate the vehicle or creates a risk of fire or explosion.”

Even if your vehicle defect doesn’t pose a serious safety hazard, it may still qualify under other lemon law requirements.

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3. The defect substantially impairs the vehicle’s value

The defect substantially impairs the vehicles value

It’s hard to resell a vehicle that stalls every time it hits 70 mph or has a faulty steering system that can’t be fixed. Most state lemon laws recognize this, so if your car’s defect makes it impossible to sell at the model’s current market value and you meet other state requirements, you may be able to file a lemon law claim.

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4. You’ve made reasonable repair attempts

You've made reasonable repair attempts

In most states, before you can file a lemon law claim, you must have made multiple attempts to repair the defect or hazard.

For example, Texas requires you to have taken your vehicle to the dealership for repair at least four times for the same defect within the first two years or 24,000 miles OR prove that the car was out of service for 30 days or more due to defects covered by the warranty during the first 24 months or 24,000 miles that still exist.

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5. Your vehicle was out of service for the required number of days

Many states require that your vehicle spent at least 30 days out of service while undergoing repair attempts within a specific timeframe. Others require fewer days but still adhere to a time limit from purchase.

For example, Florida requires that your car must have been out of service for repair of the defect for 15 days or more within 24 months the date of delivery.

Find out: 10 Things First-Time Car Buyers Should Know

6. Your car meets mileage and time limit requirements

Your car meets mileage and time limit requirements

Each state has requirements for eligibility to file a lemon law claim. For example, to meet the basic qualifications for lemon law compensation in Massachusetts, the vehicle defect must be discovered within the “term of protection” of one year or 15,000 miles of use from the original date of delivery.

State lemon laws differ, but generally, the defect must be a problem that is covered by a manufacturer’s written warranty.

Find out: What Is a Car Lease Buyout and Should You Do It?

7. Reports to the manufacturer failed to resolve the problem

State lemon laws typically require you to first try to remedy the defective car situation by contacting the manufacturer or its authorized dealer. Send the manufacturer a complaint letter by certified mail explaining the defect or defects, along with copies of work orders and invoices and a proposed solution or request for refund.

If the dealer doesn’t repair the defect or reimburse you, either monetarily or with a new car, you may be able to file a lemon law claim.

Find out: How to Buy a Car and Negotiate the Best Deal

8. You aren’t obligated to resolve the situation through arbitration

You aren't obligated to resolve the situation through arbitration
The vehicle manufacturer may require you to go through arbitration to resolve the dispute before filing a lemon law claim. For example, in Minnesota, consumers must go through arbitration if the manufacturer requires it before filing a lawsuit under state lemon law.

State laws on arbitration vary, however. For instance, in Massachusetts, the manufacturer can’t require you to use its arbitration program. In the state of Washington, car owners can request an arbitration hearing through the attorney general’s office to determine whether claims meet state lemon law requirements.

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About the Author

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp is a full-time freelance writer based in Kansas City, Mo. Deb went from being unable to get approved for a credit card or loan 20 years ago to having excellent credit today and becoming a homeowner. Deb learned her lessons about money the hard way. Now she wants to share them to help you pay down debt, fix your credit and quit being broke all the time. Deb's personal finance and credit articles have been published at Credit Karma and The Huffington Post.

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