How Does Lemon Law Work
- The purpose of all consumer protections, such as the lemon law, is to create trust in the marketplace by eliminating gross fraud and unfair warranties. The existence of substandard merchandise is negative for consumers, who receive faulty goods, as well as for manufacturers, who often stake their reputation on the performance and reliability of their products. Lemon laws protect both sides by clearly defining what constitutes a lemon and how consumers can be compensated for faulty goods. The lemon laws are a specific subset of broader consumer protections that deal specifically with problem vehicles.
- Most people know a lemon when they have one--a new car that for some reason doesn't perform the way it should and that no amount of repairs seem to correct. With all the cars that are manufactured, some are inevitably just bad and never meet expected standards. But legal definitions of a lemon are crucial for finding protection under the law. The federal lemon law listed in the Uniform Commercial Code provides consumers the right to a refund or replacement of a lemon, however, the definition is very vague. It says a lemon is "any new vehicle that has a substantial problem that isn't fixed within a reasonable number of attempts, or that has had a certain number of days out of service." Because the federal code doesn't define exactly how long a car is "new," or the number of days it must be out of service, most actions under the lemon law rely on state laws, which can vary widely. Most, however, use the amount of time since the purchase of the vehicle and its mileage, to determine "newness."
- Lemon laws put the burden on the seller to identify any condition of the vehicle that might impair its operation, safety or value, and if they do, a buyer accepts the vehicle "as is," and exempts the seller from liability. But if the buyer was not accurately apprised in advance of the vehicle's condition, the lemon laws describe the processes by which disputes can be resolved, usually by either bringing the vehicle in line with an express warranty, replacement, refund, or recourse to some other form of arbitration. A reputable dealer should compensate the buyer in one of these ways upon identification of a lemon, but if not, the buyer might be forced to pursue the cause in court. To set the process in motion, it's crucial for the buyer of a car to keep thorough records of the vehicle's problems and any attempts they make to repair or resolve the issue. This not only means copies of the warranty, owner's manual, and service records, but also notes of any conversations with the dealership or mechanics, including dates and times. The more complete the paper trail detailing the situation, the more likely that lemon laws can be evoked to provide relief for the consumer. Other forms of vigilance, such as reading consumer news and reporting sites to learn if any other buyers have had similar problems, can help bring the appropriate pressure on the responsible parties. Enlisting the help of organizations such as the Better Business Bureau or a local consumer advocate can help raise the profile and effectiveness of a claim.