Lemon laws protect consumers of defective vehicles (“lemons”) in all 50 states. They give purchasers (or lessors) of lemons the right to bring a claim against a manufacturer and obtain a refund, replacement vehicle, or other remedy. If you think you have a lemon, there are some helpful, and often crucial, things to know:
1. Don’t delay.
Lemon laws require specific actions by the vehicle owner within a set time period or mileage since purchase of the vehicle (e.g. Pennsylvania: 12 months/12,000 miles; California: 18 months/18,000 miles; New Jersey: 24 months/24,000 miles.) If the owner misses a deadline, they lose their chance to bring a lemon law claim (though they may have other legal options.) It is important not to procrastinate if you are having problems with your newly purchased vehicle. Find out your rights and get your vehicle to the dealer without delay.
2. Document. Document. Document.
To succeed on a lemon law claim, you will need to produce proof of the problems with your vehicle. Record and keep everything – your purchase or lease agreement, financing documentation, service history, detailed repair orders; letters to the dealer or manufacturer; notes of conversations with the dealer or manufacturer; tow truck receipts; and rental car receipts. Do not rely on your dealer to have copies of your documents or to document repairs correctly. Your vehicle repair orders should include the dates that the vehicle was in for repair, what you told the dealer about the problem, their diagnosis, an itemization of completed repairs, and the cost. If any details on a repair order are incorrect or missing, ask the dealer to correct it. If that is not possible, make your own notes. Keep a log of problems with the vehicle. Lemon laws have specific procedural requirements that allow a dealer a reasonable number of repair attempts; allow a claim to be brought if the vehicle is under repair for a specific number of days; require written notification to the manufacturer; and require reimbursement of expenses. Every fact and expense that you can prove is one that the manufacturer cannot dispute, making your claim easier to pursue and easier to win.
3. Take care of your vehicle.
Do not abuse or neglect your vehicle. Stay up to date on all manufacturer recalls and technical service bulletins, and keep copies of the repair orders. You do not want to give the manufacturer any opportunity to argue that your lack of care caused the problems with the vehicle.
4. Keep up your vehicle finance payments.
Sometimes this one is difficult to stomach. You are paying out a substantial amount of money every month for a vehicle that is defective, that is causing you inconvenience and sometimes more expense. However, you must keep up the payments to your finance company while dealing with your lemon or they may have an action against you for non-payment. Keep a record of your payments (principal and interest) and this will all be taken into account when your remedy is calculated.
5. Know what you want.
Lemon laws allow for different remedies, including a replacement vehicle, refund of the vehicle purchase price and compensation. Some owners feel strongly that they want the vehicle that they originally bought while others have become so distrustful of the brand that they would never purchase it again. Being clear on the remedy that you want from the manufacturer can help everyone focus on the end goal and avoid irrelevant or emotional distractions. An attorney can help advise you of your entitlements under law.
6. Every state is different.
Each state has its own lemon laws. Although they are similar, they are not the same and the differences are hugely important to your claim. Do not assume that you have the same deadlines, requirements or entitlements as your out-of-state friend or relative that bought a lemon. Do not confuse information that you have found online or elsewhere about another state’s lemon laws with your situation in your state. If you rely on incorrect or out-of-date information, you may miss a crucial deadline or procedural requirement which will destroy your ability to bring a claim.
7. Talk to an expert before making changes.
Lemon laws generally apply to purchasers of new vehicles for non-business use though these rules differ depending on the state. If you are considering making any changes to the ownership (e.g. transferring title to your child) or use of your vehicle (e.g. using the vehicle for your business though you originally bought it for personal use), moving out of state with the vehicle, or making any customizations to the vehicle, talk to an expert first. You may unintentionally affect your ability to bring a lemon law claim, or overcomplicate what would have been a simple claim.
8. Do not confuse jobs.
In the lemon law process, everyone has a job. Your dealer’s job is fix the problem with your vehicle. It is not your dealer’s job to give you legal advice and you should not take it. Equally, your job is not to diagnose or fix your defective vehicle. When you go to your dealer, tell them the symptoms of your problem (e.g. shuddering, jerking, or squealing noises) not the cause or diagnosis (e.g. the transmission is bad or the brake pads are worn.) Identifying the wrong part or problem could give a dealer or manufacturer room to argue that they investigated the (wrong) problem you identified, and that they have not been given a reasonable number of attempts under lemon law to address the real problem. Crucially, do not attempt to repair or customize your vehicle yourself. You may nullify your ability to bring a lemon law claim.
9. It is never the wrong choice to hire the right lawyer.
Many people ask whether or not they really need a lawyer to handle their lemon problems. Maybe it seems unnecessary, aggressive or expensive. Firstly, the law makes the manufacturer pay your legal fees if your lemon law claim is successful, and a decent lemon law attorney will review your case, and its chances of success, for free. Some, like Timothy Abeel & Associates, will not charge any up-front fees. It is in both the attorney’s and client’s interest to pursue winning cases. Secondly, this is a specialized area of the law with deadlines and procedural requirements that can be fatal to a successful claim. It is not generally covered in law school courses and can trip up car owners and inexperienced lawyers. Getting help from an attorney that is experienced in lemon law can mean the difference between success and failure. Finally, when a lawyer is involved, it certainly can be perceived as getting “aggressive” but this is to the owner’s advantage. Dealers and manufacturers wake up, become more responsive and issues that were ignored are addressed. An attorney can also prevent a car owner from accepting inadequate offers of repair or compensation from the manufacturer, and will negotiate for the higher recoveries to which owners are entitled under law. All in all, it is possible to handle a lemon law issue without an attorney but we find that clients get better outcomes if they take the expert help and let the manufacturer bear the cost.
10. If you cannot bring a lemon law claim, you may have other legal options.
State lemon laws apply to a limited category of purchasers (often purchasers of new vehicles for personal use) and types of vehicle, which differ depending on the state. If you do not fall within this limited category, you may still have other legal protections, such as under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, a federal consumer protection law. A good lemon law attorney will be knowledgeable about all of the legal tools that can be used when dealing with a problem vehicle.
At Timothy Abeel & Associates, we believe in fighting for consumers who are wrongly bearing the cost of a manufacturer’s flawed vehicle. Our staff has extensive lemon law knowledge, experience, and a reputation for getting our clients what they are entitled to under law. If you think you have a lemon, contact us today by phone or via the contact form on our website for a free case review.