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A Revised Lemon Law May Squeeze Autonomous Car Makers

Oct 31, 2016

Should the Lemon Law be updated to keep pace with rapidly advancing and changing automotive technology?

Self-driving (autonomous) cars with winged doors are no longer just futuristic notions of movie-makers. They are here now—just without the flux capacitor and time travel feature.

Advances in automotive technology in recent years have revolutionized the car industry in many positive ways. The move away from gas and toward electric cars has been good for the environment. Back-up cameras and sensors that can alert and even override a driver to avoid an accident bring us the safety of a second set of eyes. And features like fancy winged doors and self-parking are options that take luxury to new levels.

But what about self-driving cars? Are they safe on the roads?

In a nutshell, the Lemon Law was designed to hold auto manufacturers to certain safety standards when producing new vehicles for consumer sale or lease—a responsibility that is ongoing for a designated period of time after the new vehicle has been sold or leased to the consumer. Generally, you may have a “lemon” if the same system or defect has been unsuccessfully repaired on several occasions during the given time period and/or out of service for an extended period of time and the persistent problem impacts the use, value, and safety of the vehicle.

The Pennsylvania Lemon Law time period is one (1) year or 12,000 miles from the date of purchase or lease. The New Jersey Lemon Law time period is two (2) years or 24,000 miles. But “lemon” claims after those periods may still be actionable under the consumer fraud act.

Historically, Lemon Law defects have involved so-called “hardware” systems, such as defective transmissions, brakes, and the like—essentially the kind of problems a shop mechanic would physically address and repair. But due to these rapid advancements in automotive technology, the systems of many of today’s cars are based on “software” technology. Instead of a tweak by a mechanic, issues with some of these systems may be “repaired” through an OTA (over the air) software update. The Lemon Law’s language may be lagging behind the current state of automotive design and repair.

Take Tesla, for example. The breakthrough automotive manufacturer is a pioneer in the field of semi-autonomous and autonomous electric cars. The idea of self-driving cars raises obvious concerns about safety on the roadway and the car maker has already been involved in suits stemming from two fatal crashes when its auto-pilot feature was engaged. The technology that makes this feature possible involves software systems. How can and should any problems in these and similar software-based systems be regulated and repaired in the context of a Lemon Law claim?

Tesla recently settled a Lemon Law case involving glitches in the self-parking and winged doors luxury features of its newly-rolled out SUV model by repurchasing the car from the frustrated owner. This was done shortly before an OTA software update corrected the problem for owners across the board. Are buyers supposed to wait for software update repairs, and if so, for how long? These were luxury features—what about safety features?

In the potentially dangerous scenario of features taking the control of a vehicle away from the driver, the strictest safety standards must be placed on the manufacturer. Perhaps it is time for existing regulations in the Lemon Law to be amended to address OTA and other new methods of vehicle system design and repair.

Whether the law gets revised or not, consumers experiencing the frustration of repeatedly unresolved new car or lease repairs should seek the counsel of an experienced Lemon Law attorney to maximize their chances of prevailing on their claim.

If you think you have been sold a lemon, Timothy J. Abeel & Associates, PC can help you. Contact us here or call 1-888-611-5481 to discuss your case for free.

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