Everything You Need to Know about Lemon Laws

Posted by:

Money can’t buy happiness, they say. Well, tell that to someone who just bought their first car or replaced an old beater. Buying a new car is exciting! No wonder. For many, cars still represent freedom and identity. And everyone wants to drive a reliable vehicle that will last and won’t break down periodically.

But what if your new ride turns out to be a disappointment? What if your new car problems force you to go back to the dealership over and over again? What if it seems like the problem will never go away? Most likely you’ve purchased a lemon.

As with anything you buy, it may not be easy to get your money back. Maybe it’s not that difficult with things like clothes or food, for example. But when it comes to sending your car back after you have realized it is a lemon, be prepared. You may be in for the hell of a ride.

In this post, you will get answers to the following questions:

  1. What are your chances of buying a lemon?
  2. When is your car considered as one?
  3. How to avoid purchasing a lemon vehicle?
  4. What to do after you realize you have purchased a lemon vehicle?
  5. Why is it important to hire an attorney?

as well as

  1. Why you should start building your case as soon as possible.

What are your chances of buying a lemon?

Check out this real-time data to see how many cars have been produced this year-to-date. The number is fascinating.

According to Worldometers, the real time world statistics, “ After a 9% decline in 2009 (due to the 2008 global financial crisis), global car production immediately jumped back the following year with a 22% increase in 2010, to then consolidate at the current 3% yearly growth rate.”

Out of all cars produced each year, only 1% or approximately 150,000 cars turn out to be lemons. Therefore, your chances of purchasing a lemon are not very high. Nevertheless, don’t drop your guard when you are on the lookout for a new car.

When is your car considered a lemon?

According to nolo.com, “in order to qualify as a lemon under most state laws, the car

(1) must have a substantial defect covered by the warranty that occurred within a certain period of time or number of miles after you bought the car, and

(2) must not be fixed after a reasonable number of repair attempts. In most states, the lemon law only applies to new cars.”

For one to benefit from lemon laws, the substantial defect should happen within one or two years after the car purchase or within 12,000-24,000 miles. As long as the defect has not been caused by any abuse to the car, the above-mentioned conditions apply to all states when trying to qualify a car as a lemon.

If your car is not new, don’t despair. Although in general, Lemon Laws apply only to new cars, there are still a few states that have used-car lemon laws on the books. Verify what your state considers to be a new car for the purpose of the lemon law. You can use these two websites to check your state’s lemon laws: Autopedia and LemonLawAmerica.

How to avoid purchasing a lemon car?

Even though we can’t fully agree with Barney Stinson’s Lemon Law Theory, it is always a good idea to ‘run away’ from a possible ‘lemon’ car whenever you suspect so. Here are some of the things you can do spot one:

Don’t judge a book by its cover

When it comes to buying a car, especially a new one, you should not judge its quality by the untainted exterior. Dig deeper. Explore more. Find out the true value of the car beyond its ‘cover’.

Test Drive

Extending the ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ point, you should always test drive the vehicle before signing on the dotted line. Some lemons can do just fine for some time and then reveal their true ‘identity’. But you lose nothing by taking a car for a test drive. Get a feel of it. Check out for any suspicious noises, smells, and anything else that may give the car away. But don’t just stop there. Some cars might only show certain defects when driven on the highway. It is recommended to ask the dealer to drive the car out of its ‘comfort’ zone.


Don’t just do the same research ‘ritual’ as most people do by researching just to say they’ve done their homework. Research like you mean it, and you won’t regret any minute of it. Check out anything you need to know about the car you want to buy. Quality control ratings, dealer’s invoice price, reviews by other customers that have purchased the same make and model, and so on. These should be some of the things to look for. Keep researching until you are fully sure you know the most important information about the car you are about to purchase. This info can also come in handy if you are planning to negotiate the price and get the best deal.

Here are some great sites that can help you with your research: Edmunds.com, KBB.com, and ConsumerReports.org.

Car History

In case the car you are about to purchase is not brand new and has been used for some time, we recommend to check its history. You can find plenty of information on Autocheck.com and CarFax.com. This way you will be in the know of anything that has happened to the car in the past years. Avoid any vehicle that has way too many drawbacks on its timeline.

Asking for the car’s warranty and repair history is also a smart move. It will give you an idea if the car gave its owner any trouble in the past. Furthermore, the warranty history and repairs history can show you whether the previous owner(s) had to deal with the same issues over and over again. For someone who is trying to avoid a lemon car, this can be a red flag.

Daylight inspection

When trying to rent or buy a house, experts recommend to check out the place in the daylight. The same is true when you want to buy a vehicle, new or old. It is hard to do a full and proper inspection of the vehicle in the evening, even if you have a trained eye. Bring along someone you trust and has more experience with cars than you if you need to.

What to do when you realize you’ve purchased a lemon?

No matter how much you try to avoid it or how low your chances of purchasing a lemon are, it can still happen. It’s even possible to drive the car for hundreds of miles without realizing the magnitude of its issues. It’s a nerve-wracking process that can take up to one year or even longer for you to finally get rid of the lemon in your garage.

Check your state’s lemon laws

Turn to state and federal laws for help if you realize you’ve bought a lemon. Keep in mind though that not all lemon laws are the same, they vary from state to state. “Nearly all State Lemon Law Statutes provide lemon law rights similar to the Federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act which makes breach of warranty a violation of federal law. All States have enacted their own Warranty Acts and many States have enacted specific Statutes that pertain to Automobile Warranties. If your car is not considered a “lemon” in your State, you do have other recourse,” according to carlemon.com.

Lemon Law Summaries will provide all the information you need to know about lemon laws in each state. While Lemon Law Statutes give great guides regarding Lemon Law Statutes for each State should be your starting point.

The California Lemon Law, for example, gives a dealer up to four chances to fix a car. If the issue puts your safety your life at risk, the dealer only gets 2 chances to fix it. Otherwise, the car is considered a lemon. The repair interval and coverage period is 18 months or 18,000 miles.

Consider seeking legal advice

You may be wondering whether you need a lawyer or not and who assumes legal costs. It depends on the state. In some states, you can file a complaint on your own, while in others – you are better off hiring a lawyer. Car and Driver Magazine insists that you hire a lawyer because car makers have more ‘legal firepower’ than their customers.

“People should seek legal advice,” according to Rosemary Shahan, president of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety. Just make sure the attorney you hire is experienced and trustworthy. If you win the case, you won’t have to pay your attorney fees if he or she sues under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act.

Start building your case as early as possible

If you are having problems with a car you have recently purchased, start building your case. Keep all your auto repair receipts and record every service done to your car. In the meantime, let your dealer know about any recurring problems with your car. The sooner you take action the easier it will be to get your money back. Or you can get a new car of the same value. Make sure to obtain a copy of any Warranty Repair Orders. Also, make sure the repair order supports your complaint for buying a lemon.

This information may seem unimportant and useless now. But the time might come when you will need to prove that the problem with your car started before the warranty expiration date.

If you are on a hunt for a new car, we wish you good luck! And, hopefully, you won’t have to deal with a lemon.


About the Author:

Juxhina Malaj - a wanderluster and bibliophile who loves painting, watching documentary films, drinking green tea and taking pictures of classic cars (mainly cute Volkswagen Beetles). Juxhina holds a B.A. in Journalism & Mass Communication from AUBG. She is currently studying Masters in Communication Science at the University of Vienna, Austria.

Add a Comment