How to Know if Your Car is a Lemon

Every year more than 150,000 vehicles sold or leased in California alone turn out to be lemons. Any brand, make, or model can be a lemon. A lemon is a vehicle with a serious manufacturing defect that impacts its safety, use, and or value. With so many vehicles being produced each year, there is always a chance that you could end up purchasing or leasing a vehicle with serious defects that make it both unsafe and unreliable to drive.

If you have taken your vehicle in for multiple repair attempts while under warranty, then you have come to the right place and you should read on. Here are some ways to help you determine if your vehicle is a lemon.

Review the Terms of Your Applicable Warranty

A warranty is an acknowledgement from the seller or manufacturer that the vehicle they sold you may be imperfect. Not every vehicle is manufactured correctly, so, the warranty serves as a promise to repair the vehicle should something go wrong during a specified amount of time. Before purchasing your vehicle, you should read the warranty closely, specifically the parts that list your obligations, such as regular vehicle maintenance. The warranty is crucial to presenting a successful lemon law claim. To qualify for consumer protection under state and federal lemon laws, lemon issues must present themselves in your vehicle during the warranty period.

Also, vehicles are typically sold with both limited and powertrain warranties. These warranties cover different components of the vehicle and are of different durations. Check your owner’s manual to be clear on the terms of the warranties that are at issue with your vehicle.

lemon cars
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Understand What Constitutes a Manufacturing Defect

Your vehicle may be a lemon if it has a defect that persists despite multiple repair attempts. State and federal lemon laws provide consumer protection in situations where the manufacturer cannot repair your goods or vehicle in a reasonable number of repair attempts. Manufacturer warranties are different in duration and scope so you should be familiar with the specifics related to your vehicle.

A substantial defect is one that affects the safety, use, and or value of your vehicle. A defect affects a vehicle’s safety if it cannot be driven without placing the driver, passengers, or other drivers in danger. Material defects impact a vehicle’s use if these defects prevent the driver from driving the vehicle in the way in which it was intended to be driven. A vehicle’s value is affected if the defect prevents the driver from selling the vehicle for the price it would be worth had it not had the defect.

Failures of vehicle systems such as the engine, braking, suspension, transmission, steering etc. are examples of substantial defects. If your vehicle has been repeatedly repaired during the warranty for a substantial defect, there is a good argument to be made that the manufacturer is obligated to repurchase or replace the defective vehicle. The lemon laws cover a wide range of consumer complaints with their vehicles, including, but not limited to the following:

  •       Airbag light
  •       ABS light
  •       Blown fuses
  •       Coolant leak
  •       Engine misfire
  •       Electrical malfunctions
  •       Hesitation
  •       Loss of power
  •       Odor
  •       Oil leak
  •       Premature wear
  •       Transmission failure
  •       Jerking / lurching
  •       And more…

The consumer complaints that may qualify for legal protections under state and federal lemon laws are not limited to this list. Your vehicle could have other issues that might make it a lemon. Any defect that has reduced the safety, use, and or value of the vehicle may qualify.

Review Your Repair Records

Most states in the United States have their own lemon law.  These laws vary from state to state and many of them have what is known as a lemon law presumption. A legal presumption assumes that a fact is true in light of available evidence.

In California, your vehicle is legally presumed to be a lemon if any of the following occur during the first 18 months or 18,000 miles after the purchase of lease of the vehicle:

  •       The vehicle is repaired at least two times for a manufacturing defect that can result in bodily injury or death
  •       The vehicle is repaired at least four times for a non-substantial safety defect

If the consumer can demonstrate any one of these scenarios, then their vehicle is presumed to be a lemon.

The facts of a consumer’s case does not have to fit the presumption in order to be valid.  Vehicles past 18 months or 18,000 miles still qualify for lemon law protection as long as the consumer can show repeat repairs that took place during the warranty periods.

This is why it is very important to keep copies of all of your repair records. This will be critical in proving your case and demonstrating that the manufacturer was unable to repair your vehicle in a reasonable number of repair attempts.

If you cannot find your records or they are lost then, don’t worry… You can always ask your dealership for a copy of your file.

Lemon Laws Provide Coverage to Many Consumer Goods

Brand-new automobiles are not the only consumer goods that can be lemons. Boats, motorcycles, motor homes, and even some business vehicles can also qualify for protection under state lemon laws. Recreational vehicles such as RVs and ATVs have many of the same lemon issues that a new car may have such as:

  •       Engine failure
  •       Loss of power
  •       Malfunctioning electrical system
  •       Oil leak
  •       Poor steering

These are just some of the problems a consumer may experience with a wide-range of consumer goods. If your RV, motorhome, ATV, motorcycle, or any other vehicle has defects, then you could be eligible for a refund, replacement, or cash compensation.

Also, both certified pre-owned and used vehicles can be lemons. Unless your vehicle was sold “as-is,” your certified pre-owned or used vehicle may have protections under the lemon law if you can show repeat repairs during a warranty.

Consult with a Lemon Law Attorney

The list of symptoms above does not begin to cover all the issues that may determine whether a vehicle is a lemon under state or federal lemon laws.  Additionally, vehicles that are past their warranty periods and vehicles that do not fit the lemon law presumption may indeed qualify.  As long as the issues with your vehicle were repaired during the warranty period, you may have a valid claim. To know for sure, you should speak with a highly rated lemon law attorney.

Lemon laws are nuanced and constantly changing.  This is why it is best to seek a case evaluation from a qualified lemon law firm. Remember, there should be no upfront costs when hiring a lemon law attorney. If you are the prevailing party with your lemon law claim, the defendant has to pay for your attorneys fees and costs.   You could be eligible for a refund, replacement vehicle, or cash compensation for the diminished value of the vehicle.

Driving a lemon can be dangerous and time consuming. If you suspect your vehicle is a lemon, do not wait. Contact an experienced lemon law attorney who can review the specifics of your case and provide you with a case evaluation.