Buying a new car or truck usually means not having to worry about breakdowns and repairs. But what do you do if your new vehicle turns out to be a lemon? In Florida, you can turn to the Motor Vehicle Warranty Enforcement Act, otherwise known as the Lemon Law, for help.
(To learn about other laws in Florida that protect consumers or help debtors, visit our Florida Debt Management Center.)
Definition of a Lemon
Under the Florida statute, your new or demonstration vehicle is a lemon if it has defects or develops conditions within the first 24 months which substantially impair its use, value or safety. These defects or conditions are generally referred to as "non-conformities." Damage caused by accidents, neglect, abuse, modification, or alteration by someone other than the manufacturer or its authorized service agent are not covered.
The types of problems that qualify as non-conformities vary by your specific situation. Some examples of problems that have qualified in the past include:
- mechanical problems or electrical problems that affect major components or the entire electrical system (use)
- braking defects or fire hazards (safety), and
- paint problems which require re-painting the entire vehicle or major overhauls that will affect resale value (value).
Which Vehicles Are Covered?
New and demonstrator motor vehicles purchased in Florida for personal, family, or household use are covered by the law. A leased vehicle is covered only if it is a lease-purchase, or a lease for more than one year and the lessee is responsible for repairs. Generally "motor vehicle" means a car or truck, but it can include a recreational vehicle (RV) provided the problem is not with the living quarters of the RV. If there is a problem with the transmission, for example, an RV would be covered.
Vehicles not covered. Trucks with a gross weight of more than 10,000 pounds are not covered. Motorcycles, ATVs, scooters, mopeds and similar vehicles are also not covered by the Lemon Law but may be covered by other consumer statutes.
If a qualifying vehicle is transferred between consumers within 24 months of delivery to the first consumer, and both use the vehicle for personal, household or family use, the vehicle remains covered.
How to Preserve Your Rights Under the Lemon Law
Relief under the Lemon Law is not automatic. You must keep accurate records, use a manufacturer authorized repair shop, and obtain written repair orders. You must also give the manufacturer a chance to repair, or "bring the vehicle into conformance," and file your claim timely.
Four Repair Attempts or Thirty Days Out of Service
Generally, to qualify, your vehicle must have been out of service for repair of one or more different problems for a total of at least 30 days, or you must have taken it to an authorized repair shop to address a recurring problem at least four times within the first two years of ownership.
You may qualify with less if the dealer tells you that there is nothing it can do and does not attempt to repair the problem or otherwise bring the vehicle into conformance.
Time Limitations for Making a Claim
There are strict time limitations for making a claim. After the third failed repair attempt, or after at least 15 days out-of-service for repair, you must give written notification to the manufacturer (not the dealer) to give it one more chance to fix the vehicle.
The manufacturer then has 10 days to direct you to a reasonably accessible repair facility and another 10 days after that to repair the recurring problem, or up to a total of 30 days out-of-service (counting the pre-notification time) to bring the vehicle into conformance.
If the vehicle still has a non-conformity which substantially impairs use, safety or value, and the manufacturer does not voluntarily agree to give you a refund or replace the vehicle, you must make your Lemon Law claim within 26 months of the date you took delivery of the vehicle.
The Lemon Law Claim Process
The actual claim is initiated by submitting a request for arbitration. This can be done in one of two ways.
Manufacturer Sponsored Program. If the state has certified an arbitration program sponsored by your vehicle manufacturer, you must request arbitration through that program. Information on how to make a request through the manufacturers program should be in your warranty or other purchase or lease documents. The Attorney General’s office can provide you with information on whether your manufacturer has a program certified by the state.
Florida New Vehicle Arbitration Board. This is the state sponsored board which is administered by the office of the Florida Attorney General. You can request arbitration with this board if
- your manufacturer does not sponsor its own state-certified program,
- your manufacturer’s program fails to make a decision within 40 days, or
- you are not satisfied with a decision made by the manufacturer’s program within the last 30 days.
When a request is filed with the state, it is reviewed for eligibility. The board can
- request additional information,
- reject the claims, or
- schedule an arbitration hearing.
The Arbitration Hearing
You present your evidence at the arbitration hearing. The arbitration hearing is informal and does not follow court evidence rules. You can be represented by an attorney or you can represent yourself. The attorney general’s office cannot represent you at the hearing. Testimony is taken under oath and each party is allowed to ask questions of the witnesses. The board may also decide to inspect your vehicle or to take it on a test drive to observe the problem first hand. You are also permitted to attend an arbitration proceeding in advance to find out what they are like before you have to appear at your own.
The hearings are generally split into two parts. At the first, it is determined whether the vehicle is a lemon. If it is, a second hearing is set to determine whether you will receive a replacement vehicle or a refund. If you are receiving a refund, the hearing is used to calculate the amount due. You may be allowed additional funds for incidental expenses but the manufacture may be allowed credits for mileage and trade in expenses. Information on how the amounts are calculated can be found on the attorney general’s website.
The decision of the Board becomes final if no appeal is filed with the court within 30 days. If you prevail, the manufacturer then has 40 days to comply with the board order. If you did not win, the claim is dismissed and you get nothing.
Manufacturer Must Pay Your Attorneys Fees If You Prevail
In Florida, you can hire a lawyer to assist you with your Lemon Law claim at the manufacturer’s expense. Under the law, the manufacturer must pay your attorneys fees if you prevail. As a result,most attorneys who handle these types of actions offer representation on a contingency or deferred fee basis with no fee if you do not prevail.
Contact the Florida Attorney General for Information
The office of the Attorney General maintains a Lemon Law Hotline at (800) 321-5366 as well as a Lemon Law website, which includes
- Motor Vehicle Defect Notification forms,
- Request for Arbitration forms,
- a list of vehicles found to be lemons,
- guidelines for calculating monetary refunds,
- written decisions of the Arbitration Board, and
- a list of state certified manufacturer arbitration programs.