Although most state lemon laws apply to new car sales only, a few states have lemon laws that also cover used cars. You should check the definition of a "new car" in your state lemon law. (To find your state's lemon law, visit www.autopedia.com or www.lemonlawamerica.com .) Some laws, for example, will cover a car that was bought with a certain amount of mileage on the odometer. In others, the lemon law applies to used cars that were still covered by the original warranty at the time of purchase.
Getting a Refund or Replacement Car
If your car meets the lemon law requirements for your state, you have the right to obtain a refund or replacement car from the manufacturer. Although the process for getting this relief is different in each state, in all states you must first notify the manufacturer of the defect. If you're not offered a satisfactory settlement, most states require you to go to arbitration before going to court.
Preparing for a Lemon Law Arbitration
Manufacturers use a number of different arbitration programs. In many cases, the manufacturer will select the program for you. If you are given the opportunity to choose, you'll probably do better if you choose a state consumer protection agency program, rather than a manufacturer's in-house program or a private arbitration program.
BBB Auto Line Lemon Law Program
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) runs a free national program to resolve new vehicle warranty disputes. This program, called BBB Auto Line, uses mediation and arbitration (if mediation fails) to assist consumers who have lemon law claims. The program utilizes trained arbitrators who conduct hearings attended by the consumer and manufacturer. A unique feature of the program: The consumer can opt to accept or decline the arbitrators decision. However, if the consumer accepts the decision, the manufacturer must accept it as well. Most of the large car manufacturers participate in the program. For more information, contact the BBB (at www.bbb.org/us/auto-line-lemon-law/).
Consumers who bring substantial documentation and evidence to the arbitration hearing tend to do better than those with little evidence to support their claims. The types of documentation that can help include:
- brochures and ads about the vehicle (an arbitration panel is likely to make the manufacturer live up to its claims)
- vehicle service records showing how often you took the car into the shop, and
- any other documents showing your attempts to get the dealer to repair your car, including old calendars and phone records.
The arbitrator will hear both sides of the dispute and make a decision, usually within 60 days after the hearing. Under the BBB Auto Line program, the timeline is much shorter -- usually three business days. If the arbitrator decides that your car is a lemon, you will be entitled to a refund or replacement.
It is important to take the arbitration seriously and be as prepared as possible. Although usually you can appeal a bad arbitration decision in court, the decision can greatly influence your case.
This whole process can take a long time. Most lemon laws allow you to keep using your car while pursuing a claim. But be careful: Never use your car if doing so poses a safety risk. Even if you can drive your car safely, some courts may view your case less favorably if they know that you were able to keep driving your car.
More Information on Lemon Laws
Your rights will depend on the laws of the particular state where you live or where you bought the car.
- To get your state's lemon law, visit www.autopedia.com or www.lemonlawamerica.com.
- The nonprofit Center for Auto Safety (www.autosafety.org ) has detailed information about common defects in various car makes and models.
- The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (www.nhtsa.dot.gov or 800-424-9393) investigates and researches consumer complaints about car defects.
- Return to Sender: Getting A Refund or Replacement for Your Lemon Car, by Nancy Barron (available from the National Consumer Law Center, www.consumerlaw.org), contains detailed information about getting relief under lemon laws and includes a summary of each state's lemon law.
To learn more about leasing or purchasing a used or new car, get Nolos Encyclopedia of Everyday Law, by Shae Irving and the editors of Nolo. This handy guide contains hundreds of answers to the average Americans most frequently asked legal questions.
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