Lemon Law for New Cars

If your car turns out to be a lemon, you may be able to get a refund or replacement vehicle. Here's how.

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An estimated 150,000 cars each year (or 1% of new cars) are lemons -- cars that have repeated, unfixable problems. Every state has enacted some type of "lemon law" to help consumers who get stuck with these defective cars.

In order to take advantage of these laws, you need to know what qualifies as a lemon and how to get a refund or replacement car.

What Qualifies as a "Lemon"?

In order to qualify as a lemon under most state laws, the car must (1) 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) not be fixed after a reasonable number of repair attempts. In most states, the lemon law only applies to new cars (but see below).

Substantial Defect

A "substantial defect" is a problem covered by the warranty that impairs the car's use, value, or safety, such as faulty brakes or steering. minor defects such as loose radio knobs and door handles do not meet the legal definition of "substantial defect."

As with most legal definitions, the line between a "minor" and a "substantial" defect is not always clear. Some not-so-obvious conditions, such as defective paint jobs or horrible smells, have been found to be substantial defects.

In all states, the substantial defect must occur within a certain period of time (usually one or two years) or within a certain number of miles (usually 12,000 or 24,000). The defect must not be caused by abuse.

Reasonable Repair Attempts

You must allow the dealer or manufacturer to make a "reasonable" number of attempts to fix a substantial problem before your car is considered to be a lemon. Usually, you must meet one of the following standards to be protected under your state's lemon law:

  • If the defect is a serious safety defect (for example, involving brakes or steering), it must remain unfixed after one repair attempt.
  • If the defect is not a serious safety defect, it must remain unfixed after three or four repair attempts (the number varies by state).
  • If the vehicle is in the shop a certain number of days (usually 30 days in a one-year period) to fix one or more substantial warranty defects, it may fit the definition of a lemon.

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