Lemon Law and You

How to avoid getting squeezed


Whenever you buy or lease a new automobile, it’s important to read and understand the warranty information it comes with. These often lengthy documents outline your warranty service, stating what components are covered and what is not, for how long, and how to go about getting warranty repairs done. Manufacturers follow their own guidelines when it comes to handling warranty claims and every manufacturer is different to some degree.

Warranty disputes are not that uncommon and it’s usually differences in opinion on the cause (of a certain effect or defect) that leads to more serious disputes. Sometimes, manufacturers decide not to honor a warranty claim even if you think a failed or faulty component should be covered. In cases like this, it’s important to know that you, as a consumer, have rights governed by both state and federal laws to help protect your automotive investment.

Warranty law is complex and difficult to explain, but every new vehicle owner or lease holder is doing themselves a favor by learning the basics of the “federal” Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, which makes a breach of warranty illegal under federal jurisprudence. The act, which Congress originally passed in 1975, is more commonly referred to as “Lemon Law” and requires manufacturers and sellers of consumer products to provide consumers detailed information about warranty coverage. It has implications on the rights of consumers as well as the obligations of warrantors under written warranties and, therefore, helps you decide whether or not you have grounds for a case.

Consumers everywhere are protected by the federal Lemon Law as it applies to all consumer products, including cars, trucks, motorcycles, boats, RVs and all other ordinary consumer products. However, similar to the vehicle manufacturers, each state abides by its own Lemon Law. In California, for instance, it’s called the Tanner Consumer Protection Act (civil code section 1793.22-1793.26), but in Florida it’s known as the Motor Vehicle Warranty Enforcement Act (chapter 681). Most states are similar to the federal act though.

A copy of the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act can be found on the Weisberg & Meyers website. The U.S. Government offers some additional reading in the form of its “Businessperson’s Guide to Federal Warranty Law,” which can be found here.

In all states, generally, you can seek retribution from the manufacturer if they have made three to four attempts to repair the same problem, or made six to eight repairs to the entire product during the original warranty period, plus up to four additional years.

If you suspect your vehicle is a lemon, or if you have outstanding warranty claims that are going nowhere, your recourse should begin at the state level. And, because state lemon laws vary, contacting an attorney to advise you of your rights is a very good idea.

In most states, resolving a lemon law dispute will require you to hire a lawyer to take the vehicle manufacturer to court (not the dealer) unless that state uses an arbitration board to resolve disputes. If that’s the case, you would present your case to the arbitration board with or without an attorney present so they can make a decision. If the board’s decision is not satisfactory, you would then have the option to sue the manufacturer in a court of law.

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