A manufacturer’s warranty is their promise to you that if their product doesn’t work, they’ll make the situation right. That counts for any product sold with a warranty, including vehicles. Thousands of American consumers each year find out about this the hard way. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates Americans inadvertently purchase 150,000 defective vehicles every year. These “lemon” vehicles leave the factory with repeating, unfixable problems. These defects can range from the seemingly innocuous to life-threatening; from paint job problems to major safety threats. No matter what caused these problems, whether it was substandard materials, faulty components, faulty design or worker error, one thing remains true: the manufacturer is on the hook. They are responsible for the vehicle and making it right with the consumer. When they fail at this, lemon laws and lemon law attorneys can take them to court to get compensation for the wronged consumer.
Each state has its own version of “lemon law” that details protections for consumers with defective cars. These laws detail how much protection to which they are entitled and for how long, giving them and their attorneys the tools needed to take the manufacturer on in court. Along with state laws lemon law attorneys rely on the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act as another tool when pursuing lemon law claims; the Act backs up and supersedes state law and protects consumers when state laws otherwise would fall short.
Warranties themselves are crucial to lemon law cases. With a manufacturer’s warranty, the consumer has no legal basis of protection. New car purchases always come with a written warranty which details how long the manufacturer will provide free repairs for any problem discovered within the vehicle not the fault of the consumer themselves. A consumer looking to purchase a new vehicle should always check the warranty before making a purchasing decision; the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act forces automakers selling vehicles in the United States to make their written warranties available up front, so consumers can shop based on warranty coverage. The consumer should check how long the warranty lasts, who they should contact for warranty service, how the company says it will handle warrantied problems, and what conditions or limitations are included in the warranty.
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This reliance on warranties is why in almost every case, used car purchases are not protected by state or federal lemon laws. Most used cars are resold long after the vehicle’s original factory warranty expired. If the vehicle was resold while still under warranty protection, however, a lemon law attorney could possibly still pursue a claim. If there is any kind of confusion, a consumer should contact a qualified lemon law lawyer with their purchase information to see what options remain open to them.
Written warranties clearly state what the manufacturer will and won’t cover. “Implied warranties,” or “warranties of merchantability,” are part of state laws meaning a seller of goods promises the product will do what it is meant to do. For example: a new car should be able to safely move passenger and cargo from one location to another. If the car cannot do this, it doesn’t conform to the implied warranty. The only way a seller can get around this is if the product is marked “as is,” indicating no warranty is provided. Several states do not legally allow “as is” sales.
Manufacturer’s warranties protect consumers from what lemon laws term “nonconformities.” Nonconformities are recurring, unfixable problems that throw the vehicle “out of conformity” with its written warranty. Nonconformities range from minor problems (unpleasant smells, unidentifiable rattles, radio problems) to major issues (non-functional brakes, catastrophic engine failure, safety systems that fail to protect occupants). Whether it’s a major or minor problem, any repeated and unfixable problem throws the vehicle out of conformity with its warranty. Even comparatively small problems can affect a vehicle’s resale value, negatively affecting the owner.
Every state requires any vehicle meet specific criteria before declaring it a lemon, allowing for legal recourse. Texas, for example, requires vehicles pass one of three tests to be consider a lemon. Those tests are the serious safety hazard test, the four times test, or the 30-day test.
A vehicle passes the serious safety hazard test if the vehicle owner submits the vehicle for repair of a serious safety hazard once during the first 12 months of ownership or 12,000 miles, whichever comes first, and then once more during the 12 months or 12,000 miles following the first repair attempts without the problem being fixed.
A vehicle passes the four times test if it’s been taken to a dealership for repairs two times for the same problem or defect within the first year or 12,000 miles, whichever comes first, and twice more during the first 12 months or 12,000 miles following the first repair attempt without the problem being fixed.
A vehicle passes the 30-day test if it has been out of service for repair because of problems covered by the original factory warranty for a total of 30 days or more during the first two years or 24,000 miles of ownership without a comparable loaner vehicle offered, and there were two repair attempts during the first year or 12,000 without any success.
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States also vary in when consumers must report potential defects. Texas consumers must file their lemon law complaint within 42 months of receiving the vehicle or within the first 24,000 miles driven, whichever comes first.
Some states offer protection for consumers who lease vehicles instead of buying them, while others do not. Arizona, for example, does not protect lessees if their leased vehicle ends up a lemon. The Arizona Supreme Court decided in 2006 the leasing company technically owns the vehicle, meaning the leasing company and not the consumer owns the vehicle and is thusly protected by the state’s lemon law. Texas, on the other hand, protects consumers who lease their vehicles.
Consumers whose lemon law claims resolve successfully usually have one of two options: repurchase or replacement. A repurchase is also known as a “buyback,” essentially a refund. The manufacturer buys the car back from the consumer, including sales taxes, title registration and other fees. Most state laws also require the manufacturer reimburse you for incidental costs you encountered because of the vehicle’s defects, including rental car fees, towing costs, phone or mail communications made when contacting the dealership or manufacturer, personal property damage, attorney’s fees if the consumer hires an attorney after learning the manufacturer has also hired an attorney, and even room and board if the vehicle fails while on an out-of-town trip.
Replacement is exactly what it sounds like: the manufacturer provides a vehicle as similar as possible to the lemon vehicle, though one would hope without any defects.
Both options come with one caveat, however. Most states allow manufacturers to withhold a “reasonable allowance for the consumer’s use of the vehicle” from the amount refunded. They calculate this amount based on how many miles the consumer drove the vehicle before reporting a defect. Someone who chooses a repurchase after discovering a defect a week into ownership will get more back than someone who drove their defective vehicle for a month before reporting the problem.
The lemon law attorneys of Allen Stewart P.C. have combined decades of experience in fighting for clients in and out of the courtroom when their vehicle manufacturer tries to skirt responsibility for lemon vehicles. The sooner you reach out the better your chances of getting a positive outcome for your lemon law claim. Contact the law offices of Allen Stewart P.C. today and get back on the road.