American car consumers purchase thousands of vehicles every year from a wide array of manufacturers, and many of those vehicles end up containing repeating, unfixable defects. These defects spoil what would otherwise be an exciting time in a person’s life. Luckily, those who fall victim to defective cars aren’t alone. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates consumers inadvertently purchase 150,000 of these “lemon” vehicles every year. Issues that make a car a lemon can range from the seemingly innocuous such as paint mistakes or strange odors, to the dangerous, such as engine problems or malfunctioning safety systems. Regardless of the severity, these defects all lead to the vehicle being declared a lemon, and depending on how the vehicle was purchased, makes the consumer eligible for lemon law protections.
Consumers who buy their vehicles brand new from automobile manufacturers are protected not only by state lemon laws, but by the federal-level Magnuson Moss Warranty Act. Consumers who buy used vehicles have fewer protections, and fewer still do those consumers who purchase used vehicles from private sellers. Private vehicle sales present unique challenges when it comes to lemon law coverage. Some U.S. states offer protection to consumers who purchase vehicles from private sellers, while others offer no special protections at all.
Minnesota, for example, has a lemon law that makes used car dealers provide some sort of warranty for most used vehicles. However that law doesn’t apply to cars bought from private sellers, whether they be family members, friends, or random people found on the internet. Most private car sales are considered “as is,” and as such the buyer should beware.
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Lemon law protections hinge on protections offered by the vehicle’s original manufacturer-provided warranty. If the vehicle is resold to a private buyer within the original warranty period, the consumer can still report any defect to the manufacturer if the defect occurs during the warranty period. If the manufacturer fails to uphold the written warranty, a lemon law attorney can step in and begin legal proceedings forcing them to do so- or compensate the owner.
Some states do offer special protections to consumers who purchase used vehicles from private sellers. Massachusetts, for example, allows buyers to void a purchase of a motor vehicle if the vehicle fails to pass a state inspection within seven days of the purchase. This doesn’t apply if the vehicle fails inspection because of damage or negligence occurring after the sale, and if the costs of repairs needed to pass inspection are more than 10 percent of the vehicle’s purchase price. The state’s law makes private sellers inform buyers of all known defects that affect the vehicle’s safety or substantially affects the vehicle’s use. If the buyer finds a defect and can show the seller knew about it and did not disclose it, the buyer can cancel the sale within 30 days of the purchase and the seller must refund the money spent, minus 15 cents per mile driven since the purchase occurred.
Other states, New York for example, offer specific warranty protections for used vehicles beyond what is usually offered by the manufacturer. These sorts of state-level protections for used vehicles are rare, however.
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Andrew Ross, a lemon law attorney with Allen Stewart P.C., said used car consumers are often out of luck if they expect the manufacturer to repurchase or replace their used vehicle.
“If a consumer is hoping to force the manufacturer to repurchase or replace their used vehicle, the Texas Lemon Law is not going to help the consumer achieve their goal,” Ross said. “The only relief that may be afforded is that the consumer may be able to force the manufacturer to repair the problems experienced in the vehicle.”
The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act is a federal law which supersedes state laws when invoked. The Act arose following decades of state-by-state confusion and de facto buyer beware laws. As American industry evolved and manufacturers grew more remote from the end consumer, Americans demanded new laws to protect consumers when companies sold them defective goods.
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The Act makes companies plainly state the coverage offered in their warranties up-front before the sale, letting consumers shop based on warranty coverage. It makes companies designate their warranties as “full” or “limited,” and specify the coverage offered in a single, easy-to-read document. The Act also keeps companies from disclaiming or modifying implied warranties with their written counterparts. This means consumers are always entitled to the basic protections of “implied warranties of merchantability;” that a good sold must do what that good is supposed to. For example: a new car should operate and convey passengers and cargo from one place to another safely. A car that cannot do this does not conform to the implied warranty of merchantability.
Lemon laws are confusing. Read our guide to the lemon law process.
The Act gives consumers the tools they need to take on their vehicle’s manufacturers in court when the manufacturer doesn’t uphold their end of the warranty. Consumers can pursue these lemon law claims and then have their attorney’s fees paid by the manufacturer if the consumer prevails in court.
Consumers must act quickly when they discover a defect, as statutes of limitations govern how long they have to file a claim. Lemon law attorneys often exhort potential clients to “call today” as time is of the essense. In Texas, for example, the statute of limitations for a lemon law claim is six months following whichever occurs first: the warranty’s expiration, 24 months after the purchase, or 24,000 miles driven on the vehicle in question after its date of delivery. After that, claims cannot be filed.
The clock starts ticking the moment you discover a problem with your new car. The sooner you reach out to Allen Stewart P.C., the better your chances of a successful lemon law claim. The lawyers of Allen Stewart P.C. have combined decades of experience taking on automotive manufacturers when they sell defective vehicles. The sooner you act, the sooner you can get the justice you deserve and get back on the road. Contact Allen Stewart P.C. today and get back behind the wheel.