American car consumers purchase roughly 150,000 defective vehicles each year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). These “lemon” vehicles contain repeating, unfixable problems caused during the manufacturing process and can cost consumers thousands. These costs can come in unforeseen loss of work, alternative transportation fees, repair costs, towing fees and many other hits to the wallet they never expected when buying a new car. Every manufacturer, from American carmakers Ford and General Motors to foreign companies including Honda, Toyota and Volkswagen, makes thousands of lemons each year. The defects can range from somewhat minor things like paint mistakes or strange odors, to potentially dangerous ones such as braking system failures, defective airbags or malfunctioning engines.
Many consumers feel they have nowhere to turn when their brand-new car ends up a lemon. The attorneys of Allen Stewart P.C. are here to put that misconception to rest. Allen Stewart P.C. has a long history of standing up for the American consumer against automotive companies when they fail to do right by their customer. They have combined decades of experience fighting and winning on behalf of their clients and will get you the compensation you deserve and get you back on the road.
Before taking advantage of state and federal lemon laws, consumers should know what the lemon law covers and what defenses they have available. Each U.S. state has its own lemon law, offering slightly different standards of protection. All state lemon laws, however, cover what they refer to as “nonconformities.” A nonconformity” is any defect or problem caused before the vehicle’s arrival to the consumer. Many things can cause defects, including substandard materials, human error during the manufacturing process, faulty components or any other reason. The cause is less important than the result: the problem throws the vehicle out of conformity with its written warranty, hence the term.
Some consumers have said their dealer told them they have no claim, and they should either keep trying to repair the vehicle or get rid of the vehicle and try again. Luckily for the consumer, the dealer has no say in the matter. The lemon law in your state determines whether your vehicle is a lemon, not the dealer. The dealer might be trying to intimidate you, or simply get you to go away to avoid potential legal problems or disputes with the manufacturer. If your dealer tries to sway you against filing a lemon law claim, ignore them and contact a qualified lemon law attorney right away.
A common refrain from potential lemon law clients is they waited too long to report a problem. Each state lemon law has its own statute of limitations determining how long a consumer can pursue a lemon law claim. The statute’s length can vary from state to state. For example, the Texas lemon law states the consumer must ile a state lemon law complaint no later than 42 months from the date the warranty became active. However, if the consumer drives the vehicle 20,000 in the first year after the vehicle’s delivery, the consumer will need to file the Texas state lemon law complaint before the car traveled another 4,000 miles, even if that occurs before the expiration of the 42 months mentioned above.
Consumers also ask if they could file a lemon law claim if they leased the vehicle in question as opposed to purchasing it. Different state lemon laws vary in how they treat leased vehicles. The Texas lemon law, for example, does cover vehicles leased from a Texas dealer or lessor during that vehicle’s warranty period.
Many people are unsure what problems are covered by the lemon law. Each state’s lemon law coverage varies slightly state-to-state, but for the most part they cover any problem that makes the vehicle unsafe to drive or difficult to sell. The Texas lemon law, for example, covers what it calls “serious defects;” any problem that “substantially impairs the use or market value of a vehicle.”
Each state also chooses when it decides to declare a vehicle a lemon and offer lemon law protection to a consumer. A vehicle must hit certain criteria before lemon law proceedings can behind. Texas for example has three such tests a vehicle must pass: the “four times test,” the “30-day test,” or the “serious safety hazard test.”
The Texas lemon law states the consumer must let the manufacturer make four attempts to repair the vehicle’s problem before replacing or repurchasing the vehicle. These repair attempts must occur within a specific time: at least two attempts must happen within one year of the consumer receiving the vehicle or within the first 12,000 miles driven, with the next two occurring within one year or 12,000 miles driven after the first repair attempt. If this comes to pass and the defect remains, the vehicle passes the four times test.
A vehicle passes the 30-day test if it’s been out of commission for 30 days or more, specifically because of a manufacturer’s defect. Those 30 days of shop time must occur during the first two years or 24,000 miles driven without a comparable loaner vehicle offered, and there were unsuccessful repair attempts made during the first year or 12,000 miles driven.
A vehicle passes the serious safety hazard test of the owner takes it to the manufacturer to repair a serious safety problem during the first 12 months of ownership or 12,000 miles driven, whichever comes first, an then once more during the 12 months or 12,000 miles following the first repair attempts without the problem being fixed. The Texas lemon law defines a “serious safety hazard” as any life-threatening malfunction that substantially impedes the driver’s ability to control or operate the vehicle normally, or that creates a substantial risk of fire or explosion.
One thing every state’s lemon law mentions is that problems caused by unauthorized, after-market modifications are not covered by the warranty and therefore cannot be covered under lemon law. However if you made a modification to your vehicle and you experience an unrelated defect, that defect should still be covered by the warranty. For example, if you install a spoiler on the back of your car, that likely won’t have any effect on engine or brake defects encountered afterward. It is always important to bring this up with your lemon law attorney early in the claims process to make sure.
One of the questions lemon law attorneys receive the most often is whether their used vehicle is covered by state or federal lemon laws. Unfortunately, most states throughout America (with a few exceptions, including New York) do not extend lemon law protection to used car customers. If the defect makes itself known during the vehicle’s original warranty period, it’s covered. However most used vehicles are resold long after the original manufacturer’s warranty expires. It’s always safest to ask a qualified lemon law attorney before making a final decision.
State lemon laws generally offer two different options for compensation: replacement or repurchase. One involves getting a new car like the old one, the other is essentially getting your money back by selling the car back to the manufacturer.
Repurchase means the manufacturer repays the consumer what they paid for the vehicle, including the actual price, sales taxes, title, registration and other fees. This does not include interest, insurance costs or finance charges. The law also states the manufacturer must pay “reasonable incidental costs resulting from the loss of use of the motor vehicle.” The Texas lemon law defines these costs as 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 involves the manufacture providing a properly functioning vehicle comparable to the original defective one. “Comparable,” in this case, meaning one of a similar make a model. The manufacturer must reimburse the consumer for incidental costs just like they do in case of repurchase.
Both options come with a caveat: the manufacturer can withhold “reasonable allowances for the consumer’s use of the vehicle.” This is calculated by using the miles driven before problems made themselves evident. Basically the longer you drove the lemon before discovering it was a lemon, the less the manufacturer has to pay you back.
Car consumers in all states are covered by the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act. The Act covers not just motor vehicles but all products sold in the United States with a written manufacturer’s warranty. The Act makes companies used plain, easily understood language in their written warranties and makes them stand by them in court, if necessary. If a company doesn’t hold up the terms of the warranty they offered, the Act empowers consumers to get compensation.
The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act makes companies designate any warranties they offer as either “full” or “limited” and say exactly what they cover in a single, clear, easy-to-read document. They must also make the warranty conspicuously available for consumer review, allowing consumers to shop for warranty coverage before making a purchase.
The Act also keeps these companies from changing, denying or modifying implied warranties with their written ones. 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 point A to point B safely. A car that cannot do this does not conform to the implied warranty of merchantability.
The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act arose in response to alleged widespread consumer rights violations by companies in the 1900s. Before the Act’s creation “let the buyer beware” was the cornerstone of much of American consumer law. As industrialization widened the gulf between end consumers and producers grew, the country needed new laws to govern consumer/business interaction.
Lawmakers first attempted unifying consumer and transaction laws across the country with the still-extant Uniform Commercial Code (UCC). States adopted code into their statutes either fully or partially, even though the Code itself is not law. Every U.S. state but Louisiana adopted UCC rules, who instead opted to keep their own Napoleonic civil law traditions.
The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act helps consumers by giving them and their attorneys the tools they need to pursue lemon law claims in court. If your vehicle’s manufacturer fails to live up to their end of the warranty, a lemon law attorney can help you pursue your lemon law claim and get the justice you deserve.
Consumers often express concern that they cannot afford to hire a lemon law attorney. A key provision in the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act is that your attorney gets their fee from the manufacturer when you prevail in court. This allows consumers to get legal help without worrying about paying for it: consumers pay nothing out of pocket.
In fact, when pursuing a lemon law case, you can’t afford to not hire an attorney. Allen Stewart himself said he’s never seen a consumer represent themselves in court against a manufacturer and come out on top.
“Even the simplest things in the law can be complicated because if you miss the timeline, you could lose it all,” Stewart said. “If you file the wrong paperwork, it could set you back time and money, and you might lose the case.”
Hiring a qualified lemon law attorney is the first step you should take when starting a lemon law claim, and often the best one for the life of that claim. The lemon law attorneys of Allen Stewart P.C. have represented countless automotive consumers and represented them successfully in and out of court. If you think you have a lemon and the manufacturer isn’t helping you, contact the law offices of Allen Stewart P.C. today. The sooner you act, the sooner you can get back behind the wheel.