American consumers purchase thousands of new vehicles every year, many of which end up defective. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates 50,000 vehicles sold in the United States every year are considered “lemon” vehicles. These “lemons” contain repeating, unfixable defects ranging from minor cosmetic issues to major safety hazards. Every manufacturer inadvertently sells lemons, including Honda, Ford, Volkswagen, General Motors and more. Defects can spring from any number of causes, including mistakes in manufacturing, use of substandard materials or faulty components or simple employee error at the factory. Regardless of the cause, it is the manufacturer’s responsibility to make these problems right and make the consumer whole again. When they fail to do so, lemon laws allow consumers and their attorneys to pursue relief in a court of law.
Lemon laws importantly require auto manufacturers to pay the plaintiff’s attorneys fees when the plaintiff prevails in court, meaning the consumer pays nothing out of pocket. This is crucial considering how much a lemon can cost its owner in repair costs, lost wages, alternative transportation expenses, towing and so much more. A lemon can disrupt its owner’s life and remediation must be made.
Each state has its own “lemon law” and Texas is no different. The Texas lemon law covers consumers who unknowingly purchase vehicles afflicted with unfixable defects. The law refers to these defects as “nonconformities,” as their presence throws the vehicle out of conformity with its written manufacturer’s warranty. The Texas lemon law specifically covers “serious defects,” defined as a problem that “substantially impairs the use or market value of the vehicle.” If the problem makes it harder for the consumer to safely use the vehicle, such as an engine or braking problem, the Texas law covers it. If the problem makes it harder for the consumer to sell the vehicle close to market value, such as an unpleasant odor or problem with the paint, the Texas lemon law covers that as well.
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The law does not cover, however, any problem caused by the consumer’s abuse, neglect or unauthorized modifications to the vehicle. If the problem you’re experiencing is caused by post-purchase damage or an unauthorized after-market modification, the Texas lemon law offers no recourse. The law also does not cover minor issues such as stereo problems or minor rattling noises.
Some states differ on whether or not they cover leased vehicles. Texas extends lemon law protections to consumers who lease vehicles.
While knowing one’s options if they get stuck with a lemon is important, it’s just as important to avoid buying a lemon in the first place. Consumers can exercise a little forethought when vehicle shopping and reduce their chances of buying a lemon car.
One of the best ways to avoid a lemon is researching the make and model in which you are interested and checking its reliability record. Websites such as Consumer Reports collect reliability information on recently released vehicles and publish news on the newest recall information. If the vehicle you want to buy is already the subject of a recall (or several), consider choosing a different one. The NHTSA’s website also publishes all of its recall notices online, for free.
You should also check the NHTSA’s website for Technical Service Bulletins, or TSBs. These are reports a manufacturer sends its dealer about recurring issues with a specific vehicle model and how to remediate them. These usually aren’t safety related and thusly manufacturers are rarely obligated to notify owners. Forewarned is forearmed when it comes to buying a new vehicle.
Lemon laws are confusing. Read our guide to the lemon law complaint process.
When at the dealership, check the Buyer’s Guide attached to the vehicle’s window. The Federal Trade Commission requires dealers to include these guides with every vehicle they sell. These guides contain a wealth of information, including whether the vehicle comes with a warranty or is a used car sold “as-is.” It is vital to read this document carefully to know what protections you are being offered; if the buyer’s guide says you have a warranty, the manufacturer must honor it or face legal repercussions.
Warranties provide the foundation for American lemon laws. Without warranty coverage, consumers have no legal basis of protection. The warranty is a promise from the manufacturer to the consumer that if something goes wrong with the car, the manufacturer will make it right. When they break this promise, lemon laws provide consumers and their lemon law attorneys with the legal tools they need to get compensation.
A quick test drive can also suss out any problems ahead of a purchase. Closer inspection can find problems like paint issues or mismatched body panels on the outside, and time spent inside the vehicle can help you find strange odors, problems with the instrument panel, or cosmetic problems. Getting the vehicle in motion can help you find problems with the engine or drivetrain and bringing it to a rapid stop can find problems with the brakes or seatbelts. Never buy a vehicle without test driving it first.
If you buy the vehicle and discover problems with it later, that vehicle must meet certain criteria before qualifying for lemon law relief. You must take the vehicle back to the dealership or their authorized repair locations and let them attempt to fix the problem. They have a limited number of attempts to repair the vehicle successfully before it is officially declared a lemon. The number of attempts and time allowed to fix the problem differ in each state. Texas consumers, for example, must have vehicles that pass one of three tests before they can pursue a lemon law claim: the four times test, the 30 days test, or the serious safety hazard test.
If the manufacturer fails to successfully repair the defect after four attempts, the vehicle passes the four times test.
Think you have a lemon, click here to fill out a 30 second form.
A vehicle passes the 30-day test if it has been in the shop for repair because of problems covered by the original factory warranty for 30 days or more. Specifically, these 30 days must occur 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.
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, and 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.
It’s best to avoid buying a lemon at all, but if you do, you have options. The lemon law lawyers of Allen Stewart P.C. have combined decades of experience fighting manufacturers in court on behalf of consumers. They have a storied record of getting positive outcomes for their clients. The longer you wait, the more difficult pursuing your claim becomes. Contact Allen Stewart P.C. today.