Lemon vehicles are more prevalent in the United States than you might realize. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates Americans unknowingly buy purchase 150,000 vehicles each year containing repeated, unrepairable defects. These defective vehicles, colloquially called “lemons,” can cost consumers thousands of dollars in repair costs, lost wages from being unable to work, alternative transportation costs, towing fees, and other expenses.
Every automotive manufacturer has built and sold lemons including General Motors, Volkswagen, Ford and many more. These vehicles become lemons because of problems introduced during the manufacturing process, whether from substandard materials, faulty components, or simple human error during the assembly process. No matter what causes them, one thing stays the same: the manufacturer is at fault and must make the situation right.
Automobiles, like any complex machine, require upkeep and maintenance throughout their lifespan. General wear and tear along with mishaps can necessitate time in the garage. As a vehicle ages, the components within wear out and require repair or replacement. Newer cars, fresh off the assembly line, shouldn’t experience such problems. As such new vehicles experiencing issues can be brought back to the dealership or its licensed repair center during the vehicle warranty period.
Consumers can sometimes be confused as to what kind of car problems make a vehicle a lemon. Simply put, the problems that make a vehicle a lemon are repeating and unrepairable and arise as a result with the vehicle’s design or manufacture. A flat tire, for instance, would not make your vehicle a lemon… unless there was something about the vehicle itself that was constantly flattening the tires.
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Problems that make a vehicle a lemon are called “nonconformities,” as they force the vehicle “out of conformity” with its written manufacturer’s warranty. Nonconformities range from minor problems (unpleasant smells, unidentifiable rattles, radio problems) to major issues (brake failure, engines that won’t start or stop unexpectedly, 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.
When these problems occur because of a one-off problem and are fixed easily, they don’t make the vehicle a lemon. If the problem occurred because of the owner’s actions, that also doesn’t meet the requirements for lemonhood. It’s when the problem remains despite the mechanic’s best efforts that the vehicle becomes a lemon, or when the problem arises because of the manufacturer themselves.
Warranty coverage is the key to lemon law coverage in the United States. Without a written manufacturer’s warranty, 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 what they need to get compensation.
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The State of Texas, for example, uses three tests to determine whether a vehicle qualifies as a lemon. These tests generally screen out issues that would be considered normal car problems. If the vehicle passes the four times test, the 30-days test, or the serious safety hazard test, those problems go beyond the scope of normal issues and make the car a lemon.
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.
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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.
Many consumers who could have filed lemon law claims but didn’t often lament they waited too long. 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. It’s imperative the moment you first notice a problem with your new car that you report it to the dealership immediately. Keep meticulous records of all repairs done on the vehicle, including the steps the technicians took, when they began repairs and how long it took. This documentation forms the foundation of a successful lemon law claim and will help your attorneys get you a positive resolution as quickly as possible.
Lemon laws are confusing. Read our guide to the lemon law complaint process.
The single best step you can take for the good of your lemon law claim is hiring a qualified, experienced lemon law attorney. Lemon law lawyers know the ins-and-outs of state and federal laws and use that knowledge to guide your claim to success. Attorney Allen Stewart said throughout his career, he’s never seen a consumer without an attorney take on their vehicle’s manufacturer and prevail.
“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.”
When you first notice a problem with your vehicle, your first step should be notifying your dealership. Your next step should be reaching out to Allen Stewart P.C. The lemon law attorneys of Allen Stewart P.C. have combined decades of experience taking on automotive manufacturers and getting justice for consumers. The sooner you act, the sooner you get back on the road: contact Allen Stewart P.C. today.