Do car problems have to occur within 12 months of purchase to qualify under lemon law?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Lemon laws vary by state, but in many states, in order to be protected by lemon law you’ll need to experience car problems within 12 to 24 months of purchase, or 12,000 to 24,000 miles. Because the timeframe varies by state, it’s important to check your state’s lemon law for specific requirements. For example, in the state of California, car problems must be experienced within 18 months or 18,000 miles, while in states such as Wisconsin and Wyoming, problems must be experienced within one year, regardless of mileage.

Other Requirements for Protection under State Lemon Laws

In addition to occurring within a certain time-period, any given problem with the vehicle must be characterized as a substantial defect, meaning it must affect the use, value, or safety of the car or the defect is considered a serious safety defect, which is likely to cause death or serious bodily injury if the vehicle is driven. While specific substantial defects vary by state, common examples include bad brakes, missing or broken seatbelts, gas leaks, a cracked windshield, or even a missing muffler. Cosmetic issues such as rust or tears in the interior do not qualify as substantial defects.

The car manufacturer must also be given multiple opportunities to repair the car. The number of opportunities a car manufacturer (or dealer) has to correct the problem varies by state. For example, in North Carolina, Arizona, and Wisconsin, the manufacturer or dealer will have at least four opportunities to correct the problem before the car is considered a lemon. In states such as Florida, the manufacturer has three opportunities to repair the problem before the car is labeled a lemon.

Note that how many reasonable repair attempts is reduced if the defect is considered a serious safety defect with the possibility of serious injury or death. In these cases, the manufacturer or dealer must correct the problem in one attempt. Check with the Better Business Bureau to review specific lemon laws in your state. 

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Lemon Law: An Alternative Remedy

If your car’s defect does not become apparent within your states allotted time-period, an alternative remedy may be available to you. If your car is still under warranty when you notice the defect, you may have a breach of warranty claim under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act. This federal law protects consumers from unfair warranties and enforces the obligations of the car manufacturer created by a written warranty. You can file a claim under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act even if your warranty has expired, so long as the problem occurred during the warranty period. This type of claim usually entitles the car owner to cash damages equal to the amount of the decrease in value of the car, plus attorney’s fees.

If the allotted time-period under your state’s lemon law has passed, you may want to contact an attorney experienced with lemon law and breach of warranty issues. A lemon law attorney can help you determine whether you have a claim under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act.

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