What should I do if I suspect my car is a lemon?

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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: Jun 19, 2018

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The definition of a lemon (or lemon car) may vary slightly from state to state, but in general, a lemon is a car that has a substantial defect that, no matter how many times the dealer or manufacturer has attempted to correct it, the defect remains. Substantial defects rarely include issues such as a broken stereo or say, ripped leather seats. A substantial defect is a defect that has an impact on a car’s use, value, or safety, especially if it is a serious safety defect likely to cause serious bodily injury (or death) if driven. What may be considered a substantial defect varies from state to state, but some common examples of a substantial defect include faulty brakes, a missing muffler, faulty steering, broken or no seatbelts, a cracked windshield, or a gas leak.

How to Determine if Your Car Is a Lemon

If you believe your car is a lemon, you may be able to receive compensation from the car manufacturer, but first you’ll need to build a case. Start by researching lemon laws in your state, as the requirements for proving that your car is a lemon vary from one state to the next. For example, in some states, such as Arizona, North Carolina and Wisconsin, you must attempt to repair the car at least four times before it is deemed a lemon, while in other states, such as Florida, all it takes is three repair attempts to label the car a lemon, make a claim, and possibly win your case.

It is important to note that in most states, the number of reasonable repair attempts decreases to one when the defect is a serious safety defect that can cause serious bodily injury or death. To learn more about your state’s lemon laws check with the Better Business Bureau for a simple summary of each states’ laws.

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Holding a Car Manufacturer Responsible

Once the car has been deemed a lemon, there’s still quite a bit of work to do before appealing to the manufacturer or dealer. First, you must compile your car repair records as well as receipts for those repairs. Next, make several copies of all receipts and correspondence. These records will provide evidence of the ongoing problems. After you have made the minimum number of repair attempts required by your state’s lemon law and gathered all of the necessary paperwork, contact your dealer or car manufacturer to request a refund or replacement.

Mail a written letter that includes information about your car, such as the year, model, make, where it was purchased, and the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). The letter should also describe the problems you have had with the car, the number of attempts you have made to repair it, the cost of those repairs, and your state’s lemon law requirements. Be sure to include your desired resolution, such as a refund or replacement.

Legal Remedies under Lemon Law

If the dealer or car manufacturer does not respond to your letter/request or provides you with a remedy that is unsatisfactory to you, depending on your state’s lemon law, you may be able to request arbitration or take the manufacturer directly to court. If you find yourself overwhelmed by the process, contact an attorney who specializes in lemon law to help guide you through your state’s lemon laws and available legal remedies to ensure a successful claim against the car manufacturer.

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