What Is A Lemon Car? A Look At The Legal Definition

If you or someone that you know has recently purchased a vehicle that is experiencing technical issues that have been unable to be repaired after numerous attempts, then you may have what is known as a lemon car.

The requirements as to what makes a car a lemon vary for each state. There are general guidelines to assist you in determining whether your car fits the eligibility requirements to be classified as a lemon car and the various types of protections that you may be afforded under consumer protection laws.

While a majority of states only offer consumer protection for purchasers of a new car, some states offer protection for certain “used” car owners and leaseholders as will be addressed below.

What is a Lemon Car?

For a car to be legally considered a lemon, it must have a problem or defect that is serious and irreparable.

The definition of a lemon car under the law of a majority of states is a vehicle that has the following:

  • A serious or substantial defect that occurs within a certain period after purchase
  • That defect is covered under a warranty
  • The defect continues after several repair attempts

What is Lemon Law?

There are federal and state consumer protection laws known as Lemon Laws that protect consumers who have purchased (or leased in certain states such as New York and Pennsylvania) a lemon.

In general, Lemon Laws require that if a manufacturer cannot repair a “substantial defect” in a vehicle after a “reasonable number” of repair attempts, the manufacturer must either replace the defective vehicle or offer the customer a refund.

Substantial Defect

In order to be afforded protection in most states, the defect must substantially impair the safety, use, and/or value of the vehicle.

Faulty brakes or steering are certainly considered substantial defects as they make the car unsafe to operate.

Minor problems, such as a stereo knob that falls off or a compartment that won’t stay closed, are not considered substantial defects.

Each state requires the substantial defect to have occurred within either a certain period of time or a certain number of miles. In addition, the problem must not have been caused by abuse, neglect, or unauthorized alterations to the car.

Reasonable Number of Attempted Repairs

Even a car with a substantial defect is only considered a lemon if the problem cannot be fixed after a reasonable number of attempts.

It is imperative that you contact the dealer or manufacturer of the car to inform them of the problem and allow them the opportunity to attempt to repair it.

What is considered a “reasonable” number of attempted repairs before a car can be classified as a lemon varies by state.  Generally, the required number of attempted repairs is three or four attempts. However, this amount may be lower depending upon the severity of the defect.

Under the New York Lemon Law, it is presumed that there has been a reasonable number of attempts to repair a problem if:

  • The dealer was provided the opportunity to repair the same problem in at least four times visits.
  • The problem continues to exist, or the car was in the repair shop for a combined total of 30 or more days for one or more problems.

The Pennsylvania Lemon Law and New Jersey Lemon Law establish a presumption that a manufacturer or its dealer is unable to repair or correct a defect within a reasonable time if there were at least three attempts to repair substantially the same problem and the defect or nonconformity continues to exist.

However, under the New Jersey Lemon Law, only one attempted repair may be necessary to qualify the car as a lemon if the defect continues after the attempted repair and is considered a safety defect that it is likely to cause death or serious bodily injury.

Under the Pennsylvania Lemon Law, there is also a presumption that a car is considered a lemon if the vehicle was out-of-service for a combined total of 30 or more days for one or more problems.  The New Jersey Lemon Law is similar except that it only requires the cumulative total number of days that the vehicle was in the repair shop to be 20 days or more.

In every state, you will need to demonstrate that you notified the manufacturer during the required time period as required by the Lemon Law of that state and that you made the necessary amount of repair attempts (or the total number of days that the vehicle was in the repair shop).

It is very important to keep careful records of all notices sent to the manufacturer and repairs attempts including repair bills, work orders, complaints, and any communications (including emails and phone records) with the manufacturer or dealer handling the repair.

Consumer Remedies

If your car meets the criteria of a lemon car as defined by your state, then you qualify for protection under the Lemon Law and have the right to obtain either a refund or a replacement car from the manufacturer.

If you suspect that your vehicle may be a lemon car, you must notify the car dealer immediately and be certain to keep a detailed record of your receipts and communications with the dealership. If the manufacturer refuses to either replace the car or refund you the purchase price of the car, then you may be eligible for relief under the Lemon Law.

The remedies for each state differ, but in New York, you have the choice of either participating in an arbitration program or filing a lawsuit against the manufacturer in court. The Lemon Laws of New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Pennsylvania authorize the courts to award you reasonable attorney fees if you are successful.

Limitations to State Lemon Laws

Each state’s Lemon Law has strict requirements on how long after a vehicle is purchased, or the amount of mileage that has been incurred since purchase, in order for the car to qualify for Lemon Law protection.

Generally, the car must have been used for personal or household purposes as commercial vehicles are not covered by the Lemon Law. In some states, the Lemon Law may also extend consumer protection to boats, motorcycles, recreational vehicles (RVs), and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs).

The state Lemon Law coverage for used vehicles in New York and New Jersey is only up to 90 days (at most) after purchase, therefore time is of the essence.

Even if you are not entitled to relief due to the requirements under your state’s Lemon Law, there are other laws which govern warranties that may offer you a remedy by law, including the Federal Warranty Act, also known as the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, and the Uniform Commercial Code.

Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act

The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act is a federal law that provides protection for the buyer of any product priced over $25 so long as the product came with a written warranty.

The purpose of the Act is to prevent manufacturers from creating grossly unfair warranties and to protect consumers from deceptive warranty practices.

The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act gives a car buyer significant rights in dealing with the manufacturer of a lemon car.

The Act also makes it easier for consumers to bring an action against a manufacturer by making “breach of warranty” a violation of federal law, and allowing consumers to recover court costs and reasonable attorney fees if they prevail in their lawsuit.

The federal law covers a broader spectrum of vehicles as most vehicles are covered under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, provided the vehicle is subject to a written warranty and could be used for household or personal purposes.

Uniform Commercial Code

The Uniform Commercial Code (“UCC”) is a comprehensive set of laws governing the sale of goods. The UCC has been adopted by all 50 states with slight distinctions.

Under the UCC, the consumer may be awarded a refund or replacement of a lemon car. However, the UCC does not specifically define what makes a car a lemon, therefore it is up to a court to determine if a dealership must provide you with a refund or replacement vehicle.

Like the Magnuson-Moss Act, many state laws also provide for an award of attorney fees if the consumer prevails in an action against the manufacturer under the UCC, but only if they sign a contingency fee agreement.

Vehicle Recalls

Manufacturers are required by federal law to send a notice by mail to owners of vehicles affected by a safety recall.

If a recall has been issued for your car, then you need to have it examined by the manufacturer or authorized dealer without delay. If your vehicle is recalled and the dealer is taking an unreasonable amount of time to repair the defect, or if a dealer refuses to repair the issue, you may have a case on your hands.

Get Your Free Case Review Today.

Contact the Lemon Law attorneys at Robinson Lemon Law Group, LLC for your no-cost, no-obligation consultation. We will quickly evaluate your case and recommend the best course of action.