4 Tips for Pursuing a Lemon Law Claim

Don’t let a lemon negatively impact your small business, you do have recourse through lemon law claims


Buying a new car can be a daunting task. Yet, you never expect that a car bought from a dealer will cause problems that make the car practically unusable at best, and extremely dangerous at worst.

Such unfortunate purchases are so common that the federal government and most states have enacted laws designed to protect buyers from having to keep these “lemons.” A lemon is a vehicle that continues to have a defect that substantially impairs its use, value, or safety.

Although lemon laws may vary from state to state, they generally provide for a refund or replacement when a substantial defect cannot be fixed after a reasonable number of repair attempts, or the car has had a certain number of days out of service within the first year of the purchase.

For example, in California the requirements are two or more repair attempts for a condition that will cause death or serious bodily injury, four or more repair attempts for any other substantial defect, or the car is out of service for more than 30 calendar days since delivery of the car to the buyer.

All of these repairs or out-of-service requirements must be met within 18 months from delivery to the buyer or 18,000 miles on the odometer in order to pursue a lemon law claim. In most instances, if the manufacturer refuses to refund or replace the lemon, a buyer may sue and obtain damages that generally equal the purchase price. Damages also may include attorneys’ fees.

Here are some other helpful hints about you can do to protect your lemon law rights.



1. Prevent the problem in the first place.

You should thoroughly research the car that you are considering. Numerous consumer Web sites provide information such as vehicle quality ratings, recall and repair histories, and safety rankings. Also, ask questions at the dealership and especially ask about Technical Service Bulletins (TSBs). TSBs are instructions from the manufacturer that alert dealerships about defects or repairs in certain models.

When purchasing the vehicle, carefully read and retain copies of all documentation, including manufacturer brochures, owner’s manual, retail sales installment contracts, loan agreements, advertisements, and warranty cards, and keep any handwritten notes you may have concerning the sales representations (which should be included in the final contract).

These documents may contain promises from the manufacturer that you could use to support your lemon law claim.



2. Keep detailed records.

Follow the guidelines in your owner’s manual for routine maintenance. If a problem arises with the car and you take it to the dealer for repairs, never leave the repair facility without a copy of the work order.

A complete record of the vehicle history is very important, especially with repeated problems. If the problem listed on the work order is stated incorrectly, make the dealer fix it. Your own copies of the records prevent the dealer from doing anything unethical with his records.

Take notes of all conversations with all service personnel, including the date and time of the conversation and any promises made. Make sure you also keep a copy of the invoice you receive after the repair is completed. If the problem with your car persists, continue taking it to the dealer to get it fixed. Keep a detailed, accurate record of all dates in which the car was unusable because of the defect.

Give the dealer a written and dated list of the problems each time you take the car to be fixed. Do not let the dealership claim that you are causing the problem or that the problem is minor.



3. Send notice to the manufacturer.

In order to invoke the lemon laws, most states require that the buyer send a certified return receipt letter to the manufacturer’s customer relations department and to the nearest office listed in your owner’s manual or warranty booklet.

Buyers should not delay on sending this notice if the car problem shows no sign of improvement. Be aware that any telephone conversations with the manufacturer usually are recorded and may be used against you.



Emma Luevano
Emma Luevano is a regular contributor to LatinBusinessToday.com on legal issues relevant to small and medium business. She is a partner at the law firm Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp LLP (www.msk.com) who advises and represents management on labor and employment matters, including sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination, public policy violations, wrongful termination, class action wage and hour issues,and retaliation.