What Is The Lemon Law?

Buying a new car is exciting! There’s nothing like the feeling of driving off the lot in a motor vehicle that’s unfamiliar to you. With your new car purchase, you expect some measure of reliability. After all, your investment should last you several years, right?

But what happens if, not long after you buy it, your car starts having problems? Did you buy a lemon? If so, and you have a defective vehicle on your hands, you have a few options at your disposal.

What is the lemon law, and how do you know if it applies to you? In this guide, we’ll take a look at the lemon law in the United States, covering how it applies to private owners and car dealerships; new motor vehicles and old ones, and much more.

How Does the Lemon Law Work? 

Lemon laws in the United States were put in place to protect you, the vehicle buyer. Every motor vehicle purchase, whether new or used, comes with the expectation that the car or truck will be mechanically sound. 

If there are issues with your vehicle, components of the car are covered under a manufacturer’s warranty. From steering to seatbelts, a bumper-to-bumper warranty gives you the assurance you need that your car will operate as expected. Should issues arrive, your service is provided free of charge. 

But imagine that you’ve been having mechanical issues, and have brought your car in for repairs several times. The same issue keeps presenting itself. Maybe it’s the transmission, or maybe it’s the electrical system. 

Your dealership has had plenty of opportunities to fix the problem, but your car keeps breaking down. You come to realize that you’ve bought a lemon, a vehicle that doesn’t meet the quality standards required by law. 

So, now what should you do? Are you stuck with a car that you’re hesitant to drive, for fear of being stranded on the highway? Not necessarily. Lemon laws exist to give you recourse should you find yourself with a vehicle that does not meet performance expectations. 

For your vehicle to qualify as a lemon, a few conditions must be met. Let’s take a quick look. 

Reasonable Number of Repair Attempts

Federal lemon law requires that the dealership must have tried to repair your vehicle several times without success before lemon laws apply. The number of times that’s deemed “reasonable” is ultimately up to the court, but usually “several” indicates three or four. 

So, for example, imagine your starter fails over and over. You’ve had your vehicle towed to the dealership for service each time it happens. And each time, the dealership gets your car running once more, only for the starter to fail again. 

If this persists, your car may qualify under state lemon laws.

Inability to Use Your Vehicle

In most cases, if your vehicle is not drivable for 30 days, it can be considered a lemon car. These 30 days do not have to be consecutive; they just have to occur within the first one or two years that you’ve owned the vehicle. 

Time of Ownership

In most states, the lemon law only applies to vehicles that you’ve owned for less than two years. This time frame may vary, though, so check with your state’s Better Business Bureau to find out the specifics for your area.

What Does the Lemon Law Cover?

Put very simply, the lemon law covers any defect in your vehicle that affects the value, safety, or usability of your car or truck. 

With that said, there are exceptions that may occur and these vary by state. If the problem with your vehicle is a problem with a system that’s covered under the manufacturer’s warranty, your car may be a lemon even if the problem doesn’t impact drivability. For example, if the tailgate on your vehicle won’t stay latched, you may be covered under the lemon law. 

It’s critical that you keep all records of repairs done on your car—you’ll need these in court. It’s also imperative that all repairs be done by the vehicle manufacturer. Car manufacturers cannot be held responsible for neighborhood garage or DIY repairs. 

How Long Does the Lemon Law Last?

The length of time that you’re covered under the lemon law will vary by state. In most states, however, you must not have owned your vehicle for over two years. A reasonable number of attempts to repair your vehicle must have been made within that 24 month time period. In some cases, the lemon law will extend for two years or 24,000 miles, whichever comes first. 

Some states will have more stringent requirements, such as an 18-month time period. Others will be more lax. Be sure you familiarize yourself with your state lemon law before pursuing a lemon law claim. 

Do Lemon Laws Apply to Used Cars or Private Sales?

In most states, the lemon law applies to used cars. If you’ve purchased a car from a dealership and it’s not in reasonably good shape, you are covered under the lemon law. However, this is not true for every state. Again, you’ll want to check with your legal team before pursuing a claim. 

As for motor vehicles bought from private sellers, well, you may be out of luck. The lemon law does not apply to cars bought from individuals. To protect yourself, always have your car checked out by a mechanic prior to purchasing from a private seller. If the seller refuses this option, it’s best to find a different car. 

Conclusion: Used Car Lemon Law

Lemon laws vary from state to state, but in most regions of the country, you’re protected against faulty vehicles. When you buy a new or used car, be sure to keep all documentation of service performed. Should you find yourself in court, you will need proof that the vehicle you’ve purchased does not meet reasonable expectations for safety and quality.