Federal Lemon Law

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Using Your State's Lemon-Law

The theme of state lemon laws is that a manufacturer must provide a refund or replacement for a defective new vehicle that is not repaired within a reasonable number of attempts. Most such laws provide for refund or replacement when a substantial defect cannot be fixed in 4 tries, a safety defect within 2 tries or the auto is out of service for 30 days, within the first 12-18,000 miles/12-24 months. (Check the attached summary chart for the terms of your state's lemon law. Where a state has a Website with detailed information on its Lemon Law, we have provided a direct link to that Website for your use and convenience.) Minor defects such as bad ashtrays would not qualify as substantial but transmission and electrical defects would. A car is out of service while being repaired or waiting for parts.

Beyond state lemon laws, a consumer has the right to a refund or replacement of a lemon vehicle under the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC). The main difference is the UCC law does not define a lemon so it's up to a court to decide if an auto company must give you a refund or or a new car. The federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act provides for the award of attorney fees from the manufacturer if you have to sue to return a lemon under the UCC. Many state lemon laws also provide for attorney fees.

More information on how to make auto companies take back lemons is found in our LEMON BOOK. This 368-page action manual can help you: (1) find out your rights, (2) get results from manufacturers, (3) use consumer groups and government agencies, (4) find a good lawyer, (5) use small claims court, and (6) avoid buying a lemon. The LEMON BOOK by Ralph Nader is available from CAS for $17.95. Make checks payable to the Center for Auto Safety.

Working to advance consumer rights and provide helpful information are some of CAS' important consumer programs. In addition to our successful campaign to get lemon laws in every state, our better known accomplishments include recall of 15 million Firestone 500 tires and 1.3 million Ford Pintos for exploding gas tanks, getting airbags in new cars and publication of the new CAR BOOK every year. Our big new campaign is to get secret warranty disclosure laws passed in every state just like we did with lemon laws.

As a small non-profit consumer group fighting the giant auto companies, CAS depends on donations to support our consumer work. The car companies spend more for one TV commercial than CAS has to spend in a year helping consumers. By contributing $20 or more, you will be promoting better cars and consumer rights. Our success depends on your tax-deductible contribution. If you contribute $30 or more, we will send you the LEMON BOOK. Every home should have this invaluable consumer manual.

ADVICE ON USING LEMON LAWS

Success in using state lemon laws depends upon three things: keeping good records, providing the right notice and using an arbitration program where required.

Repair Record Keep close track of the number of repair attempts and the time the car is out of service. Submit a written, dated list of problems to the dealer each time the car is in for repairs (keep a copy). List the symptoms your car has; for example, "stalling" instead of "check carburetor." This establishes a record of what problem was addressed even though the dealer may work on different parts in attempting to fix the problem. Insist on getting a copy of the repair order that lists the symptoms described, repairs done, any parts replaced, and the time the car was in the repair shop.

Notice Required You must follow your state's notice requirement before you are entitled to a refund or replacement. Where written notice to the manufacturer is required, send a certified, return receipt letter stating your vehicle's need for repair to the manufacturer's consumer relations office and to the nearest zone/regional office listed in your owner's manual or warranty booklet. Make sure you send this notice by the time you take the car in for the repair attempt that qualifies it as a lemon. Give the dealer a copy of this letter when you deliver the car for repair; keep a copy.

Your Refund Or Replacement After you believe your vehicle qualifies as a lemon and you have followed the above steps, ask the manufacturer for a refund or replacement. You may have to pay a small offset for use of the car but no more than for the mileage up until the first repair attempt which qualified you for the lemon law. If the manufacturer has a valid arbitration program that is incorporated into your written warranty, you may be required to go through arbitration to get your refund or replacement. Arbitration requirements and offsets vary widely from state to state; ask the Consumer Protection Division of your state attorney general's office for details. If the manufacturer does not provide the required refund or replacement, consider legal action on your claim. (For more arbitration tips, see Chapter 8 of The Lemon Book.) Several states offer their own arbitration programs for lemon law complaints which generally give much better results than the manufacturers' programs.

Arbitration If you arbitrate, ask for a copy of the program's procedures and make sure they are followed. The manufacturer may make a settlement offer prior to any arbitration meeting. Consider what is offered but do not be pressured into an unfair settlement. If a manufacturer's program has not given you a decision within 40 days of your original contact (if you didn't first contact the manufacturer, 47 days), you are not required to continue in it.

The key to arbitration is thorough preparation to show that basic fairness and the lemon law entitle you to a refund or replacement. If you have good records, your lemon should speak for itself. In nonbinding programs, you have the right to reject an unsatisfactory decision and assert your lemon law rights with an attorney. If you accept the decision you are bound only for the problems arbitrated. If new problems arise or the manufacturer does not follow through with the arbitration decision, you still have your lemon law rights. Use the CAS lemon lawyer referral to find a Lemon Lawyers in your state.

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