November 7, 2002
Honorable Christine O. Gregoire
Attorney General of Washington
1125 Washington Street SE
P.O. Box 40100
Olympia, WA 98504
Dear Attorney General Gregoire:
The Center for Auto Safety has just completed a study of the lemon law in every state and the District of Columbia and has ranked each state based on the results. Washington finished 9th out of 51, dropping from its prior number one rating as other states strengthened their lemon laws. With over 100,000 lemons bought back each year, a strong lemon law is vital to consumer protection. States with strong lemon laws force the auto companies to take back their lemons. States with weak lemon laws force consumers to eat their lemons.
The ranking was based on 10 different categories corresponding to fundamental elements of a strong lemon law, with each category worth a maximum of 10 points for a total of 100 points. The categories are:
1. number of repair attempts or days out of service before an automobile was considered a lemon,
2. whether law had a safety lemon provision and how protective it was,
3. the length of the presumption period or coverage of the lemon law,
4. whether law had a garden variety lemon provision to cover multiple different problems,
5. the offset for use of the car when determining a refund price,
6. if the consumer is eligible for a civil penalty or double or treble damages,
7. types of vehicles covered,
8. is there a state run arbitration program,
9. is the consumer compensated for their attorney fees, and
10. whether refund reimburses consumer for all costs of purchasing and owning lemon
Points were deducted for provisions that negated major rights under the lemon law including whether consumer (1) was liable for manufacturer's attorney fees, (2) lost rights under other laws, (3) had to file lemon lawsuit within short time, and (4) had to resort to manufacturer's unfair arbitration program before filing lemon lawsuit.
The biggest weaknesses in Washington's lemon law are that it (1) lacks a garden variety lemon provision covering repairs for multiple different problems, (2) does not provide a civil penalty for auto manufacturers who willfully violate the lemon law as does California and several other states, (3) has an excessive offset for vehicle use until the manufacturer accepts the lemon which encourages a manufacturer to delay taking back a lemon and the provision is particularly complicated for motor homes, and (4) requires prior resort to the state-run arbitration program. This needlessly delays the repurchase or replacement of lemons that are so bad a good lemon lawyer could get the lemon taken back in 30 days versus the 100 days under the state arbitration program. Examples of stronger provisions from other states are contained in the attached “Best State Lemon Law Provisions.” Washington could regain its lemon law title if it eliminated prior resort and added either a garden variety lemon provision or a civil penalty for willful violation of the lemon law.
We urge you to review this survey and use your authority to help improve Washington's lemon law.
Clarence M. Ditlow