A lemon is a slang term for a motor vehicle that is so packed with faults from manufacture that it's unfixable and useless. In popular mythology, these vehicles are manufactured on Friday afternoon. In the USA, so-called Lemon Laws or Lemon Statutes in most States offer the consumer some protection against new cars that break down so often in the first year or so that they might as well be on the road to nowhere. Most of these statutes allow the consumer to get a replacement or a refund if the official lemon definition, which varies from state to state, is met, but typically:

"Generally, if the car has been repaired 4 or more times for the same Defect within the Warranty Period and the Defect has not been fixed, the car qualifies as a Lemon." (http://www.carlemon.com/, 2001-11-01)

California also has a so-called "Puppy Lemon Law", the Lockyer-Polanco-Farr Pet Protection Act, Section 122125 of the California Health and Safety Code. This gives you consumer rights if the new dog or cat you purchase turns out to be a crippled, disease-riddled, psychotic fleabag. In particular, for up to a year after the date of purchase, if a veterinarian finds a congenital or hereditary condition in the dog or cat, you can get a refund, replacement, or vet's bills paid. (Sigh, if only this applied to children also.)



So you've finally done it. You've flipped burgers for two months or asked hundreds of people per day whether they want "paper or plastic" for their shopping goods. You've worked hard for awhile, and you feel you deserve a little self indulgence. You're going to buy a car!

You go out and hit the streets, and you hit them hard, because odds are you're on foot since buddy Phil has work on Saturdays and can't give you a ride. You search and you peruse and finally, in the back corner of "Al's Amazin' Automotives!" you find it. The car of your dreams. The color, the curves; the acceleration, handling, and gas mileage; the price...all these send a titillating shiver down your spine and you consider licking the door handle as they did in that Volkswagen commercial before running off to Al's office to see about taking your car home!

So you bring Al out of his fan cooled office, and lead him proud and happy over to your car. Ashamed, he makes a face behind your back and thanks the heavens that he's unloading this one. So the two of you haggle a bit, and in the end Al cuts $700 from the price written in soap and gives you rust-proofing for free. You sign a few papers, which you leave on Al's desk because you don't want a clutter in your new car, and drive off happy as a child who has at long last been allowed to sit at the grown-ups table.

This excitement you feel does not last.

Shortly after purchasing your car you notice perhaps a handful of problems. Maybe the covering to the odometer looks as if it has been recently tampered with. Maybe you dropped a quarter and noticed your new car's muffler is held on with two wire coat hangers. Maybe when you start your car to begin your morning commute the engine starts making a noise that rivals the soundtrack to Stomp. All these signs, and a plethora of others, could indicate that you purchased a lemon, or a car sold as better than it really is. Dealing with car dealers unaware can often lead to heartbreak and empty wallets, which is why many US states have Lemon Laws. Lemon Laws require a set of prerequisites to file, but can possibly entitle you to refunds or a replacement vehicle (the latter much less likely). In most winning cases, the dealer will also be required to pay at least a portion of your attorney's fees.

So, you know (or think) you purchased a lemon. What do you do now, or how do you check your state's Lemon Laws to see if the courts will back your case? The sites cited in the footnotes will direct you several websites which compile and provide rulings on several lemon arbitration cases state by state. As far as checking your personal eligibility, there are several conditions that must be met. These vary from state to state, but the core of these requirements is as follows:

  • The same car has experienced the same problem 3 or more times.
  • The problem directly affects the value, use, or safety of the vehicle (www.kbb.com has a complete and accurate pricing system for all automobiles).
  • The problem persists after a certified letter has been sent to the manufacturer as a final chance to avoid court.
  • The car was driven less than 18,000 miles as of the postmark on the certified letter.

If you meet those core details or your state's variant, it's time to get yourself a lawyer. While you wait for any one of a number of firms to call you back there are a few case building tactics you can employ. The most important thing to do is to document your case from the very beginning of the car troubles. You will want to take notes on phone calls and conversations, save bills and especially repair receipts. The second most important step in the preparation for taking a dealership/manufacturer to court is to grow thick skin quickly, because some of the most used manufacturer responses to claims of lemon-selling or warranty fraud directly attack the driver.

Keeping in mind that ever since that first day in Al's office you have saved every slip of paper having anything to do with your car, you should be able to prove your case no matter what the manufacturers' arbitration team throws at you. Their main statements will argue the requirements you need to actually call your car a lemon. They will say that there wasn't the correct number of repairs, or that the repaired part of the car was different with each repair. Other common tactics are to claim the damage is not substantial or to blame it on driver neglect. These are all easily countered by the prepared consumer. Repair receipts easily prove how many repairs were officially worked on the car, as well as for what parts of the car. The bottom line cost of these repairs usually proves just how substantial the damage to the car was. A cunning example of a counter-argument to the driver neglect accusation is given on Defect.com. Their story goes as follows:

"Our favorite case involved a young couple that purchased a Toyota four wheel drive pickup. The couple went four wheeling. There was a problem with the power of the truck eventually necessitating the tearing down of the engine. The consumer was unhappy and wished to revoke acceptance of the truck. The manufacturer claimed that the truck's engine had gotten wet (an abuse) and it was therefore not responsible for the repairs. The consumer's obvious reply is that four wheel trucks are made for four wheeling and every country boy knows that water and mud will splash when you go four wheeling."

While it isn't impossible, consumers should know that it is difficult to win an arbitrary case with a Lemon Law backing their argument. Much easier (I found several sites advising this) is a pursuit of warranty fraud. These cases have much more lax restrictions before filing, and are generally more successful.

While sticking to these guidelines can help your odds when filing for arbitration, the best way to win your way to a new car is to be a cautious and alert consumer before you even drive a new (or used) car off of a lot. In a worst case scenario if you feel you could be walking into a bad situation where you may be taken advantage of, the following tips could come in hand:

  • Always ask about TSBs! These are instructions to dealers from manufacturers about any potential defects.
  • Never leave any repair facility without a complete copy of the work order.
  • If anything goes wrong, or the car is clearly damaged, send a certified letter to notify the manufacturer of the dealership is selling defected vehicles.
  • New tip from fellow noder cbustapeck: "One should probably check carfax.com prior to purchase which will show odometer fraud and the like."

The final thing to remember is that you are the customer and in most cases a dealership will treat you with respect. In the few cases that you would be taken advantage of this guideline should help you gracefully slip out of the fiasco unharmed, both financially and automotively.


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