Automobile Lemon Laws

What is the purpose of the automobile lemon law?

Lemon laws were enacted to protect consumers who purchase cars for personal, non-business use. Both new and used cars are covered by the lemon laws, although buyers of new cars are afforded greater protection than buyers of used cars. It is important to remember that the lemon law spells out only the minimum warranty which a dealer must include with each car he sells. Many cars, and especially new cars, come with warranty periods which far exceed that which is required by the lemon law. However, what is especially good about the lemon law is the remedy which it affords buyers. If a problem develops during the warranty period, and the problem is not repaired within a reasonable time, the buyer may be entitled to a replacement car or a full refund.

What kinds of used car problems are covered by the lemon law?

Used car lemon laws require dealers to give the purchaser a warranty covering major engine, drive train, and brake problems.   However, the warranty period is very short. A used car with less than 36,000 miles is covered for only 90 days or 4,000 miles. A car with between 36,000 and 80,000 miles is covered for 60 days or 3,000 miles. A used car with 80,000 to 100,000 miles is covered for 30 days, or just one thousand miles. Cars with over 100,000 miles are not covered by the law at all.   The lemon law does not protect the consumer against minor defects. Nor does it cover problems unrelated to engine, drive train and brakes. For example, problems with windows, door locks, seat sliders, or seat belts may not be covered by the used car lemon law.

If a problem develops within the warranty period, what must a dealer do?

If a covered problem develops in a used car, the dealer must repair the problem or reimburse the buyer for the reasonable cost of repairing the problem. If the dealer fails to repair the problem, or is unable to repair the problem, the buyer has the option of returning the car to the dealer for a full refund, minus any reasonable allowance for damage caused by the buyer.

Must the dealer have an opportunity to repair the defect?

The dealer must have a reasonable opportunity to repair the car. Generally this means the dealer has had three or more chances to fix the same problem during the warranty period. If the car has been out of service due to repairs or breakdowns for fifteen or more days, the Law presumes that the dealer has had a reasonable opportunity to repair the car.

May the dealer choose to have an independent third party arbitrate a lemon law dispute?

The law allows a dealer to choose to engage in an informal dispute settlement procedure, called arbitration, when lemon law disputes arise between the buyer and the dealer. If the dealer chooses to arbitrate, the initial expense of the arbitration, including the cost of hiring the independent third party to hear the dispute, is on the dealer. However, if the buyer wishes to choose the third party who will hear the case, he may be entitled to do so, but only if the buyer first pays a required filing fee.

If the dealer has selected to arbitrate a dispute, the buyer generally must cooperate. Failure on the part of the buyer to cooperate and participate in the arbitration procedure may result in a forfeiture of the buyer’s rights under the lemon law.

What rights does the new car lemon law afford buyers?

The new car lemon law covers new cars during the first two years from the date of delivery or up to 18,000 miles, whichever comes first. The new car lemon law covers not only the engine, drive train and brakes but any other problem or defect which substantially impairs the value of the car to the buyer. In fact, almost any part of the car which is covered by an express warranty is covered under the new car lemon law. Therefore problems with windows, air conditioning, heaters and defrosters, seats and seat belts, or even paint and body work should be covered under the new car lemon law.

The dealer must be given a reasonable opportunity to repair the defects. Generally, this means the dealer must have tried at least four times to fix the problem, or the car has been out of service for at least 30 days during the warranty period as a result of the problem. If the dealer is unable to fix the car the buyer is entitled to a replacement vehicle, or all his money back.

As is the case under the used car lemon law, dealers may choose to arbitrate disputes before an independent third party. The buyer must cooperate with the arbitration process or else lose his rights under the lemon law. However, the buyer may choose the arbitrator provided he pays the necessary filing fee.

Are leased cars covered by the lemon law?

Both new and used leased cars are covered by the lemon laws, provided the defects arise within the lemon law warranty period.

Does the Legal Aid Society represent buyers who have claims or problems relating to the lemon laws?

Generally no. The Legal Aid Society does not usually handle consumer matters. However, if an individual would like an attorney to represent him in a lemon law case, we may be able to refer you to a private attorney who handles such matters. Referrals may also be obtained from the local county Bar Associations. Additionally, consumers may file complaints about car dealerships and the lemon law with the New York Attorney General, Consumer Fraud and Protection Bureau.