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Federal lemon law: The basics

On Behalf of | Jun 7, 2024 | Lemon Law

People who buy a new car, or one that’s still covered under a manufacturer’s warranty, generally expect the vehicle to perform exceptionally. When this doesn’t happen, they may turn to the warranty to cover any problems that have arisen.

Unfortunately, things don’t always go according to plan when consumers try to get such problems fixed. They may ultimately need to opt to pursue a claim under the federal lemon law, which applies in specific circumstances.

Coverage scope

The federal lemon law applies to vehicles with significant defects that affect their use, value, or safety. This includes new and used cars, trucks, SUVs, motorcycles and even some recreational vehicles.

Warranty requirement

To be eligible under the federal lemon law, the vehicle must be under the manufacturer’s warranty. The law covers both express warranties provided by the manufacturer and implied warranties that guarantee the vehicle’s basic functionality.

Reasonable repair attempts

The law requires that the manufacturer or dealer be given a reasonable number of attempts to repair the defect. Typically, this means at least three to four repair attempts for the same issue, or the vehicle being out of service for a cumulative total of 30 days.

Substantial defect

The defect must be substantial, meaning it significantly impairs the vehicle’s use, value, or safety. Minor issues, such as cosmetic defects or minor inconveniences, generally do not qualify.

Consumer notification

The consumer must notify the manufacturer of the defect, usually in writing, to allow them the opportunity to repair it. Keeping detailed records of all repair attempts and communications is crucial.

Lemon law rights period

There is a specific period within which the defect must be reported. This is usually during the first year of ownership or within the vehicle’s warranty period, whichever is shorter.

Remedies available

If the vehicle qualifies as a lemon, the manufacturer is required to either replace the vehicle with a comparable one or refund the purchase price, including costs such as taxes, registration and incidental expenses.

While the federal lemon law provides a baseline of protection, state lemon laws can offer additional benefits and protections. It’s important to be aware of the specific provisions of your state’s lemon law, as they can complement the federal law. Working with a legal representative who’s familiar with federal and state lemon laws may help you decide how to proceed if your new or near-new vehicle is proving to be defective in nature.