What Are Lemon Laws?

wiseGEEK Writing Contest

In the Best Interest of the Consumer Lemon laws are absolutely essential to the rights of a consumer. Fraudulent merchants exist in all markets, but in the car industry, ethical standards have become even more notoriously compromised. This is particularly harmful due to the necessity of cars in the everyday life of Americans as well as the exorbitant expense that comes attached to the vehicle. A lemon is defined as a damaged car with any defect that substantially impairs its use, value, or safety; obviously, the cost of this kind of problem necessitates legal intervention, as cars are simply too crucial to afford the malfeasance of car dealers. Although the law varies from state to state, they all follow the basic outline of the Federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act. If the car has been taken to a repair shop four or more times for the same defect within the warranty period, then the car will generally qualify as a lemon. However, some states are more stringent in these rules. In all cases, documentation must be made of all of the repair attempts and the manufacturer must be given a chance to repair the vehicle as well to retain all rights promised by different state warranty acts. The federal Lemon Law often extends protection that overrides State law, and sometimes makes warrantors responsible for irremediable defects for up to four years after the factory warranty has expired. This provides cash compensation where the warrantor cannot make the consumer’s product free from defects within a reasonable opportunity. Unlike State Lemon Laws, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act applies not just to vehicles but instead to all consumer products. This act also creates strict requirement that warrantors draft warranties with very clear and concise wording to eliminate much of the confusing "doubletalk" in consumer warranties. Once the consumer determines he has a lemon, depending on the state, he must either file a few forms and present his case before an arbitration board or he must seek an attorney. If an attorney is needed, then some states will force the manufacturer to pay for the attorney fees. However, if the consumer loses the case, then usually the state will force him to pay the attorney expenses of the manufacturer. Lemon Laws often, but not always, require consumers to provide written notice of the defect to the warrantor as a final opportunity to fix the defects. At this time, the manufacturer is entitled to settle the matter out of court, but the consumer should be wary of such a practice unless such programs are established in strict compliance with State and federal law. Before participating in any such program, the consumer should consult an attorney as they may be harmful due to the bias towards the warrantor inherent. Because of the expansive legal rights these statutes provide consumer, sellers and manufacturers will often create obstacles to your enforcement of these rights and at times, will discourage you from enforcing your time-sensitive rights by providing false and misleading information. Likewise, in an effort to make the consumer accept your lemon, warrantors will often tell him there is no problem with his product and that what you are experiencing is normal. It is important to get a second opinion before believing what the manufacturer decrees. Further, the consumer should ask for a “Technical Service Bulletins on his vehicle as these internal documents often prove the problem exists. The state with the best lemon law statutes is Iowa. It provides consumers with a two year warranty, while the majority of states only provide a year-long warranty. Only one repair attempt is necessary on defects that compromise the safety of the consumer while other states typically need two or as many as four attempts to repair the problem. For non-threatening problems such as car malfunctions, Iowa law requires only three attempts at rectification, while other states generally require four attempts. In addition to these protections, Iowa law requires the manufacturer to pay attorney fees of the customer since attorney fees are based on the time it takes to solve the case rather than a simple portion of the rewarded money. Overall, where Iowa law enforcement is seriously lacking in many other areas, the rights of the consumer are well-guarded with regard to lemon law statutes. Although at one time the consumer had no recourse in the event that a seller of a defective product simply made the claim “All sales final”, State and federal statutes informally known as "Lemon Laws" provide for compensation to you where you have a defective product that cannot be fixed within a reasonable opportunity. Although State Lemon Laws are generally limited to new vehicles, many states have enacted specific lemon statutes that protect purchasers of used vehicles and all consumer products ranging from Motor Homes and boats to kitchen appliances.

This submission was not accepted into the wiseGEEK Writing Contest because it answers a question already answered on wiseGEEK.

submitted by Katie Jordan