Lemon Law: What Happens If You Buy a Lemon Car?

Are you trying to figure out what happens if you buy a lemon car? Read this article to learn more about what happens if you buy a lemon.

You’ll certainly be feeling sour after putting thousands of dollars down on a sweet new ride only to discover the insidious truth: it’s a lemon. According to the industry average, about one in a million new vehicles is a lemon. And for used vehicles, this frequency is significantly higher. But if you get stuck with a lemon, there’s good news. Every state across the country has some form of lemon law, though the coverage varies from place to place. By knowing the lemon law in your area, you can shop with confidence — or better understand the risks.

Here’s what happens if you buy a lemon car.

1. What Is a Lemon Car?

A lemon car usually refers to a new vehicle with a serious manufacturing error. However, the official definition depends on your state laws. When you purchase a new vehicle, there’s a certain expectation that it should work without complications. After all, it’s fresh off the lot. But an overlooked manufacturing error can throw everything into disarray. Maybe you’re driving down the highway and temporarily lose control of your brakes, or the engine stalls without warning. So you bring it back to the dealer or your mechanic, but they can’t find anything wrong with the car. Even though it apparently has a clean bill of health, you still encounter a series of dangerous complications that leave the car unsafe. So, what do you do? Well, thanks to auto lemon law, you will likely qualify for a replacement vehicle or a full refund.

2. Do You Have a Lemon Car?

For the best advice, you should research the lemon laws in your state of purchase. However, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act stipulates that all lemon laws contain these two basic requirements, as far as warranty coverage is concerned:

As part of the basic definition, your new vehicle must have a serious defect that manifests itself within the warranty period. First, this means lemon law won’t help you if you’ve seriously damaged your car through your own actions. And second, the manufacturing error has to occur close to the purchase, or else it may not be easy to prove that the current defect is the result of a production mistake.

Just because your car has a defect doesn’t mean it’s yet a lemon. You’ll need to work with the dealership or manufacturer to try and repair the problem. If the mechanics can get your car running normally after repairs, there’s nothing to worry about. However, if issues persist after a stated number of repairs, you’ve got a lemon.

Keep in mind that car manufacturers and some dealerships may ask you to sign an arbitration clause during the purchase. In short, you would have to settle through a third party — usually in favor of the seller. This can sometimes limit the legal protections brought to you by the lemon law.

3. What Happens If You Buy a Lemon Car?

After familiarizing yourself with the local lemon law, contact both the dealership and manufacturer to report your complaints. Make sure you save all correspondence, as you may need this later as evidence in case your car can’t be repaired. Also, remember that your warranty may not cover some issues arising from a production defect. Once a manufacturer or dealership attempts to repair your vehicle, request documentation as proof you’ve tried to fix the problem. In most states, you’ll need to try fixing a vehicle several times before it qualifies for the buyback process. If you qualify according to the local law, ask that the manufacturer purchases or replaces your vehicle. Reach out to a lawyer who specializes in lemon law if the dealership or manufacturer refuses to compensate you or seems to be stalling the process.

4. Can a Used Vehicle Be a Lemon Car?

It depends on where you live. A small collection of states do extend lemon laws to used cars, depending on age and condition. You can expect the same coverage, such as the ability to request repairs throughout a statutory warranty period, and a refund if these repairs do not alleviate the problem at hand.

However, the reality is most states — even those with used car regulations — don’t adequately provide consumers the same level of coverage as new car buyers. Buying a used car is a gamble in comparison.

5. Avoiding a Lemon Car

Manufacturers create lemons at different frequencies. For example, Fiat creates 100x more lemons than Toyota, the leading brand in reliability. As a new car buyer, stick to manufacturers with a great track record. For those looking to buy used cars, things are a bit trickier. Always research the reliability record of the make and model of any car that catches your eye. Some models seem to experience serious defects after years of use.

Always check out the buyer’s guide, the paper posted on the vehicle’s window. In this guide, you’ll find information about warranty coverage or an as-is sale. It’s best to avoid as-is purchases, as any operating problems are up to you to resolve. Lastly, perform a visual inspection. From the interior to the exterior, you’re looking for evidence of poor maintenance or previous accidents. These are signs that, even if the car was repaired, you could experience some resulting issues later on.

The threat of a lemon car could put any family into financial turmoil — unless they understand their regional lemon laws. These regulations exist to protect you and remove all risk from this big-ticket purchase. Taking advantage of the law is as simple as knowing when you qualify. Now that you know what happens if you buy a lemon car, you’re ready to shop with confidence. Don’t let the slim possibility of a lemon stop you from getting the car of your dreams. If you enjoyed this content, search our website for more auto and motor coverage.

Tom Brown
Tom Brown is an automotive market enthusiast living in the United States. He holds a diverse background in automotive marketing and enjoys utilizing that to produce insights into the inner workings of the industry.