A lemon car, like the sour fruit after which it is named, may appear attractive on the outside only to disclose a terrible surprise on the inside. Purchasing one of these faulty new or used vehicles might leave you on the hook for unexpectedly expensive repairs.
While your state’s lemon laws may entitle you to a refund or replacement, certain lemon cars are easier to repair. This may be excellent news if you need to keep it or are considering buying a lemon car on purpose.
A “lemon” is a term used for a terrible vehicle that is dangerous to drive. While the precise definition varies by state, it often entails a substantial problem covered by the warranty that impairs the car’s safety, value, or usage. A defective gearbox, suspension system, engine, or brakes are examples of these sorts of faults. To qualify as a lemon, the maker must typically be unable to repair the fault within a certain length of time or effort.
So you think you have a lemon car and think, “What do you do now?” Your eligibility for a refund or replacement will be determined by numerous criteria, including state legislation. Begin by checking with your local Department of Motor Vehicles, the Attorney General’s office, or the Better Business Bureau online.
It’s also a good idea to see whether your car’s make and model have previously been reported to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for any manufacturer problems, technical service bulletins, or recalls.
Other essential considerations in assessing your eligibility for lemon law coverage are:
- Type of vehicle: This can include whether the vehicle is leased, new, or used, as well as if it is a commercial or specialty vehicle such as an RV, ATV, or motorcycle.
- Timeline and mileage: You can only make a legal complaint within a set length of time from the date of purchase and up to a particular number of miles. These restrictions vary by state and may also be affected by whether your vehicle is new or used.
- Cost and number of tries at repair: If the problem is easily rectified with a low-cost item or within a reasonable number of attempts, you may not be able to argue that your vehicle is a lemon.
If you are not eligible under state law, you may be able to sue under the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, which permits you to sue for breach of warranty. You might also consult with an attorney to examine your choices.
Although it is not always possible to foresee if your automobile will be a lemon, there are actions you can take to prevent purchasing a lemon.
Many vendors will supply you with a vehicle history report (VHR) if you request one, but you may also receive one for a price from suppliers recognized by the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System. Additional information, such as accident and maintenance histories, may be provided by private firms like AutoCheck or Carfax.
A VHR is an excellent tool to detect any red flags in a car’s history, in addition to outlining essential facts like the year, make, and model. Previous accidents and claims, manufacturer recalls, changes in ownership, or odometer anomalies are all possibilities. Here are some things to keep an eye out for:
- Brand names: This section keeps track of the vehicle’s ownership and condition, including whether it’s ever been declared a total loss due to theft, flood, or other damage. If the vehicle has a salvage title, it is almost certainly a lemon. Knowing your car’s title status is critical so you don’t wind up paying more than it’s worth or getting into a vehicle that might be dangerous to drive.
- History of mishaps: In this area, you should see a list of all prior incidents, from minor scrapes and fender benders to massive collisions. Take note: Engine or frame damage may result in difficulties that last for years.
- Owner history: If a VHR has had several owners in a short period of time, this is a warning indicator. It might suggest that previous owners decided to sell the automobile rather than repair it because the faults were too expensive to address.
- Repair history: A record of all repairs and maintenance, including oil changes, is kept in this area. If there is a history of significant repairs or a lack of regular maintenance, you should reconsider your purchase.
- Recalls for safety reasons: A recall occurs when an automaker discovers a safety flaw and offers a free fix. If the VHR displays an open safety recall, the vehicle may be unsafe to drive until it is repaired.
Once you’ve concluded that the automobile looks excellent on paper, it’s time to take it for a spin. This is an important step to take before finalizing your purchase; if the seller refuses, it might be a hint that they’re concealing anything from you.
Drive the automobile at different speeds and on varied routes, including on the highway, to examine elements such as acceleration speed, vehicle suspension, and the braking system.
Bring a friend along and have them turn on the car while you step on the throttle. If you notice white, blue, gray, or black exhaust smoke coming from your tailpipe, this might signal a significant problem with your vehicle.
Pinging, banging, whining, and grinding sounds might indicate engine and gearbox difficulties, while brake screeching and loud air rushing are all warning signs.
A musty odor might indicate interior water damage, but a burning or acidic odor could indicate engine damage. Check the oil and massage it between your fingers; if you feel any grit or metal flakes, this might indicate engine bearing trouble.
Even if the automobile has previously been certified by the dealer, you should have it professionally inspected if it passes your initial inspection. Make sure to pick an unaffiliated, independent technician who can offer you their professional judgment on whether it’s a wise investment.
While a complete automotive check may cost between $100 and $200, it might pay for itself many times over. If the technician discovers problems with the vehicle, you might request that the seller reduce the cost of the repairs from the sale price if they are fixes you are willing to perform.
If you end up with a lemon automobile, you should first seek assistance from the dealer or manufacturer. If you feel you have coverage for your vehicle’s problem, follow the guidelines in your warranty or service contract. If you are unable to find an acceptable settlement, you may file a small claims lawsuit, use a dispute mediation agency, or call your state attorney general.
Inform the seller of the car’s troubles and try to reach an arrangement. In the best-case scenario, the vehicle is still under warranty or the seller agrees to pay for any necessary repairs. Provided you notice a problem early enough, the vehicle may still be protected by the seller’s return policy, if one exists.
Write a documented letter to the seller or dealership manager outlining what happened, when the faults started, and what efforts were made to fix the problematic car. Explain that the defect(s) persist despite your efforts to remedy them and that your next step will be to seek a replacement or refund under your state’s lemon laws. If you intend to take legal action, your state may require this form of correspondence.
Keep a copy of everything you send and receive, from text messages and letters to repair estimates and service orders. These may help strengthen your case if you decide to take legal action later, as you’ll need to demonstrate that you gave the vendor enough opportunity to solve the problem.
If you’re a risk-taker, you can consider purchasing a lemon automobile, as well as one with a salvage or rebuilt title. If you’re lucky, the savings on the purchase price will more than cover the cost of repairs. If you’re proficient with automobiles and know what’s wrong with the lemon, this may be a wise decision.
However, keep in mind that these vehicles are typically sold “as is,” which means you’ll be on the hook if repairs prove to be more expensive than anticipated. And, in most cases, a lemon isn’t sour in just one place: the vehicle may have unknown flaws, or a dishonest vendor may conceal additional flaws.