There are few things more frustrating in life than not having a car you can depend on. After all, you depend on your vehicle to get to work, to take the kids to school and to their other activities, to run errands, and to go out and have a good time. It's inevitable that you'll need to take your car in for repairs and maintenance once in awhile, but what are you supposed to do when it seems like your vehicle is spending more time in the service bay than in your garage?
Well, if you keep taking your car in to repair the same problem and it never gets fixed, or if one thing after another goes wrong, you may have a lemon. And if your vehicle is a lemon, you may be covered under your state's lemon law and may be entitled to receive a refund, a replacement vehicle, or a cash settlement.
How do you know if your vehicle qualifies as a lemon? Well, it varies from state to state, so you'll have to check your state's definition. Generally speaking, though, lemon laws cover new cars, light trucks, SUVs, and minivans that have defects that affect the use, value, or safety of the vehicle. Usually, there's a limit to lemon law coverage. So, for example, the defect has to occur during the first two years of ownership or the first 24,000 miles driven - whichever comes first. There are also different criteria for repair attempts, such as three repair attempts for the same problem or 30 cumulative days out of service for a series of unrelated problems.
Beyond that, though, state laws vary greatly. Some only cover vehicles used the majority of time for personal use, while others cover business vehicles as well. Every state covers new cars, but some states also cover used cars that are purchased from dealers. In addition, there are states that cover motorcycles, leased vehicles, and even motor homes - although generally the living quarters aren't covered.
If you think that you have a lemon, what's the next step? While the law is on your side, that doesn't mean you don't have to jump through proverbial hoops. Some states have notification requirements, some states require arbitration hearings, and other states give you myriad options. You can bet, though, that auto manufacturers have teams of attorneys whose only job is to fend off lemon law claims. In fact, they often go by the maxim of "no lawyer, no money." That's because they often successfully use delay tactics to run out the time on a lemon law claim, offer a low-ball settlement, or throw other roadblocks in the consumer's path.
Whether or not you end up getting a lawyer to represent you, it never hurts to ask a lemon law attorney's advice. Most lemon law lawyers will give you a free, no obligation case evaluation, and will generally represent you for free. Although that seems unusual, they can do for free because, in successful lemon law claims, the car manufacturer is responsible for paying attorneys' fees.
Even if you have a lemon, it doesn't mean that you're stuck with it. Every year, manufacturers buy back lemon vehicles and give other lemon owners cash settlements. The bottom line is that you shouldn't give up, and that you should pursue your claim and get the compensation you deserve.
By Sergei Lemberg
Sergei Lemberg is an attorney practicing lemon law in seven states. Visit www.lemonjustice.com
for an overview of your state's lemon laws, as well as an interactive Lemon Meter that tells you whether your vehicle qualifies as a lemon.
© 2008, Sergei Lemberg, J Daniel Emmanuel and TheServiceAdvisor.com, All Rights Reserved.