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Buy A Lemon? Lemon-Aide Is Available

buying a lemon carFew things are more aggravating than getting stuck with a vehicle that’s constantly having mechanical problems. Whether it’s a new or used one, lemons, as they’ve been dubbed, are one of the biggest consumer complaints.

Many laws have been enacted to shield buyers of new vehicles, but buy a used vehicle and you will be far less protected. If you’ve recently purchased an unreliable car, truck or SUV at a used car lot, you know that the contract you signed when you bought it probably has an arbitration clause that prevents you from taking your case to court. That fact alone can cost you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in repair costs if you’ve purchased a lemon.

But don’t despair; depending on where you live, there is help for consumers who’ve been stuck with a lemon. According to Edmunds, New Jersey, Minnesota, New Mexico, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York are the states to have enacted the most comprehensive lemon laws to protect consumers when they buy a used car from a dealer. These statutes automatically give buyers of used vehicles a warranty. The length and breadth of the warranty is often based on vehicle’s mileage or age.  That means if you purchase a pre-owned vehicle and it begins having mechanical issues during the warranty period, the dealer has three options.  They’re required to repair the vehicle, replace it, or issue a refund.

The Edmunds article quotes John Van Alst of the National Consumer Law Center, "Many of these cars are dangerous to drive. Even if not, when a car becomes inoperable, it becomes a liability instead of an asset."

Sometimes a dealer commits fraud by failing to disclose a vehicle’s troubled history, or by rolling back the odometer and falsifying the vehicle’s mileage.  Other times, the dealer is unaware of the vehicle’s problems, which doesn’t absolve them from following the lemon laws issued in their state.

Laws that protect consumers who purchase used cars and trucks have also been enacted in Maine, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Nevada, and Arizona. These statutes require dealers to issue some sort of warranty and set standards for the vehicles they sell. In North Carolina, legislators have enacted an ‘unfair and deceptive practices’ law that protects buyers who’ve been ripped off by used car dealers.  California put a law on the books in 2013 that covers what are known as ‘Buy Here, Pay Here’ dealerships that sell older vehicles with high mileage to people who can’t get a car loan.  The statute requires dealers to issue a 30 day/1000 mile warranty on the vehicles they sell.  California buyers of used cars also have rights under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, which is a federally enacted lemon law. 

The bottom line is that if you ended up with a lemon, you do have means to get assistance with your problem.  The National Association of Consumer Advocates can help you figure out what steps to take to get satisfaction if the dealer isn’t willing to help.