Buying or leasing a car is an exciting moment for everyone. On the contrary, realizing your new vehicle is defective is the complete opposite. Chances are, there are a lot of emotions running through your mind.
The good news is you may not be out of luck. In fact, there are laws that protect people in your situation, depending on the circumstances. If you’re convinced something is off with the vehicle you recently bought or leased, there are several things you should do to make things right.
1. Pinpoint the Defect
In this scenario, the first piece of the puzzle needs to be identifying what exactly is wrong with the vehicle. Depending on the nature of the defect, you may be entitled to benefits under lemon law.
The lemon law was established in the 1970s to protect consumers from faulty vehicles covered by the warranty. However, only certain defects will qualify you for this. The issue with the vehicle needs to qualify as a “substantial defect” in the sense that it compromises the overall use, value or safety to you and/or those around you. For example, issues with the engine, transmission, steering, or brakes would fit the criterion. Also, even a defective infotainment system would qualify.
To diagnose a substantial manufacturer defect, you may need to take the vehicle to a certified, honest mechanic, for an inspection, but not to repair. Following a professional inspection, if the defect falls under the “substantial” category, you can take the next steps in resolving the issue.
2. Understand Your Rights as a Consumer
If the vehicle’s issue qualifies as a substantial defect, your next move should be researching the lemon law and how it applies to you.
Simply having a defective vehicle doesn’t automatically qualify you for benefits. The manufacturer is allowed a “reasonable number” of repair attempts. Keep in mind, even though lemon law is present across the country, the specifics vary slightly from state-to-state. That being said, the “reasonable number” of repair attempts might be different depending on where you are.
Moreover, the lemon law in some states, like California, cover used vehicles in addition to new ones. If the defect is covered by the dealer warranty, a good California lemon lawyer would be able to resolve the case as if the vehicle were new.
If you are able to prove in court, or prior to involving the courts, that your vehicle is indeed a lemon, your rights include several key benefits.
1. You are entitled to a buyback from the manufacturer
A buyback is when the manufacturer reimburses you for the cost of the vehicle with a usage fee calculated in. If you took out a loan, the manufacturer must cover the down payment, monthly payments you have made, and the remaining balance on the loan.
2. You may get a replacement vehicle
If you are completely loyal to an auto brand, you can try for a replacement. This is when the manufacturer gives you a vehicle identical to the defective one or one of similar value. However, the manufacturer must agree on this outcome. Unlike a buyback, they are not required to replace the vehicle.
3. The manufacturer must pay for ALL legal expenses
If you prevail with your lemon law case, the manufacturer is required to pay for your attorney fees, court costs, and any other legal expenses related to the lemon.
Be sure to read up on your rights thoroughly to avoid getting burned by the manufacturer.
3. Find a Well-Versed Lawyer
Perhaps the most important factor in this process is the lawyer you choose to represent you. In order to get full justice from the manufacturer, you need an attorney that is highly-specialized in lemon law and knows the legal landscape of the area.
A big mistake to avoid when finding a lawyer is choosing one of the big nationwide lemon law firms. Many of these are more invested in simply gaining clients than actually getting the most for the consumer. It’s very common that these firms will try to get you to take a cash settlement from the manufacturer, as opposed to a buyback. This cash settlement will likely be much less than what you originally paid.
When you are looking for a trustworthy lemon law lawyer in your area, a key indicator is whether or not they ask for any retainer or arbitration fees. A good lemon attorney knows their services will be covered by the manufacturer if they win, so they shouldn’t ask you for any out-of-pocket-costs.
4. Hold onto All Records Related to the Defective Vehicle
When you win a lemon law case, the manufacturer is also required to cover all incidental costs that stemmed from the lemon. These include repairs, labor, cab fare, towing, hotel, car rental payments, lost wages, etc. The manufacturer must also pay for the registration fees, sales tax, or any other official costs related to the lemon. Additionally, be sure you keep a record for how many days your vehicle was in the shop.
ALWAYS keep the receipts for every relevant purchase.
Ending up with a defective vehicle is never a good experience. However, it doesn’t have to be a miserable experience. The law may very well be on your side. Do these four things and you will be on the right path to getting the justice you deserve.