What is the Lemon Law? USA Lemon Laws Simply Explained

Have you ever bought or leased a car and discovered that it has a bunch of defects that you weren’t aware of?

You probably bought a lemon.

But you are not alone! Researchers found that of the 60 million cars purchased between 2013 and 2017, at least 1% were lemon cars.

Moreover, another study found that two-thirds of lemon cars’ defects are noticed within one month of the purchase, with 41% of them breaking down while driving. The study also found that braking and starting the car were the most reported issues.

But what’s a lemon? And what’s lemon law? Lemon laws are regulations that protect and provide relief to consumers who purchased lemon vehicles that do not meet the market’s quality and performance standards.

This article will break down the US lemon laws and discuss lemon laws from different states across the country.

While you’re at it, learn more about your consumer rights using our guides on TeslaUpwork and frealncer.comAirBnB, and Amazon disputes. You may also want to read more about small courts and ADR providers such as JAMS ADR in the USA.

What Is a Lemon Law?

In US slang, defective cars and bad investments are known as lemons.

Lemon laws are, therefore, regulations that protect and provide relief to consumers who purchased lemon vehicles that do not meet the market’s quality and performance standards.

Essentially, these laws work to get automakers to honor their warranties to repair or replace your car or recompensate you.

These laws were initially targeted at vehicles and auto manufacturers only but were later on expanded to include other consumer products.

In the US, lemon laws are enacted on state and federal levels. Each state has its own lemon laws with varying rules and scopes. The federal lemon law is known as the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act of 1975.

The Federal Warranty Law

To qualify for protection by the federal lemon law, the purchased car must still be under the manufacturer’s warranty. Moreover, you must have experienced at least one of the following:

  • Three or four unsuccessful attempts to repair the same defects, or as determined by the court. All repairs must be undertaken at the dealership or the manufacturer,
  • The defects and the attempts to fix them happened within one or two years from the purchase date, or
  • The car remained out of commission for 30 consecutive days.

If you meet any of the above requirements, you are due a recompensation from the manufacturer, usually a refund or a replacement.

State Lemon Laws

State lemon laws vary from a state to another. Here are some examples:

Connecticut Lemon Law

The Connecticut lemon law covers passenger and commercial vehicles that are either sold or leased in the state. Agricultural tractors are excluded.

To qualify for protection under the Connecticut lemon laws, you must:

  • Have made four attempts to repair your car of defects that limit the car’s usability, or
  • Have made two attempts to repair severe and life-threatening defects
  • Have your car out of service for 30 days, and
  • Have detected the defects within the first two years or 24,000 miles, whichever comes first.

California Lemon Law

The lemon law of the state of California covers personal and family vehicles, off-road vehicles, chassis and chassis cabs, and dealer-owned and demonstrator vehicles. Motorcycles are excluded.

To qualify for California’s lemon laws protection, you must meet these requirements:

  • You made two repair attempts of serious and life-threatening defects.
  • You made four repair attempts of defects that hindered the usability of the car.
  • You were unable to use your car for 30 consecutive days, and
  • You detected and attempted to repair the defects within the first 18 months or 18,000 miles, whichever comes first.

Massachusetts Lemon Law

The Massachusetts lemon law covers all vehicles, including off-road, auto homes, and motor bicycles. However, vehicles used for business purposes are excluded.

These are the requirements you must meet to qualify:

  • Three repair attempts, or
  • 15 days out of service, and
  • Defects are detected and unsuccessfully repaired within the first year or 15,000 miles, whichever comes first.

Minnesota Lemon Law

The Minnesota lemon law covers passenger vehicles, pickup trucks, vans, and chassis that are sold or leased for a consumer within the state. The vehicles must be at least 40% used for personal or family purposes.

These are the Minnesota lemon laws requirements:

  • One unsuccessful repair attempt of a failed braking or steering system that are life-threatening,
  • Four repair attempts of defects that hinder the usability of the car, or
  • 30 business days out of service for other defects, and
  • The defects were detected in the express warranty period or the first 2 years from the purchase date.

New Jersey Lemon Law

In New Jersey, the lemon law covers passenger vehicles and motorcycles that are purchased, leased, or registered in the state. Living facilities of auto homes are excluded.

The following are the requirements for the New Jersey lemon laws:

  • Three repair attempts of defects that limit the car’s performance and usability,
  • More than 20 days out of service, or
  • One repair attempt of a serious and life-threatening defect, and
  • The defects are detected within the first two years or 24,000 miles, whichever comes first.

New York Lemon Law

Lemon law of the state of New York covers passenger vehicles that are purchased, leased, transferred, or registered in New York, including motorcycles. Off-road vehicles are excluded.

You qualify for protection under the New York lemon laws if you meet the following requirements:

  • Four unsuccessful repair attempts of defects that hinder the performance and use, or
  • A serious and substantial defect within 20 days of the receipt of notice by the consumer using certified mail, and
  • The defects are detected within the first two years or 18,000 miles, whichever comes first.

Evidently, these state laws vary significantly when it comes to the types of vehicles, the repair attempts, and the coverage period. Find your state lemon law statutes and check your car’s manufacturer’s lemon laws.

Do Lemon Laws Apply To Used Cars?

Under the federal warranty law, the purchased car must be under the manufacturer’s warranty when the defects are detected to be eligible for protection. This means that the federal lemon laws apply to used cars so long as they come with a warranty too.

However, used cars rarely come with warranties and that renders them ineligible for the federal warranty law protection.

When it comes to state lemon laws, only seven states include used cars under their lemon statutes. These states are Connecticut, California, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, and New York.

New York’s Used Cars Lemon Law

New York is one of the few states that have a lemon law for used cars. The law required car dealers to provide consumers with written warranties for used and leased cars.

The length of the warranty depends on the car’s mileage before the purchase or lease

Miles of OperationDuration of Warranty (the earlier of)
18,001-36,000 miles90 days or 4,000 miles
36,001-79,999 miles60 days or 3,000 miles
80,000-100,000 miles30 days or 1,000 miles

Under these warranties, dealers are required to repair any defects in the following parts free of charge: 

Engine, transmission, drive axle, brakes, steering, radiator, alternator, generator, starter, and ignition system (the battery is excluded).

The cars covered by the New York used cars lemon law are those that are:

  • Purchased, leased, or transferred after the first two years or 18,000 miles from the original delivery, whichever comes first,
  • Purchased or leased from a New York dealer,
  • Purchased or leased for at least $1500,
  • Less than 100,000 miles at the time of purchase/lease, and
  • Used primarily for personal purposes.

The law allows the dealer a reasonable chance to repair the defect, usually three or more attempts. A reasonable chance can also be 15 or more cumulative out of service days due to the defect.

What Should You Do If You Purchased a Defective Car?

  • Notify the dealer or manufacturer from which you purchased the car of the defects or problems you’re facing. Make sure you notify them before your warranty expires.
  • Keep records of all repairs, bills, and correspondence.
  • Consult or hire an attorney.

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