What can the Montana Lemon Law do if I have a lemon vehicle?
Under the right circumstances, it can make the manufacturer replace or buy it back if your vehicle had a defect that substantially impaired the use or value or safety of the vehicle and that was not, or could not, be fixed in a timely manner.
What vehicles are not covered by the Montana Lemon Law?
The Montana Lemon Law only covers cars, light trucks, and non-residential part of a motor home purchased in Montana. Motorcycles and heavy duty trucks over 10,000 pounds (gross weight rating) are not covered by this state lemon law. But you may still have lemon law rights under the federal Lemon Law (technically called the Magnuson Moss Warranty Act), if your product was designed for consumer use. This federal Lemon Law requires the manufacturer to repair a warranty-covered defect within a reasonable amount of time and a reasonable number of chances. You can read about it at this How-To Guide: How to Get Rid of a Lemon Rv or a Lemon Motorhome, http://www.avvo.com/legal-guides/ugc/how-to-get-rid-of-a-lemon-rv-or-a-lemon-motorhome
How do I know if I have a lemon?
The manufacturer's dealer is only allowed a limited number of chances to repair defects in your vehicle. During the first 24 months or 18,000 miles, there is a maximum of 30 business days out of service or 4 unsuccessful repair attempts.
I think I have a lemon, so what do I do now?
You are entering the negotiation phase of the process. Contact the manufacturer directly. Write a letter, write an email, send a fax, make a phone call. And make notes of everything as it happens. And send copies to the dealer too. If the problem has not been fixed and you meet any one (or more) of the definitions of a lemon vehicle, ask them to replace it or buy it back. You get your choice. If they won't do it, then you may want to complain to the Montana Attorney General's Consumer Protection Office or contact a private attorney. Make notes of everything that you say to them and they say to you, so you have a record in case you need it later.
The manufacturer wants to charge me for my mileage (a "usage fee"), do I have to do that?
Yes. In Montana there is a deduction allowed based on the vehicle's mileage when the first defect was reported and it based on your vehicle's percentage of 100,000 miles. For instance, if the first lemon law defect was reported at 10,000 miles then 10% of the purchase price is not refunded because of your mileage. But it is all negotiable in order to get a quicker settlement. It's up to you to decide how much you are willing to do.
Should I file for arbitration? What if I don't want to go that route to get rid of my lemon?
Most car and truck manufacturers have a settlement process that is sometimes called "arbitration" and you can use their process if you want and you don't have to hire a lawyer to do it, but you may at your own cost. If you don't want to go through the factory's "dispute resolution process" (that's what they sometimes call it) you don't have to but you should talk to an experienced Lemon Law attorney about the advantages and disadvantages of it. If you aren't satisfied with the offer the manufacturer makes, or with the result of arbitration (if you try it), then you should discuss your case with a Lemon Law attorney and find out just how strong (or weak) your case may be. You may also be able to use your state lemon law arbitration process operated by your state department of commerce.
Do I have to hire a lawyer?
No, but you you probably would do better if you did. There have been some studies done and they all come back the same way: you get paid more when you have a lawyer on your side. Why? You have to realize that when you try to negotiate with a manufacturer you will be dealing with professional negotiators who are paid to settle with you for as little as they can and, they are hoping it will be nothing at all if they can. This isn't going to be easy. They often tell you what they think the law is and why your case doesn't fit it and if you don't know the law then you probably don't know how to argue back with them. So how do you get ready for a lawyer? First decide what it is that you want and what the minimum is that you will settle for. Next, get all your paperwork together and write out a diary of everything that happened from beginning to end and then make an appointment to meet with your local Lemon Law attorney.
How can I find out more about the Montana Lemon Law and other consumer protection laws for lemon owners?
For more information, write to the Montana Consumer Affairs Unit, Dept. Of Commerce, 1424 9th Avenue, Helena, MT 59620, telephone 406.444.1588. You can also see a summary of all state lemon laws online here: http://www.ohiolemonlaw.com/state-lemon-law-summaries.htm
What happens next?
Your lemon law lawyer will decide whether to file a lawsuit or attempt to negotiate "pre-suit" (which means without filing a lawsuit). If they don't make an offer that you can live with then you can expect that a lawsuit will likely be necessary. Your lemon law attorney can discuss the court process with you in detail and tell you how long it may take and what you can expect out of it. Most importantly, you should discuss with your attorney things like your continued use of the vehicle, what to do if more defects arise, the desirability of hiring an independent expert witness, and what you can do to help win you case.