Motor Vehicle Lemon Laws Guide STAFF PICK

Ronald Lee Burdge

Written by

Lemon Law Attorney - Dayton, OH

Contributor Level 20

Posted almost 6 years ago. 10 helpful votes



The Purpose of Lemon Laws

Bad motor vehicles are called "lemons" and no matter how hard you try to avoid buying one, sometimes it happens. Before Lemon Laws were passed, it was difficult to get a refund or a replacement vehicle because older laws did not define what was a lemon. And even if you did prove you had a lemon, older laws required the consumer to pay their own attorney fees in most cases, so a lemon owner could go to court and win and end up with less than if he or she had just traded the lemon off in the first place, making it someone else's problem. State Lemon Laws were intended to fix that. Now, every state has a definition of what a lemon vehicle is and most states make the manufacturer pay the consumer's legal costs too. If you end up with a lemon, now you stand a good chance of getting rid of it and not losing your shirt in the process.


What Vehicles are Covered?

Most state Lemon Laws cover all passenger cars and light trucks and vans. With the notable exception of Oregon and Indiana, where many Rv's are built, a large number of states also cover the non-living portions of motorhomes and Rv's. A few state Lemon Laws, like Ohio, also cover motorcycles and ATV's; basically, in these states if it has wheels and an engine, it's covered by the state Lemon Law.


What is the Definition of a Lemon Motor Vehicle?

A lemon vehicle is usually defined as one that has been in the repair shop 3 or 4 times for the same problem or has been out of service for a total of 30 days or more within 2 years of original sale. As long as at least 1of the repair attempts occurred inside of 2 years then the Lemon Law may apply, but some states require all the repair attempts to occur within the coverage period. The days out of service usually do not have to be consecutive, though, and not all for the same defect either. Under that definition you just count up the days. 15 states also have a "deadly defect" definition that often gives the dealer only 1 or 2 chances to fix a problem that is likely to cause serious injury or death if it goes unrepaired. Check the Lemon Law Summaries link below to see what your state lemon vehicle definitions are.


Do I Have to Notify the Manufacturer Myself?

Usually, yes. Many state Lemon Laws require the consumer to directly notify the manufacturer if you think you have a lemon, before your Lemon Laws become "ripe" legally. That means you may have a lemon, but you can't do anything about it legally in most states if you have not sent a written notice direct to the manufacturer first, often by certified mail (so you can prove you sent it). To find your vehicle manufacturer's contact info, check the link below for a Motor Vehicle Manufacturer's Contact Info. Still, a few state Lemon Laws say that giving notice to the manufacturer's authorized dealer is enough. Step 8 below explains how to start a Lemon Law claim.


Do I Have to "Arbitrate" my Lemon Law Claim?

Maybe. Many state Lemon Laws have a provision that requires you to arbitrate your claim before you can file a lawsuit if, and it's a big "if", the manufacturer has an arbitration process that complies with the Federal Lemon Law's arbitration standards. Many manufacturers don't comply and almost no motorhome builder complies. Some states have set up their own state-run arbitration process and where that exists, it may be your best bet for fairness. You may be able to handle the arbitration process yourself if you are thoroughly prepared but be careful. Just because you think you have a lemon, does not mean you will win. And many arbitration processes require you to pay something for the use you got out of your vehicle, even though your state Lemon Law may not require it at all. You can learn more about arbitration by checking the Arbitration Clauses link below. Virtually all arbitration processes allow you to use a lawyer if you want, too.


If I Hire a Lemon Law Lawyer, Can I Make the Manufacturer Pay for It?

Very likely, yes. Most state Lemon Laws say the manufacturer has to pay for your lawyer. There is also a Federal Lemon Law that says you can make the manufacturer pay for your Lemon Law lawyer too, but the federal law does not have the presumption definitions of a lemon motor vehicle to use. To find a Lemon Law Lawyer near you, check the National List of Lemon Law Lawyers link below (this is not a paid listing).


Are All State Lemon Laws Good?

Most certainly are, but some state Lemon Laws are actually so weak that you may be better off using the Federal Lemon Law instead. Colorado, Indiana, New Mexico, and North Dakota Lemon Laws are some that have received low marks by consumer advocate groups, while Arkansas, California, New Jersey, Ohio, and West Virginia have received high marks. Every state Lemon Law is a little different from the others, so see what your state Lemon Law says and talk to an experience Lemon Law attorney.


How Do I Start a Lemon Law Claim?

Check your vehicle's warranty booklet, but most claims start with a simple letter to the manufacturer. To make it easy, you can use the Online Lemon Law Complaint Letter Generator (see link below, to this website: ) to create a fast and easy letter that you can print off and mail out. You can enclose copies of your repair paperwork, but never send your originals because you may need them in the future. You should also prepare a Repair History Diary or you can use the link below to get a helpful form to fill out. The most important thing is to know your rights and be persistent. If you think you need legal help, then you probably do so get it from an experienced Lemon Law lawyer. And never give up. The consumers who get the most out of a Lemon Law claim tend to be the ones who keep insisting on what they are entitled to under the law.

Additional Resources

To find out more about your state Lemon Law you can contact your state attorney general's office or the Center for Auto Safety (see link below).

US State Vehicle Lemon Laws

US State Rv Lemon Laws

US State Motorcycle & Atv Lemon Laws

Online Lemon Law Complaint Letter Generator

Motor Vehicle Manufacturer Contact Info

Arbitration Clauses: the Good, the Bad, the Ugle

National List of Lemon Law Lawyers

Center for Auto Safety

National Association of Consumer Advocates

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