Written by attorney Thomas Kelly Mendel

Missouri Lemon Law

It is not uncommon for a new motor vehicle to suffer from a serious defect due to problems in the manufacturing process or due to poor design. New motor vehicles that suffer from manufacturing or design defects are commonly referred to as lemons. Missouri has a lemon law which purpose is to protect consumers who purchase a lemon. Missouri’s lemon law is found in Sections 407.560 to 407.579 of the Missouri Revised Statutes. However, Missouri consumers who purchase a lemon will quickly find that Missouri’s lemon law does not provide them much recourse. The many strict requirements of the law render Missouri’s lemon law virtually useless to consumers who purchase a new motor vehicle with serious defects. In my opinion, it would be extremely rare for a consumer to have a claim that would actually meet all the requirements of the law.

The first thing to recognize is that Missouri’s lemon law only applies to the purchase of a “new motor vehicle." The law defines a new motor vehicle as a motor vehicle being transferred for the first time from the manufacture or dealer. The purchaser must be the first person in the chain of title of the motor vehicle.

Next, the defect with the new motor vehicle must impair the use, market value, or safety of the new car. This would seem to exclude any problems concerning minor defects such as scratches, dings, problems with accessories, electronics, etc. So, if the defect concerned the airbags the lemon law would seem to apply, however, if the defect was with the heated seats it would not. The new motor vehicle must be used primarily used for personal, family, or household purposes and does not include commercial vehicles, off-road vehicles, mopeds, motorcycles or recreational vehicles.

A claim made pursuant to the lemon law must be made in good faith and the defect must not be a result of abuse, neglect, or unauthorized modifications or alterations of a motor vehicle. So, most aftermarket accessories such as computer performance chips, engine performance parts, and exhaust systems would exclude the consumer from making a claim under the lemon law. In any event, the existence of any modifications or alterations would certainly give the dealer a good argument as to why the law should not apply.

The law also requires the consumer to report the defect to the manufacture or the dealership before the earlier of either expiration of the warrantee or one year following the date of original delivery of the new car to the consumer. Because most new cars are sold with a manufacturer’s warrantee longer than one year, the lemon law, in practice, expires after one year.

The law requires that the car’s manufacturer, or its agent, i.e., the dealership, must make the repairs necessary to fix the new car so that it conforms to the express warranties of the car. These repairs still must be made even after the expiration of the one-year period if the consumer timely reported the problem within the one-year time period.

If the manufacture or dealer cannot fix the problem “after a reasonable number of attempts" it must either replace the car or refund the purchase. The law presumes that “a reasonable number of attempts" have been made to fix the car if within the one year time limit the dealer makes four or more attempts to fix the same problem or the car is out of service for a total of 30 days.

Dealers are undoubtedly aware of this same problem four-attempt rule and can simply avoid any lemon law liability by indicating in their service records that the repeated repairs where for different problems thereby taking the lemon law out of play.

If the consumer miraculously happens to satisfy all of these requirements, the dealer must either replace the car or refund the purchase price. The replacement car must be a comparable new car acceptable to the consumer. I would expect this means the same make and model, however the law is not clear and only specifies that the replacement be comparable. The refund requires the dealer to take title of the vehicle from the consumer and refund to the consumer the full purchase price or pay off the car’s loan, including all reasonably incurred collateral charges, less a reasonable allowance for the consumer’s use of the vehicle. This includes sales tax, license fees, registration fees, and title fees paid by the consumer. Note that the law provides that the dealer can deduct from the amount refunded to the consumer a reasonable charge for the consumer’s use of the car. Because a car depreciates the moment you drive off the car lot, I wonder if this “reasonable charge" could include this depreciation in addition to any mileage.

A lawsuit brought under Missouri’s lemon law must be filed within 18 months from the date of delivery of the new car. Missouri’s lemon law does provide for an award of attorney’s fees you the consumer should prevail however in some circumstances for consumer claims deemed to be filed in bad faith or unsupported by the facts the consumer may liable for the manufacturers or dealership’s attorneys’ fees.

In conclusion, Missouri’s lemon law is not much of a consumer protection law in practice. Consumers are much better off considering suit under The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act. The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act is a Federal Law that protects the buyer of any product which costs more than $25 and comes with an express written warranty. Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act applies to any product that you buy that does not perform as it should.

Missouri’s lemon law is found in Sections 407.560 to 407.579 of the Missouri Revised Statutes

Additional resources provided by the author

50 States Lemon Law Summaries

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