Bad motor vehicles are called "lemons" and no matter how hard you try to avoid buying one, sometimes it happens, both new and used. Before used vehicle Lemon Laws were passed, it was difficult to get a refund or a replacement vehicle because most new vehicle lemon laws did not cover used vehicles and other older laws did not define what was a lemon used car or truck. 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 used vehicle lemon owner could go to court and win and still end up with less than if he or she had just traded the lemon off in the first place. State Used Car Lemon Laws were intended to fix that. Still, very few states have a definition of what a lemon used vehicle is and most laws only cover consumer type vehicles used on public roads. If you buy your used vehicle in one of those states and you end up with a lemon, now you stand a good chance of getting rid of it and not losing your shirt.
What Used Vehicles are Covered?
All state Used Vehicle Lemon Laws cover all passenger cars. MA and MN also cover pickup trucks and vans but only NY covers motorcycles. The laws only cover vehicles bought from a car dealer (no private sales except in Massachusetts) and often have a mileage or age limit too. In Hawaii, it's 75,000 miles and 5 years old; Massachusetts, 15,000 to 125,000 miles; Minnesota, 8 years old and 75,000 miles; NJ 8 years old and 100,000 miles; New York, 18,000 to 100,000 miles; Rhode Island, up to 100,000 miles. Some states also require a minimum sale price before used car lemon laws apply, such as: Massachusetts, $700; Hawaii, New York, Rhode Island say $1,500; Minnesota and New Jersey, $3,000.
Is the Entire Vehicle Covered by the Used Vehicle Lemon Law?
No. Each used lemon vehicle law says what parts it covers on your used vehicle but generally coverage is often limited to a car's main parts and safety parts, like the engine, transmission, drive axle, brakes, steering, and ignition system. In Minnesota, however, parts coverage depends on the mileage when you buy the vehicle. In Massachusetts, the law covers any defect that affects the vehicle's safety or use. Hawaii and New York also cover the vehicle's cooling system too.
How Long Does the Used Vehicle Lemon Law Coverage Last on a Used Vehicle?
Each state's used vehicle lemon law gives consumers a mandatory warranty coverage from the selling dealer but there are different lengths of time limits to the coverage, depending on the mileage on the used vehicle when you got it, so you have to check your state's used vehicle lemon law for its specific coverage. Generally they give longer coverage for vehicles that have the least miles on them and the coverage gets shorter when you buy a vehicle with higher miles on it. Coverage usually starts after the state's new car lemon law coverage stops. In HI and MN it goes up to 75,000 miles; MA, up to 125,000 miles; NJ and NY and RI go up to 100,000 miles of used vehicle lemon law coverage. In MA, if the mileage is unknown then the coverage steps down by vehicle age, less than 3 years old gets 90 days or 3,750 miles and 3 to 6 years old gets 2,500 miles while more than 6 years old gets 30 days or 1,250 miles coverage. See your state law link below to be sure of your coverage length.
What is the Definition of a Lemon Used Motor Vehicle?
Every state used motor vehicle lemon law allows a maximum of 3 repair attempts for the same defect except MN, which limits it to a reasonable number of repair attempts. The maximum number of days the used vehicle is allowed to be out of service varies from 10 to 20. In HI, it's 10 (but up to 21 days to get needed parts); MA, 11; MN, a reasonable number of days; NY, 20; NY and RI both allow only 15 days but also allow the dealer up to 45 days to get needed parts). Check the Lemon Law Summaries links below to see what your state used lemon vehicle definitions are.
Can the Dealer Charge Me Anything for Repairs Under the Used Vehicle Lemon Laws?
In Hawaii, Minnesota, New York, and Rhode Island, the dealer can not make you pay for any of the repairs covered by the state used vehicle lemon law. In Massachusetts, the dealer may be able to require you to pay up to $100 per repair and in New Jersey up to $50.
If I Have a Lemon Used Vehicle, What Can I Do?
Every state used vehicle lemon law requires the dealer to take back the vehicle and give you back your money loss but in Minnesota the dealer can elect to repair the vehicle instead and in New Jersey all the consumer gets back is the actual purchase price of the vehicle (not the sales tax, etc).
If My State Has a Used Vehicle Lemon Law, Can the Dealer Still Sell the Vehicle to Me "As Is"?
In Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York, the dealer is not allowed to sell a used car "as is" to a consumer under normal circumstances. In Hawaii, Minnesota and Rhode Island, the dealer can still sell a car "as is" and not have to give the buyer will not get any used vehicle lemon law rights at all but only if the selling dealer gives specific notices to the buyer about the fact that the sale is "as is" and without any used vehicle lemon law rights coverage at all. In MN, a specific written notice has to be put on the car's windshield that warns you in advance and that says so. The sign has to be plainly visible and be the size of a regular sheet of paper, 8 1/2 by 11 inches) and it has to say, in one inch tall bold print type "NO WARRANTY AS TO CONDITION - SOLD AS IS". In addition, they have to say the same sort of words on your sales contract in larger and different colored type from the rest of the contract and both the buyer and the dealer have to initial the warranty waiver.
Do I Have to "Arbitrate" My Used Vehicle Lemon Law Claim?
Not likely. It may depend on if the dealer or your state has set up a mandatory dispute resolution or arbitration process. Most have not so you probably don't.
How Do I Start a Used Vehicle Lemon Law Claim?
If you fit one or more of your state's used vehicle lemon law definitions, then send a letter to your selling dealer simply saying that you think you have a lemon and that you want your money back. Send it by certified mail so you can prove it was received by the dealer. You can enclose copies of your repair paperwork if you want to, but never send your originals because you may need them in the future. 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 used motor vehicle Lemon Law claim tend to be the ones who keep insisting on what they are entitled to get under the law.
Additional resources provided by the author
To find out more about your state used vehicle Lemon Law you can contact your state attorney general's office or read the Used Vehicle Lemon Law Legal Guide for your state (see link below).
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