What is a Lemon Car? How to Avoid Bad Car Deals

“You got a real lemon.”

That’s the last thing you want to hear when you visit a mechanic with your recently-purchased new car. While the term is commonly used to describe any car that breaks down a lot or has issues, there are actual lemon laws on the books. 

Owners of cars that meet the criteria of being a lemon under the law have legal recourse they can take if they are sold a defective vehicle. 

Each state has its own lemon laws, but all are similar in many ways. In Oklahoma, for example, the lemon law covers any new motor vehicle that must be registered, with the exception of vehicles over 10,000 pounds. 

What Is A Lemon Car?

When you buy a new car, you expect it to be perfect. After all, you’ve paid a premium for a car with just a few miles on the odometer, so you shouldn’t have to deal with problems. Still, not just any defect makes it a lemon. 

Again using Oklahoma as an example, here is the definition of a lemon according to the Oklahoma Attorney General’s website: 

A new vehicle may be a lemon if there is a defect covered by the warranty which substantially impairs the use and value. However, the defect cannot be the result of abuse, neglect or unauthorized modifications or alterations.

Does Every State Have Lemon Car Laws?
Every state has some form of a lemon law to cover new cars. The laws vary from state to state, but each provides similar protections. 

What about used cars?

Only a few states have lemon laws that protect buyers of used cars. The requirements under those laws vary but typically cover the purchase for between 60 and 90 days or 2,500 to 5,000 miles. This protection is only for vehicles with low miles of between 24,000 and 40,000 miles, depending on the state. 

The six states that have used car lemon laws are:

  • Hawaii
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Rhode Island

Another seven states have minimum standards that used cars must meet before being sold. These states don’t have lemon laws, but they do have some requirements, such as passing a safety inspection or requiring a warranty.

What to Do If You Bought a Lemon

Once you’ve determined that you’ve bought a lemon, it’s important to contact the dealer and/or manufacturer as soon as possible. Each state has a time limit for informing the dealer or manufacturer that you’re invoking the lemon law, so don’t wait. As soon as you think you have a claim, contact them immediately. You should make all correspondence in writing to create a paper trail. 

What will likely happen next is that you’ll be contacted to bring your vehicle in so the manufacturer can attempt to correct this problem. The law allows several attempts, typically four, to fix the defect. 

If after four attempts the defect is not corrected, OR if the vehicle has been unavailable to you because it was in for repairs for 30 business days, you’ll move on to the next step. 

Note that the lemon law proper doesn’t apply quite yet. Before you formally invoke the law, you must go through informal dispute resolution so long as the manufacturer has such a procedure in place that abides by the federal guidelines (most manufacturers do). 

What If the Vehicle Cannot Be Fixed?

Here is the meat of the matter: What happens if a vehicle that would qualify as a lemon cannot be fixed after a reasonable number of attempts? This is where the protection of the law comes in. 

If the manufacturer fails to fix the defect or defects and informal dispute resolution has failed, the manufacturer must either allow the vehicle to be returned for a full refund, including taxes and fees*, or replace the vehicle with a new model comparable to the original. The consumer must agree to the choice of replacement vehicle. 

*Interest and an allowance for consumer’s use of the vehicle, based on miles driven, will be deducted. 

The Pros and Cons of Lemon Laws

There is no doubt that the lemon laws provide a measure of protection to consumers purchasing a new car, but they are a bit of a hassle to deal with. Imagine having to bring your car back up to four times and having no vehicle to drive while it’s being worked on. Also, the letter writing, having to deal with the mediation, and all the other steps involved—it could get a bit overwhelming. 

It’s absolutely true that this protection is better than nothing, but it seems like lawmakers could have found ways to streamline its application to make it less cumbersome for consumers. 

Buying New Car Vs. Used Car

Buying a brand new might sound great on its surface, but it becomes less of a good idea when you consider the bigger picture. You’re going to pay thousands of extra dollars, and for what? New cars are not necessarily more reliable than used cars (as evidenced by the need for lemon laws.) Buying a pre-owned car in excellent condition is a superior option. 

  • It’s already been driven and proven not to be a lemon. 
  • It will cost thousands of dollars less for the same features. 
  • Insurance costs will be lower.
  • You’ll be able to afford more of a car when buying used. 
  • The car will not depreciate by thousands before you even get it home. 

Of course, the key is buying a quality pre-owned car—and one that comes with a warranty. Victory Used Cars insists on the best for our customers, so we only sell cars that meet our high standards. Each car is thoroughly inspected by qualified mechanics. If it doesn’t meet our standards, it doesn’t go on our lot. 

We also offer a warranty on every car we sell, so you can have total confidence when driving off our lot in your pre-owned car. Quality cars, great service, and buy here pay here financing makes it easy to see why so many choose Victory Used Cars!