This article is written by Simran Mohanty, a BBA-LLB student from Fairfield Institute of Management and Technology, affiliated with Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, New Delhi. This article goes into detail about some of the state lemon laws and federal lemon laws in the United States of America.
It has been published by Rachit Garg.
When you buy a new car, you expect it to be free of defects. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. Sometimes, manufacturers produce cars with hidden defects that only become apparent after a period of time. These manufacturing defects can have severe consequences for drivers and their safety. In some cases, these defects are so severe that they render the car unsafe to drive. Cars are generally the second most expensive purchase for an individual; the first is usually a house. Imagine you buy your dream car with your hard-earned money, and after a few days, you start to see defects in your new automobile. Even after a few attempts to repair it, the defect won’t go away. This car would be called a “lemon.” To protect such lemon car-owners, many states have passed “lemon laws”. Apart from the state laws, there is also a federal lemon law, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act (1975). So, if you find yourself stuck with an expensive lemon of a car, here is an overview of what most states, as well as the federal lemon laws, offer.
The lemon laws are a set of legal rights that protect consumers when buying new cars, electronic items, and other motor vehicles. Lemon law is a common name for the statutes of each state that protects consumers and their new cars. If you get a defective car and cannot get it fixed, you can invoke your state’s lemon law to get compensation or replacement with no strings attached.
If you have purchased a brand-new car, chances are it might break down at some point during its ownership period due to some mechanical fault. In most cases, the issue might be minor and may not require any action from your side. However, there are certain instances where the issue could be so severe that it affects your ability to drive the car on a day-to-day basis. Lemon laws have been enacted at the state as well as the federal level that give buyers a remedy if the car they purchase does not meet quality and performance standards or has some manufacturing defects.
Definition of a lemon
The term “lemon” typically refers to defective vehicles such as automobiles, trucks, and motorcycles that are found to be defective after purchase and can not be repaired with a reasonable effort. Many states also have “lemon laws” for products other than vehicles, like small electronic items.
Since every state in the United States of America has its own set of lemon laws, the definition of ‘lemon’ will vary from state to state. However, ordinarily, a lemon is defined as a new car or an old car (as provided in some states’ laws) that has a substantial defect that can’t be repaired even after a reasonable number of attempts. What constitutes a substantial defect varies by state, but most states define a “substantial defect” as something that impairs the vehicle’s functional aspect.
Each state has its own understanding of what constitutes a reasonable number of attempts to repair a vehicle.
The federal lemon law
The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act is also said to be the Federal Lemon Law, which was enacted in the year 1975. This Act governs the products that have consumer warranties. Under this act, the seller or manufacturers of the products having written warranties must replace or refund the purchase price of defective consumer products if these products cannot be satisfactorily repaired after a “reasonable” number of attempts.
Requirements under the federal lemon law
- A product has a valid warranty.
- The product was presented for repair within the warranty period.
- The manufacturer failed to adhere to the warranty’s provisions within a reasonable amount of time or repair attempts
State lemon laws
Between 1982 and 1994, all fifty states enacted their own lemon laws. All of the different lemon laws are governed by state law. However, there are some significant differences in the way the laws are written from state to state. This is, to a large extent, true when it comes to the definition of what a lemon is. For example, in some states, a vehicle would be considered a lemon if it is out of service for more than a particular amount of time. In other states, the vehicle only qualifies as a lemon if it has been out of service for a certain amount of time and has had multiple repairs done to it. Another important difference is the amount of time you have to file a claim under the lemon law. In some states, the lemon law statute of limitations is as low as 18 months, while in others it can get as high as six years. Below are some of the state’s lemon laws discussed in detail.
California’s lemon law
The lemon laws are contained in the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act and the Tanner Protection Consumer Act. The Song Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, which is one of the first states to pass their own lemon law, was enacted in 1970 and begins with Section 1790 of the California Civil Code and ends with Section 1795.8. Section 1793.22 of the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act contains the Tanner Protection Consumer Act.
The law applies to motor vehicles sold or leased with a newly written warranty from the manufacturer that:
- Are primarily used or purchased for personal, family, or household purposes, or
- Are used or purchased primarily for business purposes by any person or business with at least one, but no more than five registered motor vehicles in California. In this case, the vehicle’s gross vehicle weight must be less than 10,000 pounds.
In order to make sure that this California Lemon Law covers you, the following criteria should be fulfilled:
- The defect must be related to the safety of the vehicle.
- The repair attempts need to be unsuccessful.
- There need to be four attempts before it is deemed unrepairable.
- The manufacturer has been notified about the defect and has had at least four months to fix it.
Important definitions covered under the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act
Consumer goods are defined under Section 1791(a) which says that consumer goods can be the following items for the purpose of the Act:
- New product; or
- It’s part that is used or bought for use primarily for personal, family, or household purposes; or
- New and used assisted devices.
The definition of consumer goods does not cover clothing and consumables.
For the purpose of the Act, “Person” can be any of the following:
- limited liability company,
- association, and
- legal entities engaged in the business of manufacturing, distributing, or selling consumer goods at retail.
Buyer or retail buyer
According to Section 1791(b) of the California Civil Code, a buyer or retail buyer under the Song-Beverly Act is any individual who buys consumer goods from another person.
Warranties under the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act
The provisions of this act protect the buyers from any kind of breach of warranty. The Act describes two types of warranty-express warranty and implied warranty.
The Act defines an express warranty under Section 1791.2 as a written statement by the manufacturer, distributor, or retailer in a sale of a consumer good to a consumer, undertaking to preserve or maintain the utility or performance of the consumer good; or provide compensation in case the product is a failure in terms of performance and utility.
The section further says that if a sample or model is used, an affirmation that the whole of the goods conforms to the sample or model.
The Song-Beverly Act specifies that all consumer goods are covered under an implied warranty of merchantability as well as an implied warranty of fitness. According to Section 1791.1, “Implied Warranty of Merchantability” means that the product should conform to the promises and label facts. The products should also pass the trade under the contract description without objection. They should serve the ordinary purposes for which such goods are used and need to be adequately contained, packaged, and labeled.
Every retail sale of consumer goods in California must include the manufacturer’s and retail seller’s implied warranty that the goods are merchantable.
The retail seller, on the other hand, has a right of indemnity against the manufacturer for the amount of any related liability.
The implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose is provided by the manufacturer, distributor, or retailer when the manufacturer, distributor, or retailer has reason to know at the time of sale that: the goods are required for a particular purpose.
Rights of buyers under the Song-Beverly Act
What if you buy a damaged consumer good and the seller of the goods fails to comply with the obligations under the Song-Beverly Act or an express or implied warranty? Then, according to Section 1794(a), you may bring an action for the recovery of damages.
Under Section 1794(b), the buyer of the damaged goods can ask for either a reimbursement or a replacement. In case the buyer chooses to get a replacement, then the damaged vehicle will be replaced with the identical model of the vehicle. Whereas if the buyer opts for reimbursement, then he is entitled to be compensated with the purchase price of the consumer good, minus the value of its use by him before discovering the defect.
Tanner Protection Consumer Act
The Tanner Consumer Protection Act provides guidelines for a vehicle to qualify as a lemon.
Section 1793.22(b) creates a presumption with regard to the reasonable number of attempts. It says that if any of the following non-conformities that cannot be repaired arise within 18 months of the vehicle’s delivery or before 18,000 miles on the odometer have been reached(whichever comes first ):
- The nonconformity results in a fatality or severe bodily injury if the vehicle is driven and the nonconformity has been subject to repair two or more times by the manufacturer or its agents and the buyer has directly notified the manufacturer regarding the same.
- There have been four or more repair attempts on the vehicle by the manufacturer or its agent.
- If the vehicle has been out of service for more than 30 calendar days from the date it was delivered to the buyer.
Michigan Lemon Laws
What is covered under the Michigan Lemon Law?
The Michigan lemon law covers any motor vehicle designed as any of the following:
- passenger vehicle,
- sports utility vehicle,
- pickup truck, or
Buses, trucks, motor homes, or vehicles designed with less than four wheels do not fall under the ambit of the said Act.
This act mainly covers new motor vehicles. A new motor vehicle means a motor vehicle that is purchased or leased in the state of Michigan or purchased or leased by a resident of Michigan and that is covered by a manufacturer’s express warranty at the time of purchase or lease. The lemon law also covers used motor vehicles if the ownership of the car has been transferred during the manufacturer’s express warranty. For example, A bought a brand new Toyota Corolla but, after some time, decided to sell it to B. If the ownership was transferred within the express warranty period, then B would be entitled to Lemon Law protection when any defect was found.
Consumer under the Michigan Lemon Law
According to Section 257.1401(a), any one of the following would be called a consumer if any person
- Purchases or leases a new motor vehicle strictly for personal, family, or household use rather than any commercial purpose like that of selling or leasing the vehicle to another person; or
- Purchases or leases fewer than ten new motor vehicles per year; or
- Purchases or leases ten or more new motor vehicles per year only if the vehicles are used for personal, family, or household use; or
- Is authorised to enforce the provisions of an express warranty in accordance with the terms of that warranty.
What counts as a reasonable number of attempts?
It is presumed that a reasonable number of repair attempts have been made if one of the following occurs:
(a) The very same defect or condition persists despite the vehicle being repaired four or more times within two years of the first attempt to repair the defect or condition; or
(b) The vehicle is out of service for 30 days or parts of days due to repairs during the manufacturer’s express warranty period or within one year of delivery to the original consumer, whichever comes first.
Like the states of California and Michigan, all fifty states have their individual lemon laws, which the buyer can take benefit from, in case he/she comes across a lemon.
When life gives you a lemon, don’t worry because you’ve got lemon laws. The lemon laws are designed to protect consumers who have purchased faulty vehicles or any consumer goods that are governed by their state’s lemon law. These laws vary from state to state, but they typically require manufacturers to either repair the vehicle or provide a refund. The basis of all the lemon laws is the same, i.e., if you discover that your vehicle is faulty even after a reasonable number of attempts to repair it (which would differ from state to state) and your vehicle is under warranty, then you are entitled to either replacement or reimbursement of the damaged vehicle/goods. Most of the state laws are quite extensive already. Still, you can take shelter under the Federal Lemon Law if the state laws are not covering you. So, if you think that your vehicle qualifies as a lemon, then you may contact an attorney to make good use of the rights provided to you.
What goods are covered under the lemon law?
Lemon laws apply to a wide range of motor vehicles that have been purchased for the purpose of personal and family use. Some state laws cover small electronic items also.
What is a lemon law presumption?
Lemon law presumption prescribes the period during which the goods can be presumed to be a lemon if they satisfy the conditions as per their state laws.
What kinds of defects are covered under the lemon law?
Generally, the defects which hamper the safety and functional part of the vehicle would be termed as defects for the purpose of lemon law.
- The “Lemon Law”: Its Rules and Their Application to Retailers by Stephanie W. Kanwit and Sue Halverson
- STANDARDS OF THE MICHIGAN LEMON LAW
- The California Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act: Overview | Severson & Werson
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