What Happens If You Buy a Lemon of a Car?

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Automotive Content Editor

Meghan Carbary has been writing professionally for nearly 20 years. A published journalist in three states, Meghan honed her skills as a feature writer and sports editor. She has now expanded her skill-set into the automotive industry as a content writer for Auto Credit Express, where she contributes to several automotive and auto finance blogs.


, Automotive Content Editor - July 19, 2021

Lemons have earned a reputation standing for things that are sour, or no good. Perhaps this is why we call cars with repeated, unfixable issues lemons. In some cases, you can salvage a sour situation with a refund or a replacement vehicle. Here's how.

What's a Lemon?

A lemon is defined as a vehicle with repeated problems that haven't been able to be fixed. In most states, to be defined as a lemon, the vehicle must be new, and you must make multiple, unsuccessful service attempts. The lemon laws of most states vary, so what is defined as a lemon, and what can be done about it, varies too.

According to Nolo.com, a legal website, approximately 1% of all new cars on the market are lemons. They define a lemon as a vehicle having substantial damage which affects the use, safety, or value of the car, which occurred a certain number of miles or amount of time after purchase, and which isn't caused by abuse or misuse.

What Can I Do if I Get a Lemon?

Documentation is key for consumers who get a lemon. To qualify for a refund or replacement vehicle, the issue typically needs to be covered by a warranty and still not be fixed after a certain number of attempts or amount of time, depending on the issue – these all need to be backed up by receipts and service records.

For a lemon law to help protect you and your car under most state guidelines, you have to contact the manufacturer and allow them to make a reasonable number of attempts to correct the issue. These attempts to repair generally have to meet the following guidelines, depending on your state:

  • For serious problems that cause safety-related issues, the issue must not be corrected after one attempt if it affects the operation of the vehicle.
  • If the defect doesn't pose a serious threat to safety, manufacturers typically have three or four chances to try and correct the issue before it's covered under lemon laws.
  • Vehicles that spend 30 or more days in a shop within one year for the same issue or series of issues may also be covered under the lemon laws of some states.

Once you've given the manufacturer ample time to correct the issue, and kept all your paperwork, you may be entitled to compensation. This usually means a refund or replacement, but the process differs from state to state. In most cases, if you don't receive satisfactory compensation from the manufacturer, you're required to go through arbitration which gives the manufacturer a chance to settle with you before going to court.

Consider an Extended Warranty

If your vehicle is constantly in the shop and doesn't qualify for lemon law protections in your state it may be time to consider some additional protection. Cars that are no longer under warranty, or used vehicles that are having issues can cost a lot to repair, but you can get some help through an extended warranty.

Also called a service contract, extended warranties can help you pay for repairs to your vehicle after its factory warranty expires. You're typically offered one when you purchase a used car, but you can usually add them at any time. Service contracts work like insurance, where you pay for an annual premium in exchange for help covering the cost when your car's in the shop.

Trade-In for Something Peachy

Since constantly having a vehicle in for repairs isn't ideal, it may be time to trade in your car for something more reliable. Whether that's true or not, they also say that when life hands you lemons, make lemonade – and you may just be able to!

If you're having issues finding the financing you need due to tarnished credit, consider looking for a subprime lender. These lenders are signed up with special finance dealerships and help people in many different situations.

At CarsDirect, we can help connect you to a dealer in your area to take the stress out of car shopping. Simply fill out our free no-obligation auto loan request form to get started!

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, Automotive Content Editor

Meghan Carbary has been writing professionally for nearly 20 years. A published journalist in three states, Meghan honed her skills as a feature writer and sports editor. She has now expanded her skill-set into the automotive industry as a content writer for Auto Credit Express, where she contributes to several automotive and auto finance blogs.


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