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What are Lemon Laws?

The federal "lemon law," also called the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, provides legal recourse for anyone who has purchased a car that repeatedly fails to live up to its expected standards of quality and performance (hence the defective car being called a "lemon," or a dud). Each state has its own version of the lemon law with variations on what is covered.

The federal lemon laws, and many state lemon laws, cover any mechanical flaws as well as require that the warrantor pay the owner's attorney fees if the suit is successful. Since lemon laws deal with the manufacturer's breach of warranty in producing and selling a dud car, not all state lemon laws cover used or leased vehicles; furthermore, your state's warranty period may not coincide with the actual car warranty.

California and Connecticut were among the first states to enact lemon laws in the early 1980s, which protect consumers from substantial defects occurring within a specified period after purchase and provide that a manufacturer must either replace the lemon with a new, comparable car or refund the full purchase price.

Check with the Attorney General in your state to determine if Lemon Laws apply to your purchase.

Generally, in most states, such as New York, a new car buyer can rescind a car purchase if a major defect covered under warranty is discovered in the car and the defect remains unfixed after a reasonable number of repair efforts have been completed by the dealer or manufacturer.  Although state lemon laws are generally limited to new vehicles, many states have also enacted specific lemon statutes that protect purchasers of used vehicles.

Is there consumer protection when fraud or misrepresentation is involved in the sale of a vehicle?

Even if you do not think you have a lemon, you may still be able to rescind your car purchase if you are a victim of fraud or misrepresentation.

For example, California provides consumers with numerous protections against misrepresentations that are made during the negotiations for the purchase or lease of goods or services. Further, there is no requirement that the salesperson intended to make a misrepresentation; the fact that an untrue representation was made during the negotiations is all that is required.

Examples of fraud or misrepresentation for automobiles include:

  • The seller stated that the car is new, when the car is used or reconditioned.
  • There is a misrepresentation regarding the quality or benefits of goods or services (usually covers any service contracts, or anything a finance or sales manager explains to you, including the quality of a used car, etc.).
  • There are significant non-disclosures, where a salesperson failed to inform you that the used car is a previous lemon-law buy-back, the car was previously involved in a car accident, the car was previously totaled and repaired, or even involved in a flood.
  • Even an as-is sale is not final when a buyer's decision is based on a fraud or misrepresentation.

Are there protections for consumers whose primary language is not English?

In addition, California Civil Code §1632 provides that if a purchase or lease of a vehicle is primarily negotiated in Spanish, then a Spanish translation of the contract must be provided to the customer prior to signing the English language contract. This law was recently expanded to include Chinese, Vietnamese, Tagalog and Korean. Failure to comply with this law gives the customer the right to rescind the car purchase.

If you have questions about a consumer's rights and protections when it comes to the sale and purchase of a vehicle, reach out to a Rocket Lawyer network attorney for affordable legal advice.  Before speaking to a lawyer, it's a good idea to gather all of your relevant documents and records, including your Car Bill of Sale.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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