If your new car has made countless trips to the dealership for repairs, you may have bought a lemon. No matter what state you are in, the lemon law requires either proof that there is a repeated repair of the same problem or that the car has been in the shop for repairs an unusually high number of times. While it's a frustrating experience, you can protect yourself -- and your wallet -- by following these four tips.
Describe every problem in detail. When you drop the car off, be sure to describe the problem in detail, including when it occurs as well as any sounds or smells associated with it. If it's a repeated problem, describe it in the same manner each time. You won't be able to prove the problem is the same if the lemon law documentation doesn't clearly show the same issues.
Make sure the dealer's documentation is thorough. First, make sure the service adviser includes all of the details of the car's symptoms in the repair order -- the document he writes up and has you sign when you drop off the car. If he doesn't, have him rewrite it before you sign it. When you pick up the car, make sure the documentation you are given describes what work was done, including any parts that were replaced. This will also be helpful later when the car goes out of warranty and the same part fails again. You can argue that the part was defective and you should get the second repair for free. Finally, be sure the dealer's paperwork includes the dates that your car was in the shop for repairs.
While the car may have the same problem repeatedly, a dealer may perform different repairs on your car to try to clear the problem. The vehicle can still qualify as a lemon car as long as the problem is the same.
In any lemon law case, it's essential to ensure the dealer's paperwork shows the length of time the car was out of service. This is especially helpful for cars that have a wide range of problems and that the dealer seems to fix properly the first time. These cars can generally qualify under a state's lemon law due to the number of days they are in the shop.
Understand what you are entitled to if you own a lemon car. If you make a lemon law claim on your car, you can choose between demanding a refund or a replacement car. Regardless of which you choose, you can only be charged a minimal fee for the miles you drove before the first repair that qualified you for lemon law coverage. Check your state's lemon law to see how the fee is calculated.
If you want a refund, it typically includes sales tax, registration and other fees at the time of purchase as well as incidental fees caused by the lemon car, such as towing or rental car charges.
If you want a replacement vehicle, you should not be required to pay sales tax or any other fees associated with registering the new car. In addition, expenses you incurred due to owning a lemon car, such as towing and rental car costs, should be reimbursed by the manufacturer.
You may not need to pay for an attorney. Many automakers have formal arbitration programs written into your car's warranty that owners are required to complete to get their lemon car replaced or their investment refunded. Some states have programs that assist consumers with this, and some even provide attorneys to help consumers through the lemon law process. In other states, you can get reimbursed for your attorney's fees if your vehicle is determined to be a lemon car.
If your auto is a lemon car, make a claim under the lemon law for your state. Start by visiting the Center for Auto Safety website to learn more about lemon laws and find the link to your state's program.
Ask the adviserIf you have a car question, e-mail it to us at Driving for Dollars. Read more Driving for Dollars columns and Bankrate auto stories.
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