What Makes a Car a Lemon?

February 12th, 2021 by

We all know that tart citrus we make lemonade with, but when it comes to vehicles, you don’t want a lemon. When discussing vehicles the term lemon generally refers to a bad car. This could be for several reasons. Here we’ll explore what being a lemon actually means, how you can avoid buying one, and what you can do if you find out your new car is a lemon.


What Is a Lemon?

It’s estimated that only about 1% of new vehicles turn out to be lemons. Every state has its own lemon laws, legislation addressing what qualifies as a lemon and what the consumer’s and manufacturer’s rights and obligations are. You can click here to learn about the lemon laws in your state.

What Makes a Car a Lemon?

In most states, for a car to qualify as a lemon, the car must have a significant defect that is covered by the warranty. It also must have occurred within a specified period, either in time or miles, from when you purchased the vehicle. Also, it must still not be fixed after a reasonable number of attempts to do so. In most states, these laws generally only apply to new vehicles, but some exceptions exist.

  • Significant Defects 

    There are some ambiguous areas here that need further explanation. What exactly is a significant defect? This would be anything that adversely affects the car’s value, use, or safety. A faulty engine, transmission, brake system, or suspension system would be considered significant. Lesser defects like a bent antenna or a loose radio knob would not meet the criteria. In some cases, things like persistent bad odors and defective paint jobs have been ruled to be significant.

  • Reasonable Repair Attempts 

    What would reasonable attempts to repair look like? For the lemon law to apply, it depends on the defect in question. If it is a safety defect, say for your steering system or brakes, it would have to remain unfixed after only one attempt to qualify for the lemon law. If the defect isn’t safety-related, the manufacturer is allowed three or four attempts depending on the state you live in. Another qualifier is if the vehicle has been in the shop for repairs 30 days or longer in a 1-year period it will qualify. In this instance, it could be for multiple defects.

What Should You Do if You Bought a Lemon?

You won’t necessarily know right away that you bought a lemon. Taking the appropriate steps, in the beginning, will help you build a solid claim.

  • Save Your Records 

    Be sure to save your repair records every time you bring your vehicle into the dealership. You’ll need all the substantiating documentation of the problems and the dealership’s attempts to fix them. It’s also a good idea to keep a record of all your communications. This helps to paint a full picture of the steps both parties have taken and often the pain involved for you. It’s very important to only bring your vehicle to the dealership for repairs. Going elsewhere might void your warranty and give the dealership someone else to blame.

  • Research Similar Vehicles 

    If you suspect you’ve bought a lemon but aren’t sure, you could do a little research on your make and model. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is a good resource. If your make and model have been involved in recalls or been accused of similar manufacturer defects, you might have a case of your own. You should save any information you find from the NHTSA regarding similar instances to help support your case to an arbitrator or judge.

  • File a Claim 

    Once you’re certain, you must send a formal letter that describes your claim. There are plenty of form letters you can find online. If the company denies your claim, the likely next step is arbitration. Most auto manufacturers have an arbitration process in place to handle warranty issues. You must go through this process to get your car replaced or obtain a refund. If you are still denied after going through arbitration, it’s time to hire an attorney. Be cautious with this step, as an attorney will cost you money. If an arbitrator denied your claim, you are far less likely to win in court. Winning your case isn’t impossible, but be prepared to spend the money with no guarantees.

Tips To Avoid Buying a Lemon

It isn’t easy to predict if a car will be a lemon before purchasing one. You should consider buying a make and model with a good reliability rating. Consumer Reports is a great resource. They print an annual reliability report based on subscriber data.

Be certain your vehicle comes with a warranty. All new vehicles should come with a warranty. If you’re considering a used vehicle, you can always ask for a warranty. Some used car dealers will be happy to add one at an additional cost. A warranty could save you money down the road.

It might sound silly, but checking under the hood of a new car is a good idea. If there is something seriously wrong with the vehicle, there might be signs. You shouldn’t see any leaking fluid or wet spots. The engine and battery should be clean and free of grease or corrosion. While you have the hood open, you should check all the fluids to be sure they are clean and filled to the proper level.

You might have taken a similar model for a test drive yet decided to purchase another vehicle with additional features. You should test drive the one you are buying, too. Make sure it feels right, sounds good, and that everything works properly.

Buying a Quality Vehicle From a Trusted Dealership

The best advice is to be sure you purchase your vehicle from a dealership you trust. Research the dealer’s reputation in the local region. See how they are perceived, especially when it comes to warranty repairs.

At Oxmoor Toyota, we pride ourselves on selling quality vehicles, providing the highest level of customer service, and in our commitment that encourages our employees to exceed our customers’ expectations in every interaction.

We are conveniently located on Shelbyville Road in Louisville, Kentucky. Contact us online or visit our dealership if you want to shop for a vehicle with a dealership that is proud to earn our customers’ trust every day.

Posted in Auto Tips