Lemon laws are American state laws that provide a remedy for purchasers of cars and other consumer goods in order to compensate for products that repeatedly fail to meet standards of quality and performance. Although there may be defective products of all sorts ranging from small electrical appliances to huge pieces of machinery, the term “lemon” is most often used to describe defective motor vehicles such as automobiles, trucks, SUVs, and motorcycles.
Lemon law protection arises under state law, with every U.S. state plus D.C. having its own lemon law. Although the exact criteria vary by state, new vehicle lemon laws require that an auto manufacturer repurchase a vehicle that has a significant defect that the manufacturer is unable to repair within a reasonable amount of time. Lemon laws consider the nature of the problem with the vehicle, the number of days that the vehicle is unavailable to the consumer for service of the same mechanical issue, and the number of repair attempts made. If repairs cannot be completed within the total number of days described in the state statute, the manufacturer becomes obligated to buy back the defective vehicle. Contrary to popular belief, the dealership has no obligation to buy back the vehicle, because the dealership does not warrant the vehicle, the manufacturer does.
Lemon laws offer remedies that exceed the scope of a vehicle manufacturer’s warranty. While a manufacturer’s warranty might obligate a vehicle manufacturer to make a repair at no cost to the consumer, warranties do not include maximum time periods for the completion of repair, nor do they trigger buy-back provisions if the repair cannot be completed within such a time period.
Some state lemon laws cover only certain classes of vehicles, such as vehicles purchased for individual use but not for business use, or vehicles under a certain gross weight. A small number of states additionally have more limited lemon laws that cover used vehicles. Some states have lemon laws that apply to pet purchases.
There are two types of warranties for product purchases, express warranties and implied warranties. Express warranties make specific promises about product repair, and are usually made in writing. An express warranty may be provided by the manufacturers in owner’s manuals and other written sales or marketing materials. Implied warranties arise from a manufacturer’s duty to meet certain minimum standards of quality whereby the product is fit for use for the purpose intended. An implied warranty arises from the sale itself, and need not be in writing. In each type the manufacturer assumes the liability and responsibility to correct the defect and, in the event that they cannot meet that duty, may be required to repurchase or replace the product.
The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act was enacted as a federal law in 1975, and protects citizens of all states, to ensure that manufacturers honor their warranties and to reduce the chance that a consumer will be misled about the nature and scope of a warranty when making a purchase. The Act extends to the purchase of consumer products, including motor vehicles and appliances. The Act also provides that the warranter may be obligated to pay the prevailing party’s attorney in a successful lawsuit, as do most state lemon laws. A consumer may pursue relief under both a state lemon law and the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act.
The existence, scope and consequence of express and implied warranties can vary under state law, and warranties for the sale of goods will often be addressed by Article II of the Uniform Commercial Code. The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act will not protect the buyer of a product purchased without a warranty, such as a product purchased “as is” or “with all faults”, but may protect a consumer who was misled into waiving the protection of a warranty.