By: Brett Shainfeld

When you buy something new, you expect it to work properly. All the parts should be there, and everything should function the way it was meant to. But unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. Sometimes even brand new items don’t work as they should, which can be extremely frustrating for consumers. After all, you’ve spent your hard-earned money on an item you need — whether it’s a toothbrush, a kitchen appliance, or a car — and it isn’t unreasonable to want it to live up to expectations. Especially when the item in question is something as expensive as a car.

If this sounds familiar to you, you might have a lemon on your hands. And no matter what you do, chances are, that shiny new car you purchased just isn’t going to work the way it should.

Now that we have the bad news out in the open, we can focus on the good news. You may have a lemon, but there are laws in place to protect consumers like you from being taken advantage of by companies. For now, let’s focus on defining what a lemon is, so we can get on the right track to getting the compensation you may well deserve.

What is a “Lemon”?

Picture it: You just bought something you were excited about, and now that you’ve brought it home it’s feeling less like confetti explosions and more like smashing plates in frustration. Maybe that fancy milk frother gives you lukewarm steamed milk instead of the perfectly bubbly cappuccino topping you were promised. Or your new electric toothbrush won’t hold a charge through an entire two-minute brushing cycle. Or, worst of all, every time you have to apply the brakes in your new car, you’re certain today’s the day you crash into the person in front of you.

If this sounds familiar, you’ve likely got a lemon on your hands.

Any product that falls under a warranty and suffers from manufacturing defects can be labeled a lemon, like a toothbrush or kitchen appliances mentioned earlier in this article. These things fall under the federal protection of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, which protects consumers from the purchase of faulty items. If you inadvertently buy something that keeps breaking on you every time you try to use it, you aren’t stuck with that item forever. Manufacturers are required to fix it at no charge to you, replace it with a new item, or give your money back.

Though most consumer products can be considered lemons if they don’t operate properly, it’s a term most often reserved for faulty cars. Statistically, about 1% of new cars each year are lemons. That may not sound like a lot, but it translates to about 170,000 cars every year — which means 170,000 consumers who think they’re buying a new car end up in a nightmare cycle of repairs.

The requirements for what makes a car a lemon will vary depending on the state you live in. Knowing your state’s lemon law is an important part of being protected as a consumer, and it gives you warning signs to look out for in case you’re hoping for compensation from the manufacturer.

Next, we’ll talk through some of the specifics of what makes a car a lemon.

When Is a Car Considered a Lemon?

As mentioned, each state has their own set of lemon laws and requirements your car must meet in order to be considered a lemon. The wording is generally the same across all states: Your car must have a “substantial defect” that persists after a “considerable number” of repair attempts. Essentially, your new car is plagued with serious, irreparable issues that affect the value, safety, and performance of the vehicle.

Those two phrases — “substantial defect” and “considerable number” — are the aspects of the lemon law that differ depending on which state you call home. In California, the lemon law presumption states that your car has to meet the following criteria within 18 months or 18,000 miles after the car becomes yours (whichever comes first):

  • The manufacturer has made two or more repair attempts to fix a warranty problem that could result in death or serious injury
  • The manufacturer has made at least four repair attempts to fix the same warranty problem, and the issue still persists
  • The car has been undrivable for at least 30 days because of warranty repair problems
  • Any issues the car is having are not the result of abuse by the owner

Under the lemon law, it’s important to understand that there’s a difference between car problems that are annoyances, and ones that pose a serious threat to safety. This issue must be a defect that’s covered under the car’s warranty, or one that makes the car unsafe to drive. Be sure to read any warranty documentation very carefully to determine what’s covered and what isn’t.

Now that you know what makes a car a lemon, let’s talk through what happens if you’ve driven a dud off the lot.

I Bought a Lemon — What Can I Do?

If it’s already too late, and you’ve taken home a car you’re pretty sure is a lemon, not all hope is lost. As mentioned earlier in this article, you’re entitled to certain protections under federal and state lemon laws. If your car meets the requirements for a lemon, you’re entitled to compensation from the manufacturer in one of three ways: they buy back the car, they replace it with one that works, or they offer you a cash settlement.

In a perfect world, all you’d have to do is contact the manufacturer, provide documentation that proves the car has serious, irreparable defects, and they’d buy back the faulty car from you. But unfortunately, as long as the car is in your possession, it’s your problem, and they’re in no hurry to take it back. So you’ll often have to pursue arbitration or a lemon lawsuit in order to get the compensation you deserve.

While you can participate in lemon law arbitration on your own, it’s inadvisable and you’re unlikely to win against a major car manufacturer. In an arbitration case, an arbiter is appointed to hear both sides and then make a decision about who wins, and who’s entitled to what. They can also determine which pieces of evidence can be presented during the process. And you aren’t able to have a lawyer present to help you out. On the other hand, the car manufacturer is likely to have an expert represent their side who’s well-versed in lemon laws and has experience winning arbitration cases for the manufacturer.

Your chances of winning a case go up considerably with a lawsuit because you can have a lemon law expert lawyer on your side. They’ll know the ins and outs of your state’s lemon law, and will know what documentation you’ll need, which witnesses to call, and how to get you the money you deserve. And if you win your lemon law case at trial, the manufacturer also has to pay all of your attorney fees — meaning you’ll get the money for your car back at no cost to you. Working with a lawyer who has a history of winning lemon law cases in court can make your lemon law court process much easier to get through.

Get The Lemon Aid You Need

The lemon law experts at Shainfeld Law have over a decade of lemon law experience behind them. We have a proven track record of winning cases and getting our clients the car buyback or other compensation they deserve. No one should be stuck driving a faulty car they can’t trust to be safe or reliable. Working with us can increase your chances of winning a lemon law case in court.

You can contact us for a free consultation, where we’ll help you understand what makes a car a lemon and if your car qualifies as one under California lemon law. Our site is full of videos, FAQs, and resources that can be extremely helpful in your understanding of the lemon law and what it might mean for you. We’re here to help get you out of the repair shop and back on the road.

Contact us today to talk about your Lemon Law claim.