OpenJurist

What should I do if my new car is a lemon?

If you think your new car is a lemon, you must notify the manufacturer and give its authorized dealer the opportunity to make repairs. When contacting the manufacturer, follow your state's notice requirements.

If possible, notify the manufacturer before you bring the car to the dealer. Then, deliver a copy of the notice to the dealer when you bring the car in for repair. During the repair process, keep detailed records. (If you had your car repaired by a non-dealer mechanic before notifying the manufacturer of the problem, keep records of those repairs, too.)

Track the number of repair attempts and the time your car is out of service. Each time you bring your car in for repair, prepare a written, dated, list of specific problems. Insist on receiving a detailed repair order from the dealer that includes symptoms, repairs done, parts replaced, and time your car was in the shop.

After you have taken the steps above, you can ask the manufacturer for a refund or replacement vehicle. (The dealer may be entitled to a small offset for your use of the car.) In most states, if the manufacturer has established a qualifying arbitration program, it can require you go to arbitration before it pays you anything. There are several different types of arbitration programs. You probably won't get to choose which one to use-that's usually up to the manufacturer. But if you are given a choice, pick one that is run by a state consumer protection agency rather than an in-house program administered by the manufacturer.

Your state may have specific rules concerning lemon law arbitration.

At the arbitration hearing, the arbitrator hears both sides of the dispute. The arbitrator has a certain amount of time (often 40 or 60 days) to decide whether your car is a lemon and whether you're entitled to a refund or a replacement. Ask for a copy of the arbitration procedures and make sure they are followed.

Consumers who bring substantial documentation to the hearing tend to do better than those with little evidence to back up their claims. The types of documentation that can help include:

  • brochures and ads about the vehicle -an arbitration panel is likely to make the manufacturer live up to its claims
  • vehicle service records showing how often you took the car into the shop, and
  • any other documents showing your attempts to get the dealer to repair your car, including old calendars and phone records.

    It is important to take the arbitration seriously and be as prepared as possible. Although you can usually appeal a bad arbitration decision in court, or sue the manufacturer if the arbitration isn't binding, the arbitration decision could be used against you in court.

    Attorneys will help you get a refund of the cost of purchasing the car or lease payments and the cost of service. Most attorneys work without being paid up front, instead collecting a portion of the refund as their fee.

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