Know Your Rights: a Simple Guide to the Lemon Law and Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act

Nick Murray's lemon Porsche 911 1 photo
Photo: screenshot from Youtube
Buying a brand spanking new automobile is one of the most interesting experiences an individual can have in its lifetime. No, this is not another Top 50 things to do before turning 50, but a simple guide to how the Lemon Law and Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act can cater for your purchase.
It’s been four months since the grand finale of The Year of The Recalls. 2014 was also the year that gave us petrolheads the infamous Nine-A-Lemon. In a nutshell, a New Zealander bought a 911 that started to show its manufacturing defects soon after delivery. What can you do if you find yourself in a similar situation and what rights do you have?

Let’s say that you just purchased anything from a 2015 Ford F-150 pickup truck to a Mercedes-Benz S500 Plug-In Hybrid. Now let’s presume that the F-150 or S-Class experience sudden loss of power or a problem with the exterior lighting. It’s not exactly ethical to go back and forth to the dealership and have the service mechanic sugarcoat the problem.

Here comes the Lemon Law

By Lemon Law, we’re actually referring to those state laws specifically made to provide a remedy in such a situation. These laws vary from your run-of-the-mill pop-up toaster to autoevolution’s bread and butter. Truth be told, repairing or refunding a $40 appliance is a different matter from doing so with a passenger vehicle. This is why there are multiple types of laws determined by the state you live in.

Essentially a special provision, the automotive type of Lemon Laws are there to determine a reasonable number of repair attempts depending on a certain set of circumstances. In most cases, automotive Lemon Laws cover warranty-related problems that arise during the first year and a half after a vehicle was delivered to its owner or within the first 18,000 miles (28,968 km) clocked by the car’s odometer.

In those 18 months/18k miles, the Lemon Law says that a manufacturer has had a reasonable number of attempts to repair a defective vehicle. If the sub-standard glitch is persisting, then an arbitrator or judge can assume the Lemon Law’s guidelines, deciding if an automaker delivered a lemon or not.

Before jumping to court proceedings, most legal experts recommend lemon car owners to go through arbitration first. Howbeit, not every brand maintains a state certified arbitration program. If that’s the case, then call your lawyer as soon as the third repair job fails.

The bottom line is as follows: a lemon is the brand new car that suffers from a condition that can’t be repaired after three or four attempts or 25 to 30 days spent in the shop. You need to comply to only one of those two guidelines for the dealership to give you a refund or offer you with an all-new (and hopefully not defective) replacement vehicle.

Put your poker face on, don’t stutter and go on the offensive with the dealership that sold you the lemon. If the sales guy tries to add sweetening to the problem, remind him of the state’s Lemon Law.

What about the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act?

Enacted in the same year that saw Peter Gabriel leave Genesis, this act is a US federal law that’s thoroughly detailed in Title 15 of the United States Code, Chapter 50 - Consumer Product Warranties.

Buying a new car with a recurring defect equates to buying a defective consumer product. Happily for us consumers, the warranty comes on the scene when all else fails. The Magnuson-Moss act is the way to go if the personal means of transport you have acquired isn’t exactly a passenger vehicle, but anything else with wheels and an engine.

Motorcycles, boats, ATVs, even class A motorhomes and two to three-year-old cars are covered by it. The Warranty Act applies to every written warranty on a consumer product and every consumer product that comes with a warranty. It’s simple but be careful - some consumer products aren’t covered by warranty.

Cutting straight to the chase, if you bought an ICE-powered contraption that didn't comply with the manufacturer’s warranty, you’re virtually covered. Assuming that a dealership’s service department advisor denies your warranty claim in a rude or unfair manner, try to settle the dispute with the supervisor. On the assumption that this fails, you can contact the manufacturer directly to complain.

As it’s often the case, this operation may also fail. Therefore, you’re left with three last resorts: just file a complaint with your local consumer protection office, the FTC or the state’s Attorney General. As an added bonus, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act is the way to go if your car is still in warranty but has surpassed the 18-month/18,000-mile threshold of the Lemon Law. Pretty handy, huh?

Furthermore, most attorneys will handle these kind of lawsuits without charging a nickel from you. How is that possible? The legal fees of this type of case are recoverable from the dealership or carmaker if you win.

As a general rule, the customer wins most of the times.
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About the author: Mircea Panait
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After a 1:43 scale model of a Ferrari 250 GTO sparked Mircea's interest for cars when he was a kid, an early internship at Top Gear sealed his career path. He's most interested in muscle cars and American trucks, but he takes a passing interest in quirky kei cars as well.
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