What’s a buyer to do when a newly purchased truck or SUV seems to have one thing after another go wrong and the dealership doesn’t fix the problem? That’s where lemon laws come in.
Designed to protect consumers, lemon laws are state-level consumer-protection statutes that allow customers to receive a refund or a replacement passenger vehicle if their new car, truck, van or SUV is too defective to be fixed after a specified number of attempts.
“A defective new car is just like a bad dream that just keeps coming back over and over again,” said Jason Levine, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety.
With the average price of vehicles topping $36,000, it’s more important than ever to have a way for consumers to have recourse when they purchase a defective vehicle, Levine said.
“Other than buying a home, a new car or truck is the most expensive purchase that most consumers will ever make,” Levine said. “Everyone deserves to know that if there’s something wrong with a new car from the day you buy it, you can get your money back.”
Ranking lemon laws
The nonprofit consumer advocacy organization ranked the lemon laws of each state using 10 criteria. Those factors include the number of repair attempts required or days a vehicle must be out of service before it is considered a lemon, whether there is a manufacturer penalty for willful violation of the lemon law and whether attorney fees are covered. Each category was assigned a point value, and each state was given a letter grade.
Only New Jersey and Washington received grades of A. The states with B+ grades were Rhode Island, Hawaii, Ohio and New York. Ten others, including the District of Columbia, received B’s.
States earning an F grade were Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Missouri and North Dakota. An additional 17 states scored D or D-.
For consumers only
Commercial vehicle users typically won’t be able to make use of lemon laws.
“Most states will allow trucks to fall under the statutes as long as the vehicle is used for personal, family or household use,” said Steve Lehto, a Michigan attorney who specializes in lemon law cases. “If you buy a truck for business it may not be covered in some states.”
Regardless of who or what business owns a vehicle with, lemon law cases take into consideration the dominant use of that vehicle to determine if the lemon laws apply, Lehto said.
Commercial trucks are covered by commercial warranties.
“What you see is what you get,” said Lehto, explaining that lemon laws in most states do not cover commercial vehicles, and that often means a loss of work days and incurring attorney’s fees should litigation be required.
Lehto recommends buyers research not just the best vehicle when they’re in the market to buy, but also the way a company and local dealerships treat customers when it comes to repairs. He also recommends saving “every single piece of paperwork from purchase agreements to disclosures. Every time you bring your vehicle in for service get a copy of the repair order. If they say they cannot help you, get that in writing.”