Lemon Law FAQs
- New or used: is there a difference?
- What if my warranty has expired?
- AS-IS purchases – what if I don’t have a warranty?
- Intermittent problems – What if the dealer doesn’t see it?
- Diminished functionality: what if it sort-of works but isn’t completely broken?
- Does a money-back guarantee protect me?
- The private sale: “I purchased my consumer product or vehicle from Craigslist or eBay and now have a problem.”
- What about my right to a cooling-off period?
- Where can I get further information?
It doesn’t really matter whether you purchased your product new or used if the warranty is transferrable. A fully transferrable warranty applies to subsequent owners just as it did to the original purchaser, until it reaches expiration. Here is the general rule: basic vehicle warranties are fully transferrable, but powertrain warranties and warranties for consumer electronics are not. You should refer to your product’s warranty manual’s section on “Who is Covered” for the relevant information regarding transfer to be sure what you have. New or used with a warranty, the effect is the same – if you have an active warranty, the Lemon Law most likely has you covered.
You are almost in the same situation as above as if you had no warranty in the first place. This is what would be called a “bright line” in a legal sense. Prior to reaching it, you have full rights. Go past it and you are at the mercy of the warrantor’s goodwill. Once the warrantor’s time limit has been reached on the warranty and it has expired, no new issues can be held as the responsibility of the manufacturer. Any problems noted for the first time outside of the warranty period become your responsibility.
Any problems which did arise prior to the expiration of the warranty period, that you brought to the attention of the warrantor or authorized dealer, remain the responsibility of the warrantor. Even if they recur after the warranty has expired. Because the reality of having no warranty coverage after its expiration is a stark and dreary one, do yourself a favor and be mindful of the expiration date and mileage of your warranty. Be sure to get your product or vehicle checked out completely before the warranty expires so that you may preserve as much of your rights as possible and for problems later.
If no warranty came with the item or vehicle at the time of purchase, your options are severely limited. This is also known as an “AS-IS” sale. In fact, except for the possibility of having an implied warranty, your options are so severely limited that in most instances you cannot even demand repairs for the product after an as-is sale. Regardless of how serious the problems are. If a product you recently purchased as-is has problems, you should attempt to contact the owner or general manager of the selling business and explain in a calm and concise way the issues you are experiencing. Sometimes you receive a sympathetic ear, and sometimes you don’t. In any event, you can always show your dissatisfaction with a purchase by taking your business elsewhere. Permanently.
There is no limitation in the Lemon Law for difficult or hard-to-find problems. If a problem exists with your product, the warrantor is liable for the fix. Period. You will often have the service manager say in earnest, “How am I supposed to fix what I can’t see?” Sounds reasonable at first, but it’s not. Any service department has a full staff of technicians with years of training, test equipment, computers, shop repair, technical advisory libraries, a manufacturer’s tech hotline and collective years of technical and repair experience at its disposal to see what can’t readily be seen. Don’t buy into the excuse that they can’t fix what they can’t see. Because if the product doesn’t fail in a way that’s easy to see before your warranty expires, you will have lost your ability to demand a fix at their cost and end up paying the bill yourself. Difficult or not, get the problem confirmed before the end of your warranty!
Everyone has a slightly different expectation for product performance when they open the box or pull a new car off the lot. So we have to look at how a product functions from an objective point of view, because that is how the Lemon Laws are written. This is different from the intermittent problem above which appears and renders the vehicle or component non-functional for a brief period of time then disappears. The tainted performance problem is a constant issue but one which the dealer or seller will claim is a normal operation or “within specs.”
This is merely an excuse by a warrantor who doesn’t want to pay for repairs to a system or product that functions generally. These problems commonly take the form of excessive noise or vibration from the brakes, engine or driveline; climate control systems that cannot keep up with the ambient weather to cool or heat the passenger compartment; pulling or wandering of the steering; poor fuel mileage or lack of power; paint fading, chipping, or imbedded material in the finish; or a static or general poor sound quality from the stereo or entertainment system, but there can be others. Any component or system which must perform to a certain level can have a degraded performance defect. It still goes through the motions of what it is supposed to do, but does it so poorly that repairs are required. The manufacturer’s specifications are a good general guideline for determining whether the product’s performance is up to par. However, if you feel the product isn’t performing at a normal level, seek a second opinion and evaluation from a different ASE certified mechanic.
If the performance defect can be independently confirmed, it’s not you just being sensitive or having unrealistic expectations. It’s an objectively verifiable failure that the warrantor is required to correct. Just like the situation with an intermittent failure, don’t let the warranty expire before you get confirmation and approach the warrantor for the repairs to which you are entitled.
Both Chrysler and General Motors have recently offered Money Back Guarantees to spur post-bankruptcy sales of their vehicles. The sales pitch went something like this: any customer not “completely satisfied” with their new product may return it for a full refund or exchange within 60 days for any reason. While these programs are no longer in effect for new car purchases, similar guarantees can be found from other companies for the purchase of many other and varied products. Be wary! While the fine print of both Chrysler and GM’s guarantees were fairly straightforward and contained few pitfalls for the unwary, many others are written by other retailers in such a way that fees, costs, and penalties for restocking and usage make the return of the product cost prohibitive and a practical economic impossibility. Further, the Lemon Law cannot help you in a guarantee dispute as it is a matter for contract, not warranty. This means there is no striking of limitations on the agreement, and you are not entitled to additional compensation for the services of an attorney to assist you. Therefore, read the fine print of anything you sign. You are responsible for the terms and the costs and fees of a guarantee that can quickly eliminate its benefit.
The private sale: “I purchased my consumer product or vehicle from Craigslist or eBay and now have a problem.”
Aside from any separately enforceable specific written agreement from the private seller or a “Safe Harbor” provision offered by the listing or auction provider, this is another instance where having a remaining manufacturer’s warranty makes all the difference for what you can demand. A private seller is not liable under the Lemon Law so skip that. However, some warranties are fully transferrable to subsequent owners so you may receive the same warranty rights as the original owner. And, you can likewise demand the same relief from the manufacturer as its original owner. Here is the general rule: basic vehicle warranties are fully transferrable, but powertrain warranties and warranties for consumer electronics are not. You should refer to your specific product’s warranty manual’s section on “Who is Covered” for the relevant information regarding transfer to be sure what you have. If you are entitled to warranty coverage per the terms of the warranty, you should contact the warrantor or authorized service center for repairs just like you would if you were the original owner of the product or vehicle. You have assumed their full warranty rights with your purchase.
Note: many state Lemon Laws only allow monetary damages for subsequent owners so check your state’s specific Lemon Law for your options.
A common question raised by those immediately realizing that just bought the proverbial “Bill of Goods” is “What about my right to return this thing within three days?” I’ve heard this right quoted anywhere between three and 30 days. Unfortunately, a widespread urban legend is about all this “right” stacks up to be. To be precise, “cooling-off” periods do exist in very limited situations for very specific circumstances. But unless you purchased your product from a door-to-door salesman or have a specific contractual option in writing for changing your mind, you have no such right at your disposal. The time to inspect the condition of the product is before you buy it. Once you sign the bill of sale and take possession, it’s all yours and it’s too late.
- The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (www.nhtsa.gov) – Good site for recalls, service bulletin, and safety information, but is not inclusive of all service advisories issued by manufacturers for their vehicles. If you think you have an active recall for your vehicle, call your local dealer.
- Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov) – The FTC has an excellent warranty information site in their “info for business” section at http://business.ftc.gov/documents/bus01-businesspersons-guide-federal-warranty-law. This explains in further detail many aspects of warranties discussed in brief above. For unknown reasons, there is no similar document in the FTC’s consumer section to explain consumer’s rights under warranty.
- Your home state’s Office of the Attorney General, Division of Consumer Affairs (various sites) – every state’s Office of the Attorney General has a website. Search for your home state’s Division of Consumer Affairs and review their Lemon Law section for further state-specific information.
- Your Local Bar Association – If you feel you need specific legal advice, don’t be afraid to seek it out. That’s what lawyers like to do: explain stuff they know a lot about. And if you have good standing to bring a claim they would love to make the manufacturer pay you for their time. Your local bar association will have a referral service so contact them for the number of a knowledgeable attorney if you need more information.
- Contact an Attorney – Call or email us. We’d be glad to help!