You may have heard people say that if you buy a car and it repeatedly needs repair, the Lemon Law protects you and you will be remedied in some fashion such as another car or being refunded your purchase price and repair costs. While this advice is well-intentioned, it isn't sound legal advice. In fact, there really isn't “a lemon law”. The idea of lemon law is a combination of a single Federal law, and in some states state laws which provide further buyer protection.
The Federal lemon law is actually called the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act of 1975. It's purpose is limited to consumer protection from deceptive warranty statements and practices. It applies only to products (including vehicles) which are sold with a warranty. It requires that the warranty be written, and use easy to understand and enforceable language.
The Act does not require products to be sold with a warranty. Many used cars sales are “As-Is”, meaning there is no warranty, expressed or implied. In these cases, there is no protection under the Federal lemon law because it does not apply to products sold without a warranty. It also does not require that products be sold with a warranty.
In the case of new cars, which are sold with warranties, the Act does apply. It also may apply for used cars which are sold with a written warranty.
If your car needs repair multiple times over a short time period, maybe 3 times a month, or is out of service for an extended period, maybe 30 days, then you may be able to seek resolution under the Federal Lemon Law. The law is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), so that organization would be a starting point, in addition to consulting a lawyer. The law encourages the FTC to use Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), so your first interactions will likely be mediation or arbitration.
If this is starting to sound discouraging, that's because it is. There is little protection at the Federal level under the lemon law. Seeking a remedy is a long and expensive process. You can recover your costs if you're successful with your claim, but until and unless that judgment is made it comes out of your pocket.
Every state has a consumer protection law relating to the inability of a manufacturer to fulfill their warranty obligations on a vehicle. Every state's law has different eligibility requirements. Most are valid for cars under their original warranty from the manufacturer. Those cars are generally considered “New” cars regardless of the number of owners the car has had. Some states cover different time periods than the manufacturer's warranty. Some states cover motorcycles and off-road vehicles, many do not.
Very few states have lemon laws which cover used vehicles. In these cases, the law only applies if you purchase the vehicle from a licensed dealer. Private party purchases are not covered in any state. There is a limited span of time or mileage during which the lemon law applies. That varies from state to state, and even within a state depending on how many miles the vehicle has on the odometer when purchased.
Clever Customer has done the homework for you to get a starting point on lemon law in your state. In some cases the state's Attorney General or DMV has a page or pages dedicated to answer the question “What is the Lemon Law” in their state. In other cases, there may be a PDF link to a brochure, and others are simply links to the relevant statutes. We tried to pick the best resource each state had to offer as a starting point for you.
Note that unless you buying a new car, or a car which is new enough that it is still under the manufacturer's original warranty, there is very little or no protection for you under these laws.
For the few states which do have lemon laws covering used car purchases, the conditions and duration of protection are very short. Refer to your state's link for more complete information.
|More Info||New Cars||Used Cars|
|Colorado||Click here [PDF]||✔|
|Idaho||Click here [PDF]||✔|
|Mississippi||Click here [PDF]||✔|
|New Hampshire||Click here||✔|
|New Jersey||Click here [PDF]||✔||✔|
|New Mexico||Click here||✔||✔|
|New York||Click here||✔||✔|
|North Carolina||Click here||✔|
|North Dakota||Click here||✔|
|Rhode Island||Click here||✔||✔|
|South Carolina||Click here||✔|
|South Dakota||Click here||✔|
|West Virginia||Click here||✔|
|Washington D.C.||Click here||✔|
This information was researched in 2020. We are not legal experts, and this is not intended to be legal advice. Laws do change. If you are aware of an update or correction we should make, please let us know. Thank you.
The take-away we're trying to impart is that lemon laws should be the last thing on your mind when you decide to shop for a used car. Depending on where you live, there either little or no protection for you at all under these laws. It's a Buyer-Beware world out there. Be a Clever Customer, or you could come out on the very short end of a bad deal. Make sure you read through our list below of what to check when buying a used car. We have several pieces of advice in this series which we have taken the time to research for you.