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Buying or leasing a vehicle is an exciting time. Finding out it’s defective is the exact opposite. If you find yourself in this sticky situation, it’s important to know that you have rights as a consumer. This can refer to the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act that was passed in 1975, also known as lemon law, or other various states “lemon laws,” such as California’s Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act.
Now, while this law applies across the United States, things can get confusing when you get into the smaller details of a lemon law case and the state it’s in. For example, lemon law applies to used vehicles only in select states.
If you are not well-equipped with the knowledge, legal defense, documentation, etc., it’s surprisingly easy to get duped and lose money.
Here are three tips to avoid this.
1. Know How the Law Applies in Your State
To reiterate, the lemon law varies a bit from state-to-state. For example, in a less populated state like Iowa, the lemon law has certain requirements for the first two years of the purchase date or if 24,000 miles accrue on the odometer, whichever comes first.
In a larger state like California, the law provides very strong protections if the defect first occurs within the first 18 months of the purchase date or if 18,000 miles accrue on the odometer. That said, if you live in The Golden State and notice a defect in your vehicle, you should find a California lemon lawyer because the California lemon law applies to defects within the warranty period, not just the first 18 months or 18,000 miles.
Keep in mind, this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the detail variance across state lines. Be sure to read up on the DMV lemon law page to better understand these differences.
2. Seek Out a Local, Specialized Lemon Lawyer
While there is a myriad of ways to get duped throughout a lemon law case, most can be traced back to the legal team you have in your corner. Choosing a good, trustworthy lemon lawyer will essentially determine the outcome of your case.
Keep in mind, most people who end up with a lemon are experiencing it for the first time and don’t know much about the process. There are certainly lawyers out there that will take advantage of this.
The most important thing you need to remember here is if you prevail in your lemon law case, the vehicle manufacturer is required to pay for your attorneys’ fees and cover ALL the legal costs involved. Because of that, if you are fairly certain that you have a lemon, there is no need to take the cheap route. Moreover, most attorneys will give you a free consultation to lay out the details. If they don’t think you have a legitimate claim, they likely won’t take the case.
A common mistake that many people make in the situation is going with one of the big nationwide lemon law firms. It’s very common that these firms will encourage you to take a cash settlement from the manufacturer – of which can be much less than what you paid. Or, even worse, take a separate contingency fee from your lemon law buyback (sometimes as high as 4% of the purchase price of your vehicle).
Be sure you find a local lawyer specialized in lemon law. As a general rule of thumb, if they don’t advertise lemon services, do not let them to take your case. Furthermore, they shouldn’t ask for any upfront retainer or extra buyback contingency fee. Ending up with a lemon is purely the fault of the manufacturer; you should never have to pay any out of pocket costs.
3. Understand Your Role in the Process
When you find yourself in the midst of a lemon law case, the goal is having the manufacturer compensate for every single penny you had to spend as a result of the defective vehicle. This goes well beyond the costs of the vehicle and legal fees.
One of the biggest roles you will have throughout the entire process is keeping precise records of everything that stemmed from the defective vehicle. This is a ripple effect that can go very far. For instance, if you lost wages due to the defective vehicle, be sure you keep records for your attorney. These are referred to as incidental costs.
Incidental costs also include things like rental car expenses, cab fares, hotel rooms, repairs, etc. Additionally, the manufacturer is liable for all official costs related to the lemon including sales tax, registration fees, etc.
The lemon law lawyer is there to help you get the most from the manufacturer. It’s your responsibility to give them all the necessary records to do so.
Dealing with a lemon law case does not have to be stressful, but can be if you do it alone or have the wrong counsel. The only thing worse than having a defective vehicle is getting duped in the process of trying to get justice from the manufacturer. If you find yourself in this unfortunate predicament, keep these three tips in mind to avoid coming out on the losing end.