While hopefully avoidable, you may occasionally buy a car that’s in such bad condition that you have no choice but to return it to the dealership. If the dealership won’t accept the car, you’ll have to write a letter to the manufacturer.
Lemon Law Basics
The Lemon Law, or the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, was enacted in 1975 and serves as a legal protection for consumers who purchase defective products, although it usually only applies to automobiles. The Lemon Law exceeds the normal provisions specified by the warranty and covers any damages that are so clearly below typical quality performance standards that the vehicle is deemed a “lemon," which basically means that the vehicle wasn’t fit to be released to the market in the first place. The act is a federal law that helps to make it economically viable to file a lawsuit by ensuring that the consumer's legal aid is paid for by the manufacturer, but it is up to individual state laws to define what constitutes a "lemon" and to specify the terms of the replacement.
Most states specify that a replacement must be given if the consumer has made two failed attempts to repair the vehicle, though some states require the consumer to make four failed attempts. Likewise, individual states can specify how long the consumer has to request a replacement, such as 12,000 to 18,000 miles or between 12 and 24 months. According to the New York Attorney General, you can dispute a lemon law case either in an arbitration program or directly in court. You may wish to consult a local attorney who is knowledgeable in lemon law proceedings to help you navigate the process of filing a claim.
Although individual states have their own variations of the lemon law, the Magnuson-Moss act is a federal law that applies to all states. A generic lemon law letter would consist of a polite yet firm explanation to the manufacturer concerning your situation, why you believe the vehicle to be a lemon and what repairs are needed. You may then remind the manufacturer of its legal obligations to repair or replace the vehicle in a timely fashion.
Depending on your state, you may also specify state-specific laws in addition to the Magnuson-Moss act requirements.
Get a Return Receipt
When you send your letter, ensure that you get a return receipt upon delivery by the post office. While you may be charged extra for a return receipt, it is important to obtain the receipt, because you can use it in court to prove that you notified the manufacturer of the problem within a reasonable time frame and that it refused to address the matter in the time allotted by law.
To be considered a valid request, a lemon law letter must be sent before 18,000 miles or within the first two years of the purchase date. You must also attempt and fail to correct the issue twice before you submit your letter. Once the manufacturer has received your letter, as can be verified by your return receipt, it will have one week to respond to your request to either repair the issue or replace the vehicle. In some states, you may also be entitled to a full refund of the purchase price.
If you need to go to court and the judge rules in your favor, the manufacturer will also be responsible for paying your legal fees.