Purchasing a car is often a gamble. In fact, you may have bought a new or fairly new car to avoid that baggage that can sometimes come with used ones. At first, the car seems to look and run well. But after a couple weeks, it's spending more time in the shop than on the road. If that's the case, your car may be a lemon.
What is a lemon?
For a car to be considered a lemon, it must meet specific standards set forth by federal and state lemon laws. Simply put, however, a lemon is a car that has serious problems (even though it's relatively new) that can't be fixed after repeated attempts, according to ConsumerAffairs.com.
If you think you may have a lemon, check your car against the following criteria:
- Your car is new. Each state has different laws concerning lemons, but in many cases, your car generally has to be new or relatively new to be considered a lemon. New York's lemon law applies to a used car if it has a mileage of less than 100,000 and was purchased for more than $1,500, according to the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs.
- Your car has a substantial defect. In other words, your car has a defect that keeps it from functioning properly or safely, such as not being able to go past a certain speed or a driver's seat that constantly slides back.
- You've made several attempts to fix the problem. Lemons have the same recurring problem, so if you have tried to repair the same problem through the dealer or a mechanic several times and it still occurs, your car could be a lemon.
There are several laws that protect consumers against lemons, including:
- The Uniform Commercial Code (UCC). This federal act applies to all states and assures the buyer a refund or replacement if the car is a lemon. However, the UCC does not define what a lemon is, so consumers often have to take the auto company to court to determine whether a car is a lemon.
- State laws. Each state has its own laws concerning lemons. However, most laws require the dealer to replace the car or refund your money if four unsuccessful attempts have been made to fix the same problem (two attempts if the problem is safety-related), according to ConsumerAffairs.com. The car also generally must be under a certain age and have been out of service for a minimum number of days.
Steering clear of lemons
While you can't always tell if a car is a lemon, there are several things you should do before buying it, according to ComsumerReports.org:
- Check the reliability rating of the model. Online reports can give you insight into a car's overall reliability and tell you if a lot of other drivers have had problems with the make or model.
- Check the window sticker. Dealers are required to post a buyer's guide on every car they are selling. If the sticker reads "as is," the dealer is refusing to take any responsibility for the condition of the car -- and you won't be protected under lemon laws.
- Get a vehicle history report. If your car is slightly used, get a vehicle history report to see whether it has been rebuilt, has been damaged in a flood or has been in an accident.
- Take the car to a trustworthy mechanic. Your dealer should allow you to take the car to your mechanic and have it inspected before you purchase it.