Every state has a different Lemon Law. Most require vehicle owners to show that their vehicle is not repairable or unsafe before it can be considered for a Lemon-Law buyback.

photo courtesy of Ford

Every state and the District of Columbia has some form of "Lemon Law." This legislation applies to owners of new vehicles only. The Lemon Laws give a new-car owner the means to force a manufacturer to buy back a defective vehicle.

In practice, the promise of a Lemon-Law buyback usually outweighs the results. Specific information about state laws can be obtained in the warranty booklet of your owner's manual or online through the Council of Better Business Bureaus (http://www.bbb.org/).

According to the legislation, manufacturers can be ordered to refund the purchase price of a new vehicle or replace a vehicle that is proven critically flawed. Such dramatic "buy-back" results are rare, however, and eligibility requirements vary. In most states, you must first exhaust all other possible remedies before beginning Lemon-Law buyback proceedings. That means making a specified number of tries -- typically three -- at the dealership, then passing through the Lemon-Law arbitration process without successful resolution.

Once an owner meets the criteria for a Lemon-Law buyback, they will have to retain a lawyer. To qualify for consideration, a car generally has to be inoperable for at least 30 days during its first 12 months or 12,000 miles. Details vary from state to state, so inquire at your state Attorney General's office, a consumer protection agency, or the Center for Auto Safety.

In the long run, it is usually better for the consumer to get the vehicle repaired than to go through the expense of a Lemon-Law buyback.

photo courtesy of Ford

As a rule, most of the following conditions must apply for a Lemon Law to be effective:

  • The vehicle must have a serious defect or abnormal condition.
  • The problem must substantially impair the usage or value of the vehicle, or produce a serious safety hazard.
  • While the vehicle is under warranty, the problem must be reported to the dealer or manufacturer.
  • A reasonable number of attempts must be made to fix the problem.
  • Written notice must be given to the manufacturer, who gets one last chance to remedy the complaint.

Even if you "win" a Lemon Law case, the automaker can often deduct value for the mileage you've put on the vehicle.