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What to Do If Your New Vehicle is Defective

One of the leading reasons why customers chose to purchase a new vehicle instead of a used one is to avoid mechanical problems.

However, defects can occur in both new and used cars. If your new vehicle presents mechanical issues within the first 36 months or before the odometer reaches the 36,000-mile marker (the terms of your warranty), you may have a lemon on your hands.

Auto manufacturers are notorious for doing everything in their power to avoid buying back (refunding) or replacing lemons. This is why you need to be prepared when filing a lemon claim.

Let’s discuss the steps you should take if your new vehicle seems to be defective.

1. Check Out Your State’s Requirements for Lemon Law

Each state has its own lemon laws, which means there are unique specifications for what qualifies as a lemon depending on where it was purchased or registered. Lemon requirements differ slightly from state to state on the allotted time to file a claim, miles the vehicle can have, number of required repair attempts, and more.

For instance, Arizona allows four repair attempts from an authorized mechanic or dealership before a driver can file a lemon law case. While states like New Jersey allow a dealership a “reasonable number of repair attempts”, which is less specific, but generally two or more.

It is also important to check that your type of vehicle qualifies under your state’s laws. For example, motorcycles are not covered in states like Colorado and Illinois.

Lemon laws differ immensely throughout the United States. Be sure to research your state’s requirements before filing a claim to make certain you meet the qualifications.

2. Consult with an Attorney for Special Situations

Since lemon laws vary so much, it is best to consult an expert lemon attorney within your state to determine if your vehicle qualifies.  A lemon law attorney will answer any questions you have and figure out how strong your case is. They can help get you the refund or replacement you are legally entitled to.

Lemon laws can be challenging to fully comprehend on your own.

For example, lemon law in California states the manufacturer must have a “reasonable” number of repair attempts before a driver can file a claim. This gives manufacturers the chance to push back on claims by requesting additional repairs to your vehicle instead of buying back or replacing it. To prevent being bullied by the manufacturer, it would be best to hire a California lemon law lawyer to manage your case.

It is also wise to hire a lawyer if any additional details could impact your case. If you were involved in a car accident, for instance, the manufacturer may claim that you caused a mechanical problem instead of them. For these types of situations, it is strongly recommended that you have a specialized lawyer on your side to help prove your claim is valid.

3. Take a Look at Your Manufacturer’s Warranty

The manufacturer’s warranty is often included with the purchase of a new vehicle. This warranty is crucial for lemon law claims. Lemon law requires a manufacturer to buy back or replace a vehicle with substantial defects - as long as the vehicle is under warranty.

It is important to keep a detailed timeline and record of when you first noticed your car’s issue(s). This is especially helpful when your warranty is near its end or has recently expired because you must be able to prove that the mechanical issues began while under warranty.

Take a look at your dates of warranty and be sure to act quickly if you believe your car is a lemon.

It’s also beneficial to learn any additional requirements that must be followed when filing a lemon law complaint.

For instance, repairs must be completed by a manufacturer-authorized mechanic. If you take your vehicle to be repaired at a dealership that is not authorized by the manufacturer, it will not count as an attempted repair – and will likely void your claim altogether.

4. Compile Your Documents and Prepare for Negotiations

To prepare for the likely pushback from the manufacturer, you need to compile all documents that support your case. Keep a detailed timeline of when your car began showing signs of problems and be sure to request a written report of all repairs made on your vehicle.

Also, keep any receipts of charges related to your faulty vehicle. These charges may include rental car fees from when your car was being repaired or the cost of towing. You may be able to get refunded for these charges if you win your case.

Once your lawyer has filed a claim, the manufacturer should offer a replacement or a lemon law buyback. However, it is quite possible that the manufacturer will fight your claim.

In this case, the manufacturer may try to low-ball you into a lesser settlement. As another alternative, the manufacturer might suggest arbitration. This is when the vehicle is presented to a panel of arbitrators who make a decision about payment – outside the court system. The majority of drivers end up losing their claims or are simply awarded an additional repair.

A retired general in Arizona had to sell his faulty Ford Focus after losing his arbitration claim and failing to compile enough evidence. Additionally, those who decide to take legal action after losing an arbitration claim need to be aware that the manufacturer will use the arbitration results as evidence against you.


If you believe your new vehicle qualifies as a lemon in the state it was purchased, you may be entitled to a refund or replacement. If your case is solid, then you should work with a lawyer to take the necessary steps to fight for what you deserve.

Keep in mind that if you win your case, the manufacturer will be responsible for paying your legal fees – but you need to act quickly before your vehicle’s manufacturer’s warranty runs out.

About the Author
Brian K. Cline
Posted - 04/06/2021 | California