Your Rights and How to Avoid a Lemon

A lemon most commonly refers to new cars with a substantial defect that is not fixable even after a reasonable number of repair attempts. Every state in the country has its own lemon laws that protect consumers from lemons. Federal law also provides additional protection by detailing guidelines for coverage by the manufacturer’s warranty. The BIG catch, however, is that the burden of proof is on the owner of the lemon to prove that the car qualifies for replacement or a refund.

How to Make Lemonade from a Lemon in New Jersey

The New Jersey lemon law covers “any nonconformity, which it defines as a defect or condition that substantially impairs the use, value, or safety of a motor vehicle.” If the consumer reports the problem to the manufacturer or its dealer during the first 18,000 miles of operation (24,000 miles for vehicles purchased after Oct. 1, 2009) or two years following delivery (whichever comes first), the manufacturer must arrange to have the problem fixed. If after three or more attempts to repair the vehicle, or the vehicle is out of service for a combined 20 days or more (or in the case of vehicles purchased after Oct. 1, 2009) the problem is likely to cause death or serious injury, the consumer is entitled to various remedies as prescribed in the law. For more details, download the New Jersey lemon law summary here, or visit the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs.

Here are the steps you should take if you think you might be the proud owner of a brand new, bright yellow lemon:

  1. Learn the lemon laws and how a lemon is defined in New Jersey, what is covered and how much time you have to file a complaint (see above).
  2. Collect all records on your car, including purchase contracts, service orders and invoice together with all warranties and the owner’s manual.
  3. Take notes on all conversations with the dealer and service technicians, recording any comments along with the time and date of all attempted repairs.
  4. Ask the dealer for a copy of all manufacturer’s technical service bulletins on your car.
  5. Track how long and how often your vehicle is in for repairs with dates, times in and times out.
  6. Call a lawyer that specializes in lemon law to help you understand your options and evaluate your case. Normally the call is free, and all legal fees will be paid for by the manufacturer if you win your claim.

For more detailed information, check out the lemon law page at NOLO.

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