One of my clients bought a new minivan two years ago. One month after she bought the van it began having engine problems so she took it to the dealer's repair shop. They diagnosed the problem and "fixed it" within an hour. Two weeks later the van started having the same problems. Again she took it to the repair shop and again they "fixed it" and sent her home. Within another month she had experienced the same problems two more times. The fourth time she took the car to the dealer, handed them the keys and told them she wanted her money back. She had purchased what is known as a "lemon" vehicle.
What is a Lemon?
In most states, a new vehicle (no more than a year old and still under warranty) is considered a "lemon" if it has a serious defect the dealer can't fix in four tries, or has one or many defects that prevent you from using it for 30 days or more (the 30 days need not be consecutive). Lemon laws generally do not apply to used vehicles. A defect covered by the Lemon Law must seriously affect the "use, value or safety" of your vehicle and must be covered by the warranty. An irritating rattle may not be "serious" enough to make your car a lemon. Stalling probably is.
You will not know the first time you take your vehicle into the shop whether you have a lemon or not. Document everything. If you have any problems with your vehicle during the first year after purchase be sure to get a repair order for every repair visit. This is so even if the shop doesn't diagnose the problem or attempt a repair. A repair order should show the problem you report, and the dates your car is in the shop. Keep purchase contracts, warranties, and repair orders to prove you have a lemon. Don't keep repair orders in your car where they may get lost or removed.
Consult your state Department of Consumer Protection for forms you may need to complete to be refunded for your purchase. Many states require the use of specific language before a vehicle can be deemed a lemon.
If you return your vehicle to the manufacturer damaged, a manufacturer may want to negotiate a damage deduction. In most states, you are not responsible for paying for normal wear and tear, such as minor dents, scratches, pitted glass, soiled carpets, minor stains or tears. You may consider having the damage appraised by a third party, or have it repaired rather than paying a deduction.
In many states, a court may be required to decide whether your vehicle is a lemon and what you are entitled to receive. If you sue the manufacturer and win, you may be entitled to double the vehicle purchase price, as well as other costs and attorney fees.