State lemon laws have been created to protect consumers when they have purchased a defective vehicle. Typically, a lemon law requires a manufacturer to provide a refund or replacement for a defective new vehicle that is not repaired within a reasonable number of attempts. Most such laws provide for refund or replacement when a substantial defect cannot be fixed in four tries, a safety defect within two tries or the auto is out of service for 30 days, within the first 12-18,000 miles/12-24 months.
Beyond state lemon laws, a consumer has the right to a refund or replacement of a lemon vehicle under the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC). The main difference is the UCC law does not define a lemon, so it's up to a court to decide if an auto company must give you a refund or a new car. The federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act provides for the award of attorney fees from the manufacturer if you have to sue to return a lemon under the UCC. Many state lemon laws also provide for attorney fees.
Success in using state lemon laws depends upon keeping good records and providing the right notice to your vehicle’s manufacturer.
Repair Record: Keep close track of the number of repair attempts and the time the car is out of service. Submit a written, dated list of problems to the dealer each time the car is in for repairs (keep a copy). List the symptoms your car has; for example, "stalling" instead of "check carburetor." This establishes a record of what problem was addressed even though the dealer may work on different parts in attempting to fix the problem. Insist on getting a copy of the repair order that lists the symptoms described, repairs done, any parts replaced, and the time the car was in the repair shop.
Notice Required: You must follow your state's notice requirement before you are entitled to a refund or replacement. Where written notice to the manufacturer is required, send a certified, return receipt letter stating your vehicle's need for repair to the manufacturer's consumer relations office and to the nearest zone/regional office listed in your owner's manual or warranty booklet. Make sure you send this notice by the time you take the car in for the repair attempt that qualifies it as a lemon. Give the dealer a copy of this letter when you deliver the car for repair; keep a copy.
Your Refund or Replacement: After you believe your vehicle qualifies as a lemon and you have followed the above steps, ask the manufacturer for a refund or replacement. You may have to pay a small offset for use of the car, but no more than for the mileage up until the first repair attempt, which qualified you for the lemon law. If the manufacturer has a valid arbitration program that is incorporated into your written warranty, you may be required to go through arbitration to get your refund or replacement.
NACA members can help you. Find a consumer attorney in your area.