Skip to content

Lemon Cars and Lemon Laws

    2 minute read

    Lemon Car Laws

    It’s something no one wants to think about: a few hours after driving off the lot in your shiny new car, it falls completely apart, dies, or otherwise self-destroys in the way that only lemons can. Finding out just what you’re entitled to and dealing with situations like these requires knowing exactly what a lemon is (and isn’t), what your state laws require of car sellers, and which steps you should take first.

    What is a lemon?

    The details vary by state. But most of the time, a lemon is a new vehicle that has a serious defect even after repeated attempts by the dealer to repair the problem. It might also be a vehicle that’s out of commission for at least 30 days.
    Many times, this type of recurring, unfixable problem is a result of a manufacturer’s defect. According to, this happens more than you might think; about 150,000 cars–or 1% of new vehicles–are lemons.

    What lemons are not

    Sadly, a used car that dies shortly after you bought it is not likely to be covered by lemon law. Most used cars are sold “as is,” which means the seller doesn’t imply any type of warranty on the vehicle, even if they tell you they don’t know of any problems.

    If the transmission dies, the axle breaks, or the engine block cracks in half after you sign the bill of sale, the loss is almost always on you, not the seller. Some states do have provisions for used cars under their lemon laws, though, so double-check before you cut your losses.


    What To Do Next

    If you suspect you’ve purchased a lemon, go back to the dealer. Your first step will be to have the dealer try to repair the problem. The vehicle can be labeled as a lemon (and refunded or replaced) if repeated attempts at repair don’t work.
    If your dealer tries to refuse to honor the warranty because you’ve gotten routine maintenance (like oil changes or tire rotations) done at another location, you still have options. The federal government enacted the Magnuson-Moss Warrantee Act in 1975, which governs the way companies honor their warranties, and preventing overly broad restrictions on vehicle use and service.

    Each state specifies the exact repair attempts required before a vehicle falls into this category. To find out for sure, you can contact your state’s department of transportation. is also a good resource if you’re not sure what your state’s requirements are.

    The information in this article was obtained from various sources. This content is offered for educational purposes only and does not represent contractual agreements, nor is it intended to replace manuals or instructions provided by the manufacturer or the advice of a qualified professional. The definitions, terms and coverage in a given policy may be different than those suggested here and the language contained therein will govern such policy. No warranty or appropriateness for a specific purpose is expressed or implied.