A lot of folks have had problems with their cars. Or at least a lot have shared their tales of woe with me.
So it seemed like a good time to write about what makes a car a lemon, at least in Massachusetts, and what it takes to get something done about it.
First, what makes a car a lemon is a defect that “substantially impairs the use, market value, or safety of the vehicle.” The law covers new vehicles, including motorcycles, trucks, and vans, and applies during the first 15,000 miles. You will have to have tried to get the vehicle repaired before reaching 15,000 miles.
If you do file a Lemon Law claim, there are sample letters on the state Office of Consumer Affairs website you can follow. It starts with a letter to the manufacturer. What you’re really trying to do at this point is to get the problem fixed and, failing that, create a record that you have tried.
You have to give the dealer a few chances at fixing the problem. The law requires that car owners make a “reasonable number of attempts” to fix the same defect. That usually means at least three tries in the first year or 15,000 miles.
Alternatively, the law applies if the new car is out of service for 15 or more days while attempting to repair the problem.
Once you’ve hit that threshold of repair attempts, you must give the dealer one last try. Then, the dealer has seven days to get the job done. The state recommends you send notice of the last repair attempt to the manufacturer’s regional office via certified mail.
If they have failed at that point, you have the right under the Lemon Law to request the vehicle either be replaced or your money refunded — minus some amount for your use of it.
If the company doesn’t go along with your request, Consumer Affairs has a formal mediation program, as do the local consumer offices of the state attorney general.
Not many cars are real lemons. But if you’ve got one, fight for your rights.