Local News

Lemon Aid: Your Rights When Your New Car Goes Bad

Posted April 21, 2004 2:50 a.m. EDT

— This story originally aired August 17, 2000.

Nothing can take away that new car feeling faster than a problem. Do you know your rights if your new car runs into trouble?

Most of us hate to take our vehicles in for service. It is especially frustrating when you buy a new car that is constantly having problems.

North Carolina's lemon law

could help you.

What makes a vehicle a lemon?

  • If the vehicle has been in the shop for the same problem four times and still is not fixed.
  • If it has been in the shop for 20 total business days no matter what the problem.
  • Either way, the problem must show up for the first time within the original manufacturer's warranty period, and you must be able to prove it.

    "One of the biggest mistakes is that consumers don't document the service history of the vehicle," says David Elliott, an attorney with the N.C. Department of Justice.

    Elliott says it is crucial to keep repair receipts for warranty work and routine maintenance. He recommends making a written list of problems every time the car goes in for repair, and making sure those problems are listed on the dealer's paperwork.

    The next step is to take your case to the manufacturer.

    "[The car owner has] to give the manufacturer a reasonable opportunity to repair the defect," says Elliott. "The fact that there is a problem does not mean they can just say 'OK. I don't like this. I want a new car."

    The law requires that you notify the manufacturer in writing of a potential lemon law claim before you can make the claim. It is a good idea to do so before the vehicle actually qualifies. For example, after the third repair for the same problem so you can get the ball rolling.

    If the vehicle still cannot be fixed, you officially have rights under the lemon law. Most cases are resolved through arbitration, although you can take the case to court.

    The one thing you cannot do while involved in the process is stop making payments on your broken vehicle.

    "[It's] a very bad idea," says Elliott. "The problem with stopping payments, or returning the vehicle, is you have credit issues and credit problems that can haunt the consumer long after vehicle problems have been resolved."

    The lemon law does not protect owners of used cars. So the best advice is buyer beware.

    "If it says 'as is,' there is no warranty. The car could break down as it pulls off the lot and the dealer would have no responsibility," says Elliott.

    Keep in mind, the problem does not have to be mechanical or safety-related. Anything that would seriously affect the value of a vehicle, like peeling paint, can fall under the lemon law.

    The law only applies to new vehicles. When buying a used one, make sure a mechanic looks at it first.

    This locally produced story was published more than 90 days ago, and some information in this online article may now be outdated. Exercise care when relying on archived material.