With automakers producing hundreds of thousands of vehicles every month, there is the possibility that at least a few of them have serious problems. And with used cars there are so many things that could be wrong we couldn't possibly list them all (we'll list one: squirrels in the engine). There was a time when warranties were written to protect against this kind of thing. Then some smart lawyers got involved and there was a time when warranties were written to make it all but impossible to use your warranty. And then Lemon Laws came along.
Introduction to Lemon Laws
Generally speaking, a Lemon Law is any law written to give consumers protection form being sold defective goods. What a Lemon Law isn't is a guarantee that you'll be given a refund or replacement for your product without having to do some legwork. While Lemon Laws apply to a large segment of products, we're going to focus on cars.
Federal Lemon Law Protections
There are basically two dominant federal statutes protecting you from getting stuck with a malfunctioning car. The first is the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, named for Senator Warren Magnuson and Kate Moss.
Basically, this act protects consumers by defining the terms of a warranty and providing for a method of redress against suppliers that won't fulfill the terms of the warranty. The great breakthrough of this law is that it says if GM offers you a full warranty on your Chevy Cobalt, it doesn't work within the time-frame of the warranty, they not only have to replace or repair your car without charge, they have to do so within a reasonable amount of time.
Another component of this law is that it states that you'll be awarded attorney's fees if you win the case, thus preventing the supplier from merely waiting until you run out of money to pay your attorney. If you're buying a used car and it has a warranty, this is most often your best line of defense since most laws only cover vehicles purchased new.
The other important federal level protection comes from Article Two of the Uniform Commercial Code. To sum up the numerous subsections, you have the right to a replacement car IF you've completely complied with the procedures for replacing the vehicle (i.e., if they want to look at the car you have to take it in, provide documentation, et cetera).
State laws vary from a recitation and agreement with the components of the UCC (making it uniform, get it?) to specific laws detailing what is and is not covered. When studying your state's Lemon Law, it's important to understand what is covered and the period of coverage.
For example, the Idaho Lemon Law covers all new vehicles (whether personal or business use), but doesn't cover motorcycles, trailers, farm equipment (so no tractor fighting folks). If you own a vehicle that qualifies in Idaho, the vehicle is liable for a replacement if four repair attempts have been made or it's been out-of-service for 30 business days out of two years or 24,000 miles (whichever is shortest). There's also a clause for unsuccessful repairs of a serious nature like steering or braking.