In 1994, the National Association of Attorneys General conducted a nationwide survey that placed problems with automobiles as the number one consumer complaint.
“Somewhere between 2 – 30% of all new domestic and foreign vehicles sold each year have substantial performance or safety problems that cannot be readily repaired.”
State lemon laws provide consumers with courses of action they can take when they have purchased a defective automobile, motor home, or motorcycle. If a vehicle fails to comply with its warranty, or the use, value, or safety is substantially impaired, then the state’s lemon law has set forth steps the consumer can take to be compensated for the problems.
Lemon laws allow the manufacturers and dealers a reasonable amount of time to correct any problems that arise, but if they fail to fix the defects, then they must either refund the purchase price of the vehicle or supply the consumer with a comparable replacement vehicle.
Precisely how Ohio has adopted the lemon law is the focus of this paper.
In 1987, legislators passed Ohio’s Lemon Law. At that time it was one of the most comprehensive in the nation. The law requires that automakers repair defects to a new motor vehicle that affects its use, value, or safety. These problems must be brought to the attention of the automakers within the first twelve months or 18,000 miles, whichever happens first.
The automaker, after the defects have been brought to their attention, must be given a reasonable amount of time to repair the problem. If the defect is not corrected then the consumer may be eligible for a replacement or a refund. “Failure to comply with Ohio’s Lemon Law is a violation of Ohio’s Consumer Sales Practices Act.”
The Ohio Lemon Law does not cover all vehicles. Currently under the law only new vehicles are covered. One type of new vehicle that is covered is a passenger car. A passenger car is defined as a vehicle that is designed to carry up to nine people. Noncommercial vehicles are also covered by the lemon law. These include farm trucks, motor homes, and any truck that is designed to carry less the three – quarters of a ton and that is not used for business purposes. Motorcycles are also protected under the Ohio Lemon Law.
Because of the Ohio Lemon Law, the automakers and dealers are required to give consumers more information than before. Manufacturers must provide a written statement that informs new car buyers of their legal rights under the law. It states, “Important: If this vehicle is defective, you may be entitled under state law to a replacement or to compensation.” Also, dealers are required to give consumers an itemized work order when they take their vehicle in for service. The work order must list all the work performed, what parts were used, and the cost for parts and labor.
For a vehicle to be considered a lemon vehicle it must meet one of the five requirements that are stated in the Ohio Lemon Law statute. The first requirement is that the manufacturer of the vehicle lives up to the full length of the warranty. During the time the vehicle is covered under warranty, the consumer must give the dealer a reasonable amount of time, or chances, to fix the defect. If the consumer reaches a point where they feel they can not rely on the vehicle, or if they feel unsafe in the vehicle, then it does not matter how long or how many times it was worked on, it would still be considered a lemon vehicle.
The next four requirements only apply during the first twelve months or 18,000 miles. The first of these requirements is that the same defect has been the subject of repair three or more times, but continues to exist. Also, if the vehicle is out of service, because of repairs, for a total of thirty or more days, it will qualify as a lemon vehicle. Another requirement is that there have been eight or more attempts to repair any defects that impair the value and use of the vehicle. The last requirement that defines a lemon vehicle is that there has been at least one unsuccessful attempt to repair a defect that results in a condition that is likely to cause death or serious injury if the vehicle is driven.
What steps are taken after a vehicle is qualified as a lemon?
If the vehicle has met one of the five requirements then it is considered to be a lemon. One step the owner of the defective vehicle can take to rectify the problem is to send a certified letter, within five years of the original delivery date of the vehicle, to the automakers head office in their area. In the letter, the owner should explain the problems they have had with the vehicle, and what they have done to try and fix these problems. The last thing they should include in the letter is whether they want the car replaced or if a refund for the full purchase price is desired.
If there is no response, or if the owner is not happy with the response to the letter, one of the next steps they can take is to file a request for arbitration. The new Ohio Lemon Law requires that the owner of the defective vehicle file arbitration, unless they were not told in writing that the process existed and how it works. Also, if the dealer does not have an arbitration program that is approved by the Attorney General they can skip the step of arbitration and go straight to trial. During arbitration, an unbiased third party listens to both sides of the case and renders a decision on the evidence alone. The owner should know that decisions made through arbitration are not binding.
If the owner is not satisfied with the decision in arbitration, or if the automaker does not have an approved arbitration program, the next step they may take is to file a lawsuit. To recover the total cost of the vehicle and attorney’s fees, the owner of the defective vehicle can file a civil law suit. The suit must be filed within two years after the warranty expires.
What compensation choices does a consumer have?
Once the dealer is found guilty of selling a lemon vehicle, they are obligated to do one of two things. The dealer must either replace the vehicle or refund the purchase price, but it is up to the owner of the lemon vehicle to choose which course of action they take. When the owner has chosen to have their vehicle replaced, the dealer must supply them with a comparable equipped vehicle that is satisfactory to the owner.
Another option that owners have is to return the vehicle to the dealer for a refund of the total purchase price. When that option is chosen the dealership is obligated to refund the actual purchase price of the vehicle plus the license and registration fees, the price paid for dealer installed accessories, and also delivery charges and dealer preparation charges. The total purchase price also includes finance charges and the sales tax on the vehicle. The owner may also be able to collect lost wages while waiting for repairs to be completed on their vehicle.
Even though the vehicle has been returned to the dealership as a lemon vehicle, they are still able to resell that vehicle to the public. The only restriction is that if the vehicle was returned because it was found that death or serious injury could occur. In this instance it could not be resold in the state of Ohio. If the dealership does decide to sell an eligible lemon vehicle, there are certain things they must disclose to the consumer. A used car dealer must give the consumer a statement to read and sign before they can sell you a lemon vehicle. It states, “Important: This vehicle was returned to the manufacturer because it did not conform to the manufacturer’s express warranty and the nonconformity was not cured within a reasonable amount of time as provided by Ohio law.” The automaker must also include a twelve month, 12,000 miles warranty that is equivalent to the original warranty at no charge to the buyer.
What can consumers do to protect themselves?
Consumers need to take precautions to protect themselves in case they purchase a lemon vehicle. The best thing consumers can do to protect themselves is to keep good records and an accurate maintenance history. Consumers want to make sure that they keep all warranty and repair orders. When the consumer receives the order, they should check it over to make sure it includes all the pertinent information. Also, write down the vehicle’s problems making sure that recurring problems are described the same way each time. Also, repair records should be filed in the order in which they were received. And the last, and most important thing a consumer should do is to read and understand the owner’s manual.
In conclusion, the best protection from a lemon vehicle is to keep accurate records in case the need arises to file a lawsuit. Consumers in Ohio have more protection now than they have had in the past because of the Ohio Lemon Law. The nation, as a whole, is more concerned with protecting consumers than the automakers. Maybe now, with lemon laws firmly in place, problems with automobiles will no longer be number one in customer complaints.
“Consumer Law Center – Common Questions.” Consumer Law Center Home Page. Online. Internet. 22 Sept. 2000. Available http://www.lemonlaw-ohio.com/questions.html.
“Consumer Law Center – Lemon Laws.” Consumer Law Center Home Page. Online. Internet. 22 Sept. 2000. Available http://www.lemonlaw-ohio.com/laws.html.
“Lemon Law Test.” Ohio Lemon Law Homepage. Online. Internet. 22 Sept. 2000. Available http://www.ohiolemonlaw.com/fittest.shtml.
“Ohio’s Lemon Law.” Attorney General’s Office Homepage. Online. Internet. 22 Sept. 2000. Available http://www.ag.state.oh.us/agpubs/lemonlaw.htm.
“State Lemon Laws and Protection for Consumers.” National Association of Consumer Advocates Homepage. Online. Internet. 21 Oct. 2000. Available http://www.naca.net/New.
“What Ohio’s Lemon Law Says.” Ohio Lemon Law Homepage. Online. Internet. 22 Sept. 2000. Available http://www.ohiolemonlaw.com/law.shtml.