What Makes a Car a Lemon? This is What You Need to Know


Did you know that around 150,000 new cars are considered lemons every year? If you are one of the lucky few who feel you own a lemon but wonder, “What makes a car a lemon?” we are here to help.

In the complex world of automobiles, navigating the pitfalls of purchasing a reliable vehicle can be challenging. In this article, we delve into what defines a car as a “lemon” and equip you with essential knowledge to make informed decisions when venturing into the car market.

What Makes a Car a Lemon?

A car earns the dubious title of a “lemon” when it repeatedly experiences substantial defects or issues, compromising its safety, value, and overall performance. Typically, these persistent problems arise despite reasonable attempts at repair during the vehicle’s warranty period.

For example, if your Toyota is a lemon, the vehicle’s value, usefulness, and safety can’t be fixed. If the car does not drive the way it should, then it might be a lemon.  There are also some complaints about GM vehicles, which you must avoid because of a lawsuit regarding faulty transmissions. If the air conditioning stops working or the door handle falls off, but you can still drive around, more than likely, this is not a lemon.

Understanding the factors contributing to a car being labeled a lemon is crucial for consumers navigating the complexities of the automotive market.

State Laws

Lemon laws vary across states, with some, such as Delaware and Colorado, extending protection exclusively to purchasers of brand-new vehicles. Conversely, states like Arizona and New York assist both qualified used and new car buyers.

Notably, the significant divergence lies in the allotted time frames. For instance, Georgia permits claims within 12 months or 12,000 miles, while New York extends this period to 24 months or 18,000 miles. California falls in between, allowing claims within 18 months or 18,000 miles.

To establish a valid case, you must demonstrate that your vehicle exhibited lemon-related issues within the stipulated time, substantiated by detailed repair records and receipts.

Private Party Sale

When purchasing a car from a private party, your recourse in the event of a lemon is often limited. In most states, lemon law protection does not extend to transactions between private parties. However, exceptions exist, such as in Massachusetts, where coverage is available, provided you can substantiate that the seller intentionally concealed the vehicle’s defect. It underscores the importance of due diligence and transparency in private party transactions, particularly in states with stringent requirements for proving non-disclosure.

Dealer Purchase

When buying a vehicle from a dealership, there is typically a designated window during which you can report any defects you discover post-purchase. Upon notification, dealerships are granted an opportunity to rectify the identified issue. If, despite their efforts, the problem persists and remains unresolved after three or four attempts, consumers are often entitled to either receive a new comparable vehicle in exchange for the defective one or obtain a refund.

This process underscores the importance of promptly reporting and addressing defects with the dealership, providing consumers with a mechanism to ensure the satisfactory performance of their purchased vehicle and protecting their rights in the face of persistent issues.

Lemon Checks Before Buying a Car

If you are buying a used car from a dealer, it is not uncommon to ask for a free lemon check report. A dealership should be fine providing this and allowing you to keep a copy. Many dealers will offer this as part of their sales process.

If a dealer hesitates to give you a lemon check report, it might be a red flag to go somewhere else or pay out of pocket for a CARFAX report. If you want the vehicle, you have set your eyes on producing for the report to ensure no funny business will give you peace of mind.

When buying from a private seller, you can also ask them to provide a CARFAX report. If they are earnest about selling the vehicle, they should have no problem buying it and providing you with the report.

Lemon Law Claims

Consulting with an attorney is paramount if you are contemplating a lemon law claim. They will evaluate your unique circumstances to determine the viability of your case, even if you’ve exceeded statutory time limits. Robust recordkeeping is crucial; your purchase agreement and meticulously documented repair attempts become essential evidence. Lemon laws typically mandate a specific number of fix attempts, underscoring the importance of maintaining comprehensive records, including repair dates, times, and receipts.

Accuracy is critical in this process – note the mileage upon each service visit and the names of technicians involved. While attorneys can obtain these records if necessary, having personal copies enhances your preparedness. A lawyer’s assistance becomes invaluable in navigating the legal intricacies of lemon law claims, offering a strategic advantage in seeking resolution for those who believe they’ve purchased a defective vehicle.

man fixing vehicle engine

Tips on preventing a car Lemon

  • Research: Look up reviews, ratings, and reliability reports for the specific make and model you’re interested in.
  • Vehicle History Report: Obtain a comprehensive vehicle history report to check for accidents, title issues, and odometer discrepancies.
  • Pre-purchase Inspection: Have a trusted mechanic inspect the car before purchasing to identify hidden issues.
  • Test Drive: Take the car for a thorough test drive, paying attention to unusual sounds, vibrations, or handling issues.
  • Warranty and Return Policy: Check if the car has a warranty or if the seller offers a return policy, providing added protection.
  • Check Documentation: Ensure all necessary documents, such as the owner’s manual and maintenance records, are available and accurate.
  • VIN Check: Verify the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to confirm the car’s authenticity and gather additional information about its history.
  • Investigate Recalls: Check for any recalls related to the make and model to ensure all necessary repairs have been addressed.
  • Trusted Sellers: Consider buying from reputable dealerships or private sellers with a positive track record.
  • Trust Your Instincts: If something feels off during the process, don’t hesitate to walk away and explore other options.

man in a black jacket and black knit cap inspecting car engine


In conclusion, identifying potential lemons requires diligent research, thorough inspections, and a keen awareness of warning signs. By understanding the factors contributing to a car being labeled a lemon and taking proactive measures during the buying process, consumers can steer clear of sour deals and confidently invest in vehicles that stand the test of time.

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