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The History Of The Lemon Law

In this article, you will discover:

  • Why Lemon Laws were passed to protect consumers in the United States.
  • The definition of a “Lemon” vehicle.
  • When it is time to file a Lemon Law claim.

State Lemon Laws generally started being passed in the 1980s due to a wide range of State laws and court decisions regarding what consumers could be compensated for or not with defective “Lemon” vehicles.

Before State Lemon Laws were enacted, the legal standard for getting compensated for a defective “Lemon” vehicle was based on State versions of the Uniformed Commercial Code (UCC) and breach of warranty common law (judicial precedent).

UCC claims are very complicated, having many different complex elements. With so many legal elements needed to be proven to prevail on a UCC based claim, even if even one element was not established that would lead to losing the entire case. That made it burdensome for consumers to get rid of or be compensated for their defective “Lemon” vehicles.

Before State Lemon Laws were passed, consumers would buy warrantied vehicles and the warranties weren’t worth the paper they were written on. Defective vehicle warranties were difficult to enforce under a patchwork of contradictory, conflicting, and confusing State laws (see above) even when “Lemon” vehicles couldn’t be repaired in a reasonable number of attempts or reasonable time. Because of this complicated legal minefield, consumers were frequently (and unfairly) trapped in “Lemon” vehicles or forced to trade out of them for a loss.

In the late 70s the tide began to turn in favor of consumers when a statute called the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act (“MMWA”) was passed at the federal level. Most State Lemon Laws are now roughly modeled on the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act’s section regarding full warranties (15 U.S.C. § 2304), but they tend to have more teeth to protect consumers of defective vehicles than the MMWA.

The MMWA makes a distinction between full warranties and limited warranties. The MMWA requirement for full warranties is what State Lemon Laws are modeled after because it expressly pertains to a reasonable number of repair attempts being required to complete repairs otherwise there is legal violation entitling the consumer to compensation.

The challenge with the MMWA is that most vehicle warranties are limited warranties. The statute is not explicit about what the standard is for breach of limited warranties, as opposed to full warranties. This lack of clarity led to another patchwork of legal standards between the States, where courts would look at State warranty and UCC laws to determine what is a breach of a limited warranty under the federal act.

Fortunately, State Lemon Laws provide clearer black-and-white standards of Lemon Law violations for unreasonably lengthy or numerous limited warranty vehicle repairs and how you can be compensated due to those violations.

Currently, all 50 states have some type of Lemon Law to assist consumers of defective warranted vehicles, including in Arizona.

Originally the Arizona Lemon Law was passed without an attorneys’ fee provision. As a result, companies took advantage of people and did not do everything they were legally required to in Lemon vehicle situations.

In response, Arizona, which is not always the most consumer-friendly State, decided to add an attorney’s fee provision, so consumers could hire an attorney to protect their legal rights and make sure they get fair Lemon Law enforcement and results.

Under A.R.S. 44-1265(B) consumers can get their reasonable attorneys’ fees paid for by the other side if they prevail in a Lemon Law action. Under Arizona case law, a settlement is considered to be prevailing in a Lemon Law claim.

How Is A “Lemon” Vehicle Defined?

According to the Arizona Lemon Law, for a vehicle to qualify as a “Lemon,” first, there needs to be a substantial defect, non-conformity, or condition; it can’t just be something trivial.

For example, if you have a rattle in a cup-holder, that’s not going to qualify because it is not substantial and has no major effect on the proper operation of your vehicle.

The Arizona Lemon Law requires substantial impairment in use and value to the consumer and it’s nearly impossible to argue objectively or subjectively that a cup-holder qualifies as substantial impairment.

On the other hand, there are some defects, non-conformities, or conditions that are obviously substantial to any consumer:

  • Brakes
  • Transmission
  • Steering
  • Engine
  • Suspension
  • Stalling out/Dying in transit
  • Non-Starting
  • Hesitation upon acceleration
  • Vibration

If your vehicle’s brakes don’t work and you can’t stop your vehicle, that’s substantial, perhaps even life-threatening.

If your vehicle doesn’t start, that’s substantial impairment in use and value because you could be stuck in the middle of nowhere.

If your vehicle cuts out or hesitates while driving, that’s a substantial safety issue that clearly impairs use and value.

There are defects, non-conformities, or conditions that occur in vehicles which are more in a gray area that may or may not be considered substantial impairment in use and value to the consumer. Some examples are a defective stereo system, cracked windshield, or window leaks.

Whether these defects qualify as substantial impairment in use and value is very fact-specific, and it depends on the severity and actual impairing results of those defects.

Moreover, the more a vehicle defect or condition happens and the more times it gets repeatedly repaired, the more likely the problem could qualify as substantial impairment in use and value of the vehicle.

In other words, when gray area defects occur over and over again the contention that they are substantial is strengthened, based on them repeatedly happening and continually inconveniencing a consumer. This obviously has the effect of impairing the vehicle’s use and devaluing it to the consumer.

While there is no specific standard to how many repair attempts or how much time in the repair shop qualifies your vehicle as a “Lemon,” there are guideposts called presumptions.

The Arizona Lemon Law sets two presumptions for determining if a repair history is unreasonable (one of the main factors for determining if a vehicle is legally a “Lemon” along with substantial impairment) within the first two years or 24,000 miles ownership:

  1. Four or more repairs for the same defect or condition and the defect continues to exist.
  2. 30 or more cumulative days in the repair shop for the same or different issues, including separate repair attempts collectively equaling 30 days.

The presumptions are not required to be reached to have a valid Arizona Lemon Law claim, but if they are met, the presumptions shift the burden of proof from the consumer to the manufacturer. That means a tie about whether the repair history is legally unreasonable goes to the consumer.

Usually, the consumer who brings the claim must prove the elements of the claim by a preponderance of the evidence. This means the consumer doesn’t have to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt—it’s not a criminal case—their argument just has to be one point stronger than the manufacturer’s defense to win. It’s like a basketball game where both sides score points, but the one that scores the most points wins.

By shifting the burden of proof to the other side, it’s up to the manufacturer to have more points than the consumer. The manufacturer has the burden to prove the repair history is not unreasonable.

However, the vehicle repairs are listed in the repair records of the repairing dealer, who is the authorized warranty repair agent for the manufacturer. It is difficult for the manufacturer to argue against its repair agent’s repair records to claim the repairs are somehow reasonable.

It’s important to reiterate that you can have fewer repairs or days out of service than indicated in the presumptions succeed in an Arizona Lemon Law claim. If the number of warranty repairs or time to complete repairs are unreasonable under the circumstances, the vehicle can still qualify as a “Lemon.”

Typically, in our view, if there are at least three repeat repairs or 25-plus days in the repair shop for a substantial defect, non-conformity, or condition within two years or 24,000 miles, that should qualify as a “Lemon” vehicle.

There is even a rational argument that when a vehicle has very low mileage that even fewer repairs or days in the repair shop could qualify. Perhaps the vehicle only has 5,000 miles, and the brakes do not work, causing near-crashes. In that situation it is possible that even two repairs could qualify this vehicle as a “Lemon” because the defect and it’s unsafe consequences in such low mileage are so substantial and recurrent.

Although it’s very fact-specific when it comes to this gray area, it’s only logical that the more substantial and dangerous the vehicle defect or condition is, the less repairs are needed to prove the repair history is unreasonable under the Lemon Law. Again, it really depends on if the repair history is unreasonable under the circumstances.

For more information on the Arizona Lemon Law, a Free Lemon Law Evaluation is your next best step. Find out if your vehicle qualifies for Free Lemon Law Help by calling (480) 237-2744 today.

Amar Law Group

Call Today for FREE Lemon Law Help!
(480) 237-2744

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