Sour Auto Power

Think you've bought a lemon? Here's where you can go for help.

In 1995, newly independent college graduate Jamila Kinsey was excited about her first major purchase — a new 1996 Volkswagen Passat. But within four days, the transmission died and had to be replaced. Over the next four years, excitement would give way to aggravation. There was problem after problem with the car. When Kinsey pressed her power window buttons, the lights would dim or the windshield wipers would come on, and the transmission had to be replaced again. “I kept my documentation, receipts, and invoices from the very beginning. I called the Better Business Bureau and they weren’t able to help. I felt like my hands were tied,” says Kinsey, a 32-year-old nurse recruiter at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “I finally contacted the Kimmel & Silverman law firm.”

Kinsey’s automobile turned out to be a lemon. According to Autopedia.com, a car is considered a lemon when a number of attempts have been

made to repair a defect that significantly impairs the use, value, or safety of a car and the car continues to have the defect.

Each state has its own lemon laws. If you’re having any problems with your new car, take it back to the dealer and have it repaired under your manufacturer’s warranty. If you continue to have the same problem or multiple problems with your new car, it may be a lemon. “Study the lemon laws of your state to see if your car meets the criteria of a lemon. Do what you have to do to invoke the lemon law, such as send certified letters to the manufacturer,” says Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety and co-author of The Lemon Book: Auto Rights (Moyer Bell Ltd.; $24.95).

Make sure all of your invoices are dated, keep a record of your complaints, and show how technicians handled the problem. Also, take note of how many times the same problem occurred and the number of days the car was held at the dealer each time. If the car is not repaired properly after several attempts and the manufacturer does not solve the problem to your satisfaction, contact a lawyer. As Kinsey learned, it is very difficult to handle the matter yourself, and dealers as well as manufacturers will ignore you until you retain legal counsel.

“State lemon laws help consumers obtain a refund or new item for the defective product. New cars come with a warranty and many state laws require [that, in the event of a problem, the car be fixed] in the first year. If the manufacturer — who is solely responsible — doesn’t repair it, they have to buy it back or replace it with a new car. In most states, it’s at the consumer’s discretion,” says Craig Thor Kimmel, founding partner of Kimmel & Silverman P.C., a law firm formed in 1991 to assist distressed drivers with cost-free lemon law and breach of warranty representation. “Be careful of lawyers who charge a retainer for their services. Their services should be free to you.”

Lemon laws in

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