It is estimated that nearly 17 million new cars will be sold in the United States in 2015. As the 9th largest state in the country, the general public and legal community would likely be horrified at how many shiny, brand new automobiles sold in North Carolina will suffer from defects in design or manufacturing. These problems run from the traditional when thinking of car problems – transmission, engine, suspension, brakes, etc. – to the “new generation” of defects – navigation systems, keyless entry, and wireless compatibilities. Problems can be widespread across the particular vehicle model or truly be a bad “lemon” in the bunch.
For many individuals, a car is the second biggest purchase they will make in their lifetimes after their home. While a warranty on a vehicle is supposed to bring with it peace of mind, the situation of having to make trips to the dealership for repairs over and over again can become maddening. When the manufacturer is unable to correct a problem within a reasonable number of repair attempts, they have breached the terms of their own warranty. This often leads to a consumer completely losing confidence in their vehicle. They may start to feel unsafe, they may miss work, they may have to re-schedule important events or even vacations. While they are often provided a loaner or rental, this is little solace to a consumer making monthly payments on a brand new vehicle they barely get to drive.
At that point, many consumers find themselves extremely frustrated and rudely awakened that the process of getting help for their defective vehicle is nothing like the familiar process of returning a defective product at a Wal-Mart or Best Buy. New cars do not often come with a return policy. While laws do exist that try to aid the consumer, they are not automatic or administrative in nature. Various defenses exist for the manufacturer and the resulting disputes can become surprisingly heated. Additionally, the selling dealership generally has no responsibility or liability to take back a new vehicle that suffers from manufacturing defects. There is a very specific and rather high burden of proof in these claims and a lack of preparation and knowledge can put a consumer at a significant disadvantage if not properly informed.
ENTER THE LEMON LAWS
The actual North Carolina lemon law is officially titled, the New Motor Vehicles Warranties Act. It applies to new vehicles purchased in the state that suffer from manufacturing defects in materials or workmanship covered by the terms of the new vehicle’s warranty. If the initial problem(s) occur within two years or 24,000 miles (whichever occurs first), and is subject to either repeated repair attempts for the same issue (four or more) or very lengthy repairs (20 or more business days within a one year period), the consumer may be entitled to either a refund of their purchase price (minus a mileage deduction) or replacement of the defective vehicle with a comparable new vehicle.
Used vehicles still covered by portions of the manufacturer warranty may be covered under either/both the NC Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) or the Magnuson- Moss Warranty Act (sometimes referred to as the Federal Lemon Law). These statutes also provide helpful avenues for consumers whose vehicle may not meet the mileage parameters of the NC lemon law or was purchased in another state. If a vehicle is subject to an unreasonable number of warranty repairs, a consumer may be entitled to recover monetary damages to compensate for the vehicle’s loss in value. Those funds can then be used to help trade out of the vehicle, pay down the financing, purchase extended warranties, or saved for future repair costs.
STARTING YOUR CASE
Once a consumer has entered this vicious cycle of unsuccessful repair attempts and has been unable to get assistance from the manufacturer, it may be necessary to obtain professional legal help. Both the North Carolina lemon law and Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act contain attorney fee provisions and so most promising claims are taken without any up-front or out of pocket fees from the consumer client. The most important item we stress to individuals seeking information about a possible lemon law claim is the necessity of repair documentation. Each and every visit to the dealership should result in a repair or service order listing the consumer’s complaint, the dealership’s findings and actions, as well as the amount of time the vehicle spent at the dealership. These should be insisted upon even when the dealership states no problem was found on that occasion, that the problem is normal, or orders a part to be installed later. Detailed repair records are the crucial foundation to building a successful breach of warranty claim. Rick McNeil