2012-03-16 / Columnists

Sullivan’s Court

Commentary By Keith Sullivan

Q. Dear Sullivan’s Court, I recently purchased a used car from a dealer. The car drove great for about 3 months, however, then everything started to go on the car. I have been back to the dealer twice and gone to see my own mechanic three times. Can I sue to get my money back and return the car to the used car dealer?

Thanks for your help. John G.

A. John, unfortunately you are not alone in your problem. This is a frequent issue that arises in the selling and trading of automobiles on a regular basis. Generally, the NYS Lemon Laws and the federal Lemon Law provide for compensation to New York consumers of defective automobiles and trucks and other vehicles and products including motorcycles, RVs, boats, computers and other consumer appliances and products. To qualify under the New York Lemon Law or the federal Lemon Law, you must generally have a product that suffered multiple repair attempts under the manufacturer’s factory warranty. Lemon Law compensation can include a refund, replacement or cash compensation. Let me explain further the New York Lemon Law and how it may apply to your situation.

The Lemon Law provides a legal remedy for consumers who are buyers or lessees of new cars and certain used cars that turn out to be, well, …lemons! If the car does not conform to the terms of the written warranty and the manufacturer or its authorized dealer is unable to repair the car after a “reasonable number of attempts” (at least 3-4) during the first 18,000 miles or two years, whichever comes first, the consumer can choose a full refund or a comparable replacement car.

The law covers both new and used cars, which satisfy the following four conditions: The vehicle was covered by the manufacturer’s warranty at the time of original delivery; the vehicle was purchased, leased, or transferred within 18,000 miles or two years from the date of original delivery, whichever comes first; the vehicle was purchased, leased, or transferred in New York State or is presently registered in New York State; and the vehicle is primarily for personal use (more than 50% of the time).

Motor homes are also covered under the law, except as to defects in systems, fixtures, appliances or other parts that are residential in character. Motorcycles and off-road vehicles are not covered by the law.

In order to be considered a “lemon” under the Lemon Law in NYS, the vehicle must not conform to the manufacturer’s express warranty; has substantial defects affecting the use, safety, or value of the vehicle; has manufacturer’s defects that occurred during the first two years from the original owner’s delivery date or the first 18,000 miles on the odometer; has been taken in four times for the same problem, yet the defect still exists, or has been out of service for a cumulative total of 30 days due to repairs for one or more problems, or the dealer refuses to repair the defect within 20 days of receiving a written notice.

The New York Court have held that you are still entitled to relief under NY Lemon Law if a defect was successfully repaired on or after the fifth repair attempt, or after the vehicle was out of service for 30 days.

Keep in mind that the law does not apply to defects that do not significantly impact its value to you.

For example, if the upholstery is frayed, that is not covered by the law. Likewise, if the problem stems from modifications that you made to the vehicle, or from abuse or neglect of the vehicle, the NYS Lemon Law will not apply.

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