For most people, buying a new car is a fun experience. Everyone loves the new car smell and who doesn’t enjoy showing it off to friends and family. Unfortunately, for some people this experience can turn into a disappointment all too quickly.
Imagine you’re driving the car you just bought two weeks ago when suddenly something goes wrong. Maybe it’s making a strange noise, shifting hard, or it stalls out. Maybe it stops running altogether. Most people will, of course, take it back to the dealer. It is under warranty, right? With any luck they will fix the problem in no time flat and you will drive it for years to come without any problems.
You get your car back and for a while everything is fine. Then, a month later, the same thing happens again. Once again, you take it to the dealer. This time they give you a completely different explanation. You get your car back but the problem persists. Each time you bring it in for service the explanations get more and more vague. Sometimes it even feels like they're accusing you, as if you did something wrong.
This is a nightmare scenario for any new car owner. They’re angry at the dealer who ripped them off. They’re afraid to drive with their kids in the car because it might be dangerous. Their boss is getting mad at them for missing too much work and in many cases they’re racking up rental car fees and they haven’t even finished paying off the car they just bought.
Fortunately, while most litigation is quite time consuming, New Jersey has a way for new car owners to receive comparatively rapid relief. The New Jersey Lemon Law Unit was developed in 1989 to assist purchasers and leasers of cars who have received defective automobiles. The process is removed from the Superior Court and is heard by an administrative law judge. The process is expedited and typically takes far less time than when litigated in the traditional courts.
Lemon Law relief can be used for both new and used vehicles. The qualifications are different depending on whether the car is new or used.
New cars are covered by lemon law for two years from the purchase date or for 24,000 miles, whichever comes first. If the car was purchased used, but would still qualify as a new car had the original owner not sold it, the vehicle may still qualify as a new car for the second owner. New car lemon law covers passenger vehicles and motorcycles as well as motor homes (except the living compartment) so long as they were purchased, leased, or registered in New Jersey.
To qualify as a “lemon” a new car must have a defect which substantially impairs the use, value, or safety of the vehicle, or a serious safety defect which is likely to cause death or serious bodily injury if the vehicle is driven.
Before a lemon law application can be filed for a new car there are several important steps which must be taken. First the car must have been out of service for 20 or more days, or there must have been two repair attempts after which, The defect in the car must still be present. At that point a letter must be sent to the manufacturer giving them one final repair attempt. This letter must be sent certified mail and should be sent to the address on file for service. Once the letter is received, the manufacturer will have 10 days to repair. If after ten days the manufacturer has failed to repair the defect, a lemon law application should be filed with the Division of Consumer Affairs. This is analogous to a complaint and will start your lemon law proceedings. Remember that it is very important that the form of the Lemon Law warning letter be precise and that it is mailed in the proper fashion to the proper place. You should seriously consider contacting an attorney before mailing this letter to ensure it is done right. Not doing so could seriously affect the outcome of your claim.
Used Passenger vehicles are covered under New Jersey State Lemon Law if they are seven model years old or less, are purchased for at least $3,000 and do not exceed 100,000 miles. Licensed dealers must provide consumers with a warranty if the car meets these criteria. The warranty is based on a sliding scale, depending on the mileage of the vehicle and must cover the engine, transmission case, and front or rear wheel drive. Remember, lemon law does not cover used motorcycles, used commercial vehicles, leased used vehicles, used vehicles still under manufacturer warranty, private sale vehicles, lessees who buy out leased vehicles, or total loss/flood damage vehicles.
Defects on used cars must substantially impair the use, value, or safety of the vehicle for the vehicle to qualify as a “lemon.” Applications for used car lemon law can be filed after the car has been out of service for 20 days or there have been three unsuccessful attempts to repair the car. Remember that in both new and used car lemon law claims, the defect must still be present in the car until the process is complete.
The relief you can expect also depends on whether your car is new or used. For new cars you can recover the purchase price or leasing costs, finance charges, reasonable attorney fees, application fees, repair costs, reasonable rental costs, expert witness fees and towing costs. For used car you can recover the total purchase price of the vehicle. Both new and used cars allow for a deduction for personal use based on a formula. It is also not uncommon for the manufacturer or dealer to offer a settlement prior to litigation. While these settlements may be a good option depending on the individual circumstances, they are usually made by the company with the assistance of an attorney. It is possible, that the offer is only in the best interest of the Manufacturer/ Dealer and should not be taken. A licensed attorney experienced in lemon law litigation can help you reach your decision.
Please be aware, that while the lemon law process is both faster and cheaper than most other forms of litigation, it is by no means user friendly. It requires you to properly put big corporations on notice in precisely the right way. It requires you to fill out meticulous forms and gather mountains of information and documents. Once you go to court, the manufacturer or dealer has a strong interest in winning their case. They will have an attorney to represent them who will look to exploit any mistake you have made. They will have experts at their disposal to scrutinize your car and find any reason why the manufacturer or dealer is not liable. Having an attorney who has the experience to see these issues coming and address them without being caught off guard can greatly improve your chances of success.
If you buy a car, you should always make sure to keep all documentation in a safe place. If you do experience a problem, notify the dealer immediately and follow their instructions. Always make sure to follow all required maintenance and care guidelines. This will be to your benefit and will make your case go much more smoothly if you have to utilize the lemon law process at some point.
If you think you have purchased a lemon, contact my office to schedule a free consultation. I will t happy to meet with you and discuss the merits of your case. As with all my clients, I know just how important your case is to you and will give you the attention and diligence you deserve.