Consumer Focus: New car a nonstarter? Look at the Lemon Law

By: 
FROM THE OFFICE OF IOWA ATTORNEY GENERAL TOM MILLER

Driving a lemon? Depending on your car problems, it’s possible that Iowa’s “Lemon Law” can help. Iowa’s Defective Motor Vehicles Law, also known as the Lemon Law, allows you as a car owner to pursue a complaint on your own.

The Lemon Law covers cars, light trucks and vans —purchased or leased—with less than 24,000 miles, less than two years old after initial retail delivery, and still under manufacturer’s warranty (whichever expires first). The law does not cover older cars, or other types of vehicles such as motorcycles, mopeds, heavier trucks or recreational vehicles.

Your vehicle may qualify under the Lemon Law if it meets at least one of the following conditions:

The vehicle has been in the shop three or more times for the same problem and the problem still exists.  The problem or defect has to render your vehicle unfit, unreliable, or unsafe for ordinary use or significantly diminish its value.

The vehicle has been in the shop one time by reason of a defect likely to cause death or substantial bodily injury and the problem still exists.

The vehicle has been out of service for any number of problems 20 or more days, and a problem still exists. The days out of service do not need to be consecutive.

If your vehicle qualifies under the law, you must notify the manufacturer by certified, registered, or overnight mail and give the manufacturer one more chance to fix the problem.  You must send your notice directly to the manufacturer.

Support your claim by keeping copies of all detailed invoices for each time the vehicle has been in a repair facility for diagnosis or repair. For warranty repairs, repair facilities are required to provide you with a fully itemized, legible statement or repair order indicating any diagnosis made, and all work performed on the vehicle, including a general description of any problems the consumer reported, the date, the odometer reading, and the date of the repair or examination.

Include copies of these documents with your letter to the manufacturer, and a statement of how you would like to resolve your complaint.

To help organize your information, our Consumer Protection Division provides a Motor Vehicle Defect Notification form. You can download the printable form on our website at www.iowaattorneygeneral.gov. If you’d like us to mail you one, call our office at 515-281-5926 or, outside of the Des Moines metro area, toll-free, at 888-777-4590. Fill out the form and send it to the manufacturer. Keep a copy of the completed form and any other materials for your records.

Inform the manufacturer that you seek a reply within ten days of receipt of your letter. The manufacturer should respond with the name and address of a repair facility that’s reasonably accessible to you, for a final attempt to repair your vehicle.

If the manufacturer fails to respond within ten days, you are not required to give the manufacturer another chance to fix your vehicle. Additionally, if the manufacturer doesn’t meet the ten-day response deadline, or the manufacturer’s chosen repair facility can’t fix the problem during the final attempt, you can request the manufacturer to replace your vehicle or refund the purchase price, less a reasonable offset for your use of it.

If after taking these steps your complaint remains unsatisfied, you may file a lawsuit against the manufacturer under the Lemon Law. However, if the manufacturer has a certified dispute program, you must proceed through the program before filing suit. If the manufacturer’s program is not certified, you may still choose to submit your claim to the program and, possibly, avoid costly litigation. You’ll find a list of certified and non-certified manufacturer dispute resolution programs on our website, or contact our Consumer Protection Division.

You must file a lawsuit under the Lemon Law within one year following the expiration of the manufacturer’s express warranty, or one year following the first 24,000 miles attributed to a consumer, or one year following the first 24 months of ownership, whichever occurs first. To file a Lemon Law lawsuit, contact a private attorney.

You may have other legal options, even if your vehicle does not qualify under the Lemon Law. Contact a private attorney for further information and advice.

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