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LEMON LAWS AND OTHER CONSUMER LAWS

Lemon Laws
What can you do if the car you just bought is a real "lemon"? What if the car you
purchased is in the repair shop almost as much as in your garage? To protect consumers
from such situations, most states have passed some form of "lemon laws," which usually
apply to new cars purchased for personal, family, or household use. These laws entitle you
to a replacement car or a refund if your new car is so defective that it is beyond
satisfactory repair by the dealer. You must, however, give the dealer a reasonable
opportunity to repair the car.

How do you know if the law considers your car a lemon? States vary in their
specifics. Do an Internet search for "lemon law" along with the name of your state to see if
your state has a law – if it does, chances are that a government agency or a private law
firm or consumer protection organization has posted a website on the topic. As a general
rule, a lemon normally is a car that continues to have a defect that substantially restricts its
use, safety, or value, even after reasonable efforts to repair it. This often means four repair
attempts on the same problem or a directly related problem within six months or one year
(the time period varies by state). Or, it might mean the car is out of commission for more
than thirty nonconsecutive days during either: (1) The year after the dealer sold it; or (2)
the duration of any express warranty, whichever is shorter.

Q. What must I do to make lemon laws work for me?
A.
First, you must notify the manufacturer, and, in some states, the dealer about the defect.
Second, you should keep a copy of every repair or service receipt you are given. This
serves as your record that the required number of repair attempts has been made, and is
especially important if your car's defect had to be repaired at another garage or in another
city because it was physically impossible to drive the car back to the seller's repair
location.
Most states require that you go through an arbitration procedure before you can get
a replacement or refund. Some states sponsor arbitration programs, which may be more
objective than those run by manufacturers. Arbitration is usually free, and results often are
binding only on the manufacturer; if you don't like the result, you can still take the
manufacturer to court. Some states require arbitration only if the manufacturer refuses to
give you a satisfactory replacement or a refund. You also may have the option of
bypassing arbitration and going directly to court.
If you successfully pursue a lemon law claim, you may get a refund of what you
paid for the car, as well as reimbursement for things like taxes, registration fees, and
finance charges. If you choose, you may get a replacement car. Be sure that it is of
comparable value to the lemon it is replacing, and that it satisfies you completely.

Q. Do lemon laws cover used cars?
A.
Yes, they cover used cars in a growing number of states. In some places, the law
applies both to dealer and private seller purchases.
The laws may have a connection with the safety inspection sticker requirement.
(See the "Inspections" section later in this chapter.) These sticker laws usually protect you
if two conditions occur. First, the car must fail inspection within a certain period from the
date of sale. Second, the repair costs must exceed a stated percentage of the purchase
price. Then you are permitted to cancel the deal within a certain period. You probably will
have to notify the seller in writing of your intention to cancel, including your reasons. You
must return the car to the place of sale even if it requires towing. If the seller offers to
make repairs, you can decide whether to accept the seller's offer or get your money back.

Q. What if the car passes the safety inspection but still turns out to be a lemon (by
requiring costly repairs or repeated repair attempts for the same problem)? Is it still
considered a lemon?
A.
It might pass the safety inspection and still be a lemon. Some state laws define "lemon"
for used cars the same way they do for new cars: by using a formula of repair
attempts/time spent in the shop. These laws protect buyers of used lemons in much the
same way as buyers of new lemons. (See the previous questions and answers for details.)

Q. May I drive the car while we are deciding whether or not it is a lemon?
A.
Yes, you may drive the car (if it is drivable), but be aware that, if the car does indeed
turn out to be a lemon, the law usually allows the seller to deduct a certain amount from
your refund based on the miles you have driven. This applies to both new and used car
sales.

Other Consumer Protection Laws

Additional Protection for Car Buyers
Other statutes protect car buyers besides lemon laws:

  • the federal Anti-Tampering Odometer Law prohibits acts that falsify odometer
    mileage readings (the Maine Attorney General has a useful site on this topic at
    http://www.state.me.us/ag/clg10.htm) ;
  • the federal Used Car Law requires that dealers post Buyers Guides on used cars;
  • the federal Automobile Information Disclosure Act requires manufacturers and
    importers of new cars to affix a sticker, called the "Monroney label," on the
    windshield or side window of the car. The Monroney label lists the base price of the
    car, the options installed by the manufacturer, along with their suggested retail price,
    how much the manufacturer has charged for transportation, and the car's fuel economy
    (miles per gallon).
  • Only the buyer is allowed to remove the Monroney label.
    By far, the statutes providing the strongest protection are those prohibiting unfair
    and deceptive acts and practices. Every state has enacted such laws. Car buyers may
    recover from the seller (the dealer and/or the manufacturer), regardless of who might have
    done the deceiving.

Q. What is an unfair or deceptive practice?
A.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) defines "unfair conduct" as that which, although
not necessarily illegal,

  • offends public policy as established by statute, common law, or other means;
  • is immoral, unethical, troublesome, or corrupt; and
  • substantially injures consumers (or competitors or other businesspeople).

"Deceptive conduct" is behavior that could have caused people to act differently
than they otherwise would have acted. It does not have to involve the product's qualities,
but it might include any aspect that could be an important factor in deciding whether to
buy the goods. An example would be stating that the engine has six cylinders when it
really has four. The quality may be fine, but the buyer may have been seeking a car with a
six-cylinder engine. The FTC regulations are the basis of many states' laws.

Q. Must the unfair or deceptive act be intentional?
A.
No, in most states, the seller does not even have to know about the deception. Rather,
the court considers the effect that the seller's conduct might possibly have on the general
public or on the people to whom the seller advertised the product.

Q. What must I do in order to use an unfair and deceptive practices statute?
A.
In many states, you must make a written demand for relief before you sue. The law
allows the seller one last chance to make good.
If you have to sue, many states require proof of "injury" before you may recover.
Loss of money or property is enough to prove this. You should be able to show that the
seller's actions actually caused the injury. For example, only if you were determined to
buy the car no matter what the seller said would you have a hard time showing that the
seller's conduct caused you injury or loss. If you based your decision to buy on what the
seller told you, or if you were coerced into buying something that you didn't really want,
then you may be able to use the statute. Remember to begin the procedure before the
statute of limitations expires. This time limit varies by state, but is typically three or four
years.

Q. What happens if I win?
A.
Many states permit you to recover double or triple damages, and lawyers' fees. The
purpose of these harsh penalties is to discourage sellers from committing unfair or
deceptive acts in the future.
Sidebar: Violations of Unfair and Deceptive Practive Laws
Each statute differs about what actions could violate unfair and deceptive practices
statutes. The most common violations include:

  • hiding dangerous defects;
  • failing to state that service is not readily available;
  • not revealing that the dealer advertised the car at a lower price;
  • odometer tampering;
  • failure to reveal that the dealer is charging excessive preparation costs; and
  • withholding facts about the car's previous use as, for example, a racing car.

Generally, a dealer's failure to disclose any important facts about the car, or an attempt
to make such facts too hard to see, is illegal, and could lead to your recovery under your
state's unfair and deceptive practices law.

 

WHOM TO CONTACT FOR
STATE LEMON LAW INFORMATION

ALABAMA
Consumer Protection Division
Office of the Attorney General
11 South Union Street
Montgomery, AL 36130

ALASKA
Office of the Attorney General
Anchorage, AK 99500

ARIZONA
Consumer Protection
Office of the Attorney General
1275 West Washington Street
Phoenix, AZ 85007

ARKANSAS
Consumer Protection Division
Office of the Attorney General
200 Tower Building
323 Center Street
Little Rock, AR 72201

CALIFORNIA
Department of Consumer Affairs
400 R Street, Suite 1040
Sacramento, CA 95814

COLORADO
Consumer Protection Unit
Office of the Attorney General
110 16th Street, 10th Floor
Denver, CO 80202

CONNECTICUT
Department of Consumer Protection
State Office Building
165 Capitol Avenue
Hartford, CT 06106

DELAWARE
Division of Consumer Affairs
Department of Community Affairs
820 North French Street, 4th Floor
Wilmington, DE 19801

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
Department of Consumer and
Regulatory Affairs
614 H Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20001

FLORIDA
Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
Division of Consumer Services
218 Mayo Building
TaUahassee, FL 32399

GEORGIA
Governors Office of Consumer Affairs
2 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, S.E.
Atlanta, GA 30334

HAWAII
Office of Consumer Protection
Department of Commerce and
Consumer Affairs
828 Fort St. Mall, Suite 600B
P.O. Box 3767
Honolulu, HI 96812-3767

IDAHO
Office of the Attorney General
Consumer Protection Unit
Statehouse, Room 113A
Boise, ID 83720-1000

ILLINOIS
Governors Office of Citizens
Assistance
222 South College
Springfield, IL 62706

INDIANA
Consumer Protection Division
Office of the Attorney General
219 State House
Indianapolis, IN 46204

IOWA
Consumer Protection Division
Office of the Attorney General
1300 East Walnut Street, 2nd Floor
Des Moines, IA 50319

KANSAS
Consumer Protection Division
Office of the Attorney General
301 West 10th
Kansas Judicial Center
Topeka, KS 66612-1597

KENTUCKY
Consumer Protection Division
Office of the Attorney General
209 Saint Clair Street
Frankfort, KY 40601-1875

LOUISIANA
Consumer Protection Section
Office of the Attorney General
State Capitol Building
P.O. Box 94005
Baton Rouge, LA 70804-9005

MAINE
Consumer and Antitrust Division
Office of the Attorney General
State House Station No. 6
Augusta, ME 04333

MARYLAND
Consumer Protection Division
Office of the Attorney General
200 St. Paul Place
Baltimore, MD 21202-2021

MONTANA
Consumer Affairs Unit
Department of Commerce
1424 Ninth Avenue
Helena, MT 59620

MASSACHUSETTS
Consumer Protection Division
Department of the Attorney General
131 Tremont Street
Boston, MA 02111

NEBRASKA
Consumer Protection Division
Department of Justice
2115 State Capitol
P.O. Box 98920
Lincoln, NE 68509

MICHIGAN
Consumer Protection Division
Office of the Attorney General
P.O. Box 30213
Lansing, MI 48909

MINNESOTA
Office of Consumer Services
Office of the Attorney General
117 University Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55155

MISSISSIPPI
Consumer Protection Division
Office of the Attorney General
P.O. Box 22947
Jackson, MS 39225-2947

MISSOURI
Office of the Attorney General
Consumer Complaints or Problems
P.O. Box 899
Jefferson City, MO 65102

NEVADA
Commissioner of Consumer Affairs
Department of Commerce
State Mail Room Complex
Las Vegas, NV 89158

NEW HAMPSHIRE
Consumer Protection and Antitrust Bureau
Office of the Attorney General
State House Annex
Concord, NH 03301
NEW JERSEY

Division of Consumer Affairs
P.O. Box 45027
Newark, NJ 07101

NEW MEXICO
Consumer Protection Division
Office of the Attorney General
P.O. Drawer 1508
Santa Fe, NM 87504
Strawberry Square, 14th Floor
Harrisburg, PA 17120

RHODE ISLAND
Consumer Protection Division
Office of the Attorney General
72 Pine Street
Providence, RI 02903

SOUTH CAROLINA
Office of the Attorney General
P.O. Box 11549
Columbia, SC 29211

SOUTH DAKOTA
Office of the Attorney General
500 East Capitol
State Capitol Building
Pierre, SD 57501-5070

TENNESSEE
Antitrust and Consumer
Protection Division
Office of the Attorney General
450 James Robertson Parkway
Nashville, TN 37243-0485

TEXAS
Consumer Protection Division
Office of the Attorney General
P.O. Box 12548
Austin, TX 78711

UTAH
Division of Consumer Protection
Department of Commerce
160 East Third, South
a P.O. Box 45802
Salt Lake City, UT 84145-0802
Strawberry Square, 14th Floor
Harrisburg, PA 17120

RHODE ISLAND
Consumer Protection Division
Office of the Attorney General
72 Pine Street
Providence, RI 02903

SOUTH CAROLINA
Office of the Attorney General
P.O. Box 11549
Columbia, SC 29211

SOUTH DAKOTA
Office of the Attorney General
500 East Capitol
State Capitol Building
Pierre, SD 57501-5070

TENNESSEE
Antitrust and Consumer
Protection Division
Office of the Attorney General
450 James Robertson Parkway
Nashville, TN 37243-0485

TEXAS
Consumer Protection Division
Office of the Attorney General
P.O. Box 12548
Austin, TX 78711

UTAH
Division of Consumer Protection
Department of Commerce
160 East Third, South
n P.O. Box 45802
Salt Lake City, UT 84145-0802
Appendix

VERMONT
Office of the Attorney General
109 State Street
Montpelier, VT 05609-1001

VIRGINIA
Office of the Attorney General
Supreme Court Building
101 North Eighth Street
Richmond, VA 23219

WASHINGTON
Office of the Attorney General
111 Olympia Avenue, NE
Olympia, WA 98501

WEST VIRGINIA
Consumer Protection Division
Office of the Attorney General
812 Quarrier Street, 6th Floor
Charleston, WV 25301

WISCONSIN
Department of Agriculture, Trade
and Consumer Protection
801 West Badger Road
P.O. Box 8911
Madison, WI 53708

WYOMING
Office of the Attorney General
123 State Capitol Building
Cheyenne, WY 82002


 

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