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Legal U: Go Suck on a Lemon Law

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Even in the age of mass production and mechanization of most of the auto manufacturing process, once in a while, there is a dud. Sometimes, the damn thing just doesn’t work. Call it a curse, a hex, or a defect.

Better yet, call it a Lemon.

Illinois’ Lemon Law, officially known as the New Vehicle Buyer Protection Act, protects purchasers of new cars for a period of eighteen months after the purchase date. If certain criteria are met, the buyer can exchange the car for a comparable new model or sell it back minus an allowance for mileage driven. Of course, not all vehicles qualify. Passenger vehicles, motor vehicles weighing less than 8,000 pounds, vehicles purchased by fire departments, and recreational vehicles are covered. Used vehicles are not.

Not all defects are covered. The defect must be covered by the express (written) warranty. Of course, pretty much anything of substance is should be covered by your warranty, including the engine, transmission, and other mechanical components. Things that might not be covered would be the sweet special-order glowing cup holders, aftermarket spoiler, or other visual modifications.

If a troublesome "nonconformity" covered by the warranty arises, the dealer does have an opportunity to fix the issue. However, the vehicle qualifies as a lemon once the dealer has made four attempts to fix the problem, or once the vehicle has been out of service for thirty days. Think of this as the 4 x 30 rule.

If you think that your vehicle qualifies as a lemon, the first thing to do is to double check your warranty. Make sure that the troublesome component is covered by the warranty. Before you can proceed with court proceedings, you have to engage in an informal settlement process with the dealership.

A great resource for this mandatory process is the Better Business Bureau. They can be reached either online or at 900-955-5100. The BBB Auto Line is funded by contributions from participating manufacturers but is independent of car dealerships. They do not charge the customer. They provide impartial dispute resolution and assistance with getting your lemon law complaint handled in a timely manner.

If the BBB or other informal dispute resolution process fails to remedy the problem, the customer can then file a civil lawsuit with the help of an attorney.

This post is part of FindLaw's Legal U series. We are working to help you learn what to do in your city to cope with some of the legal problems, questions, or issues that come up in daily life. Do you have a topic suggestion? Send us a tweet @FindLawConsumer with the hashtag #LegalU and come on back to learn more from future posts in this series.

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