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Buying a car can be an overwhelming task from the moment you start shopping around town. Once you finally make a purchase, the last thing you want to worry about when driving off the lot with your shiny new ride is whether it's going to fall apart on you in the next month.
But it does happen. Sometimes a vehicle just has a glitch that simply can't be fixed, whether it's the result of a goof on the assembly line or too much jostling during shipment.
But like most states, Hawaii offers recourse to those faced with this situation. As a matter of fact, the state goes the extra mile to ensure that you understand the process of filing a complaint under the Lemon Law.
In short, the Lemon Law states that if a new car you purchase has significant defects that should be repaired under the warranty but haven't been, you are entitled to a refund of the purchase price or a replacement vehicle from the manufacturer.
Obviously, automakers don't want to give you a new car or your money back if they can avoid it. It's certainly not as easy as returning the car with the receipt for a full refund (after all, you didn't buy it at a department store).
No, you can nag, beg, cry, threaten, or cajole―but you're not likely to get a car manufacturer to return that much money so easily. Very often, you'll have to resort to calling an attorney who specializes in Hawaii's Lemon Law to help you win your claim in court.
As an alternative to fighting out a Lemon Law complaint in the court system, however, Hawaii instituted the State Certified Arbitration Program (SCAP). The program is run by the Regulated Industries Complaints Office (RICO) and is designed to help you navigate the often confusing quagmire that you may find yourself in if you bought a lemon.
If you have any questions regarding the Lemon Law or how your vehicle fits into the process, this is the place to get answers. Not only does SCAP provide an indispensable Lemon Law Handbook that goes into depth about entering mediation, but SCAP's site also has all the forms necessary to deal with the matter. You can view case history statistics.
In order to enter the arbitration process with the best chances of success, you will need to provide evidence of a few things. Mostly, you will need to make sure you collect documentation to prove that you have indeed met the requirements of the Lemon Law and that you have taken the necessary steps to resolve the issue―to no avail.
Under the Lemon Law, a consumer has a period of 2 years or 24,000 miles to bring the defect to the attention of the manufacturer or the dealer acting as a representative of the manufacturer. In addition, you must meet the following requirements:
- The vehicle in question must be new and under warranty when the defect or malfunction occurs.
- The problem under warranty must somehow affect the market value of the car, the ability to use it, or its safety.
- You have taken the vehicle into a garage for 3 attempts to fix the same malfunction and the problem was not resolved.
- The cumulative time the vehicle spends in the shop adds up to 30 days within 2 years.
- The defect is so serious that it renders the vehicle so unsafe it could cause death.
If your vehicle fits into any of the above categories, you most likely purchased a lemon. So now what do you do? You keep getting the car back from the garage and the exact same thing keeps going wrong. You're frustrated, and you can't take it any more.
Contacting the Manufacturer
With SCAP, you have plenty of options. The last resort is to go to arbitration, win, and get a new, nonlemon vehicle. But during the first phases of your lemon law claim, you should try to work things out directly with the dealer or manufacturer. To this end, you need to send a Letter to the Manufacturer detailing the malfunction and the number of times you have tried to have it fixed.
This is where the 30 days or 3 attempts to repair in the shop comes into play. Send the letter by certified mail and ask for a return receipt; photocopy everything for your records. At this point, the manufacturer may acknowledge the error and take the appropriate action. But in many cases, the manufacturer will disagree with your assessment. This is when you ask SCAP to get involved.
To call for SCAP to look at the case, be sure your car meets the definition of a lemon and you have satisfied the other qualifications discussed in the Lemon Law Handbook. If everything's in order, then use the Lemon Law Demand for Arbitration Checklist to make sure you complete the following:
- Complete the Demand for Arbitration form.
- Submit 3 copies of the following:
- Work orders from the garage(s) showing you tried to have the problem fixed.
- Dealer or lease contract.
- Manufacturer warranty; this includes any detailed information available on what parts fall under the contract umbrella.
- Letter you sent to the manufacturer and the return receipt.
- Lemon Law document the dealer gave you at the time of the sale. If for some reason you did not receive this, send in a written statement to this effect.
- Send a check made out to the Director of Finance for $50. If the outcome of the arbitration is in your favor, the $50 will be returned.
You have two options regarding the binding of the arbitration decision. The first is to allow the arbiter's judgment to be binding without any choice to appeal by either party. The other generally allows an appeal within 30 days by either the manufacturer or you, and the outcome of the appeal is final. Sign this form and include it in your stack of documents to send to the arbiter.
All the materials should go to:
- Regulated Industries Complaints Office, DCCA
- 235 S. Beretania St., 9th Floor
- Honolulu, HI 96813
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