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The term "Lemon Law" refers to the many laws designed to protect consumers against seriously flawed new vehicles. Some states use the term to cover other high-ticket items, or to cover used cars as well. In Illinois, the Lemon Law covers only new cars and some other vehicles.
Essentially, the Lemon Law assures new-car buyers that if the vehicle has a serious flaw that can't be repaired, the owner is entitled to a refund or a replacement.
The following types of vehicles are covered:
- New cars
- Light trucks and vans under 8,000 lbs.
- Vehicles 1 year old or less, or within its first 12,000 miles, whichever comes first
- Vehicles purchased in Illinois
The following types of vehicles are not covered:
- Used cars
- Vehicles that have been modified or altered
Even if your type of vehicle is not covered under the Lemon Law provisions, you may still have warranty protection rights conferred by the state of Illinois.
The Illinois Lemon Law covers leased vehicles as well as purchased vehicles. The same requirements and restrictions apply, so document any problems with a leased car the same way you would document problems with a car you already own or are buying (see below).
Unfortunately, the cold, hard truth is that the Lemon Law will not protect you if you don't protect yourself. In many cases, consumers may want to seek the advice of a qualified lawyer familiar with Lemon Law cases.
Whether you fight for your rights alone or with an advocate at your side, these hints will help you prepare your case:
- Assume the first problem is the beginning of big trouble. In theory, everything should be perfect on a new vehicle. Begin documenting any problems immediately, and keep all your repair receipts. In general, it is good practice to keep a logbook on all vehicle repairs for the life of the vehicle. This can even increase its value when you sell it.
If your vehicle turns out to be a lemon, this type of record can be extremely valuable. Can't drive the car today because it won't start? Write it down. Stopped by the mechanic to ask a question about that funny noise? Write it down.
- Once you notice a pattern of problems, continue to keep accurate records. A car must be out of service for 30 business days to qualify as a lemon.
- Illinois requires 4 attempts to repair the car before it qualifies as a lemon. Don't wait, hoping the problem will go away. Vigorously pursue repairs. Usually only repairs by the manufacturer or the dealer will count toward the 4 attempts total, though some authorized service centers may also be included.
Advice from uncle Fred, the bright kid down the street, and the gas pump jockey probably won't be considered official―but write the consultation down anyway. Avoid any unauthorized repairs, as that could void your warranty and make your case trickier to prove.
- The Lemon Law requires that the problem substantially impair the use, market value, or safety of the vehicle. Again, documentation is your friend here. Even a persistent irritating noise might prevent you from using the car. That could be interpreted as "substantial" impairment of both the use and market value of the car.
If you have a problem that is resisting repair, your first action should be to contact the vehicle's manufacturer. Your car manual should have information about the Third Party Dispute Resolution Program, which was established by vehicle manufacturers to deal with Lemon Law-covered vehicles.
Contacting the dealer or filing a Lemon Law action with them will do nothing at this point. Furthermore, an unscrupulous dealer may stonewall you to prevent a timely filing of your claim, so be careful.
Some states vigorously assist consumers in pursuing companies under the Lemon Law. The Illinois Attorney General provides some information for consumers about the Lemon Law.
The Attorney General also suggests hiring a private attorney. Lemon Law cases generally occur after the Third Party Dispute Resolution Program, also known as the Dispute Board, has decided in favor of the manufacturer.
Also, read your warranties carefully. You may have additional rights that apply in this situation. If you paid part of your down payment or monthly payments by credit or debit card, you may have additional help available through the issuing bank or credit card company.
If the Dispute Board rules in your favor, you will either be given a replacement vehicle of the same or similar type and value, or the manufacturer will buy back your vehicle. In this case, the manufacturer is allowed to deduct for the mileage you have put on the vehicle. Bearing this in mind, you might get a better deal by opting for the replacement vehicle rather than the buy-back.