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  • Lemon Law in Maryland

    The last thing you expect when you drop some serious cash on a shiny new car is that within a few months, it will drive you kicking and screaming mad, wanting to push it off a small cliff into Chesapeake Bay. Of course, you just never can tell. Then you have to consider the high-tech nature of vehicles today, which are literally mammoth computers with four wheels attached. A single glitch can create innumerable headaches for an owner.

    At least in some of these circumstances there is recourse under the Maryland Lemon Law, or Automobile Warranty Enforcement Law. So before you have to dredge for the vehicle on the bottom of the bay, make sure you do not have other more sensible options to choose from.

    Defining a Lemon

    For any vehicle, including motorcycles, to be defined as going sour, it must first be new and, second, it must be under warranty. Regardless, though, all vehicles need to meet a specific set of requirements and endure what can be an arduous process.

    • The defect must hinder the vehicle's use, value, and/or safety.
    • The manufacturer has a right to 4 attempts to repair the recurring defect in the first 2 years or 18,000 miles of the warranty.
    • An alternative to the 4 attempts to correct the defect is that the vehicle be out of service for a cumulative total of 30 days during the same 2 years or 18,000 miles.
    • If the defect involved either the steering or braking systems, then only 1 attempt at fixing the issue is deemed necessary.
    • All repairs must be completed by a dealer, although not necessarily the dealer where the vehicle was purchased.

    Next Steps

    If your vehicle has caused you this kind of frustration, you most likely have a problem with it that just is not going to be solved no matter how many times mechanics get under the hood. But do not think the manufacturer is going to be anxious to simply give you a spanking new vehicle or a refund for the broken one.

    Of course, this is what the Lemon Law entails, but manufacturers do not have to make it easy on you. After all, it is a lot of money to be dealing with for everyone involved. Thus, you may want to consider hiring an attorney who is familiar with the ins and outs of the state Lemon Law.

    To get an idea of the overall process you are most likely going to enter, download the informative brochure published by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG).

    That brochure will aid you in keeping track of the time your vehicle is disabled and guide you on how to deal with the manufacturer. If you plan to file a complaint, you will need to make sure you have kept detailed records that will ultimately serve as evidence for your case.

    Contacting the Manufacturer

    To protect yourself, you should be in contact with the manufacturer early on in the process―even after the second attempt to fix the same problem. Keep all of the communication in writing, and when you mail out a preliminary letter (view a sample letter from the OAG), send it certified and request a return receipt. That way everyone is on the same page: you will know the manufacturer received the letter and they will also know that you know they have the letter.

    At this point you will also want to begin a file at the Consumer Protection Division (a section of the OAG). To accomplish this task, you will need to mail a copy of the letter and a completed complaint form to a Consumer Protection office in your area.

    The manufacturer only has 30 days, allotted by Maryland law, to fix the problem. If you are contacted by phone, make sure you jot down a summary of the basic points discussed.

    If the problems continue to the last repair attempt and the manufacturer starts hedging or resisting your inquiries as to a resolution, then it is time to file a claim.

    Filing a Claim

    This is where all of the detailed record-keeping of the trials and tribulations of the vehicle come into play. Hopefully you have held onto every itemized labor invoice from the dealer that performed the repairs.

    Make photocopies of all invoices and work orders to enclose in the letter you are going to need to write and send to the manufacturer. In fact, any slip of paper that you have collected during the ordeal that may be relevant to the cause should be copied and added to the pile of paperwork that will eventually end up in the manufacturer's hands.

    If you have been on your toes then at this point, you have already made formal written contact with the manufacturer. But if after the last repair attempt you still have not communicated the issue to the manufacturer, you will need to get right to the point (view a sample letter from the OAG).

    Pile the collection of documents into the envelope with the letter and send it via certified mail and request a return receipt. Also, if you have yet to contact the Consumer Protection Division, there is another opportunity to make them aware of the situation via a complaint form.

    The other option at this point is to simply request a refund or a new vehicle (view a sample letter from the OAG). This is the route to take if you have met all the preconditions of a lemon as defined under state law.

    This sounds easy enough. You have a car that does not work. You have made numerous tries to fix the problem, which happens to always be the same problem. It does not work, therefore the manufacturer needs to rectify the situation by producing a replacement car or returning the monies invested in the vehicle. Unfortunately, it does not always happen this way, even after a claim is filed, and you may need to take further legal steps to resolve the matter.

    Legal Options

    Arbitration: Usually if the situation between you and the manufacturer continues to result in a stalemate, an option of arbitration is put on the table to resolve the impasse. While some states may have an arbitrator of sorts, in most cases the arbitrator will be provided by the manufacturer.

    Now this does not mean the whole affair will tilt to one side. Quite the contrary, considering the decision proffered by the arbitrator is only binding for the manufacturer. If you are displeased with the outcome, you can wander down other legal roads, which generally leads to a courthouse.

    Court: This is pretty self-explanatory. You file a lawsuit against the manufacturer and fight it out in front of a judge. In Maryland, you have 3 years from the date you originally took possession of the vehicle to sue the manufacturer.

    This can be a costly path to take and will most likely require an attorney. But if it means throwing the car in the Chesapeake or getting a new one that actually works, then this recourse, although a last resort, may be necessary.

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