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Most states have a lemon law that gives consumers justice if they bought or leased a new vehicle with serious defects. In North Carolina, manufacturers must warranty their new vehicles for at least 12 months or 12,000 miles from delivery. North Carolina's Lemon Law, officially known as the New Motor Vehicles Warranties Act, does not cover used vehicles.
A lemon is a seriously defective car, van, motorcycle, or pickup truck where the defect cannot be repaired after a reasonable number of attempts, usually 4 attempts or more. It also applies to vehicles that have been out of service for at least 20 days within 12 months of the motor vehicle delivery date. According to the law, the manufacturer must replace the vehicle or refund the customer's money, a choice made by the consumer.
What's defined as seriously defective? A defect ("nonconformity") is one or more conditions that substantially impairs the value of the motor vehicle to the consumer. It's not limited to just operations of the car. If there are serious problems with the heat, air conditioning, or paint, they might substantially impair the vehicle's value to the consumer. The car can still be considered a lemon.
Of course, there is a limit on this law. While there is no limit on when you may file a claim, the defect must have become apparent during the first 2 years or 24,000 miles of your ownership.
How to Get Justice or "Remedies"
If you want to rely on the presumption of a reasonable number of repair attempts, you must notify the manufacturer in writing, letting them know about the defect. You must allow the manufacturer up to 15 days to correct it.
By law, the manufacturer is required to put this information in the warranty or owner's manual, so you will know where to send notification. Of course, you should keep track of the notifications, as well as your repair bills and other records as proof that the manufacturer is at fault.
If you choose instead to sue the manufacturer, you must give them written notice before you file suit. If it's in your contract, the manufacturer may have you first try to settle the problem out of court. Considering they are under obligation to repair or replace the vehicle, or refund your money, they will likely comply with your request. Still, you might want to consult with an attorney at this point in the process.
When you choose to have the manufacturer repurchase your car, they must give you the full contract price including undercoating, dealer preparation, and the nonrefundable parts of any extended warranties, plus collateral charges such as sales tax and registration fees, and finance charges. They can subtract a reasonable allowance for your use of the vehicle during the time you owned or leased it.
If you choose a replacement vehicle instead of a refund, the manufacturer must replace it with a comparable new vehicle. If it's a leased vehicle that is being replaced, you must transfer the title to the manufacture so that you can receive a new vehicle.
The NC Department of Justice offers many consumer tips and suggestions, including the Lemon Law. For more information, visit the Attorney's site or consult your attorney.
Finally, though you have protection under the Lemon Law for new vehicles, used vehicles are another matter. See our page on buying and selling a vehicle for some consumer protection tips on buying used cars.Other Topics in This Section