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    Yes, we've all heard that one about life giving you lemons and making lemonade, but if the particular lemon that your life has seen fit to deal you happens to weigh about 3,000 pounds, well, you'd go broke buying the sugar.

    The Lemon Law

    Wisconsin sees the Lemon Law as basically short and sweet, and if your car is indeed a lemon, then you get your money back, minus a reasonable amount for the actual miles you got to drive before the car became rolling citrus fruit.

    Your car might be a lemon if it is 1 year old or less and:

    • Has a substantial breakdown that can't be fixed in 4 attempts.
    • Has one or many defects that cause you to lose 30 days of driving (non-consecutive).

    The Rules of the Lemon Law

    Keep in mind, the days in the shop do not have to be consecutive days, they can be a total number of days since you purchased the car. Also, the defect or breakdown that has not been fixed in 4 attempts must be substantial and interfere with the use, value, and safe operation of the vehicle. You cannot invoke the lemon laws for a faulty glove compartment spring or a funny-sounding horn.

    Legal Definition of the Lemon Law

    The Lemon Law was enacted to keep people from being stuck with a defective car. It also helps people make the dealerships honor the warranties on the cars they sell and make a clear understanding of exactly what makes a car a lemon and how a consumer can get that lemon fixed or replaced.

    It's All In the First Year

    Not all lemons reveal their true sour nature right away. Some will by dropping a drive train as they exit the dealership parking lot, others by bursting into flames at the car wash. But most of them just begin to fall apart slowly.

    It's the first year that counts; in fact, the vehicle must have reached the 4 attempts at repair or been in the shop a total of 30 days while it's 1 year old or less. Yes, it is unfair that you could own a car for a year and a day, then have it catch on fire due to a faulty light bulb and the dealership is not liable. But the rules had to have a stopping point, and in the case of lemons that point is 1 year old.

    Hold On to Your Records

    The second most important thing to remember if your car is acting like it wants to be the prime ingredient in meringue pie is to start keeping records. Keep excellent, detailed records; make notes of everything short of the color of the manager's tie on the 23rd day the car was towed in to the shop. Make lots of little notes and lots of big notes, and save all receipts, letters you receive with their envelopes, and phone calls made or received. Here are a few suggestions of the communications to track:

    • Calls to the dealer.
    • Calls to the dealer's repair department.
    • Calls to the car's manufacturer.
    • Times you've gone to the dealership.
    • Times the car has gone to the repair department.
    • Times you have had to go to the repair department to pick up the car.
    • The reasons for the repair visits.
    • Number of days without a car.
    • Number of times the vehicle has been towed.
    • Number of times you've been stranded due to the defective car.
    • What the mechanics have said is wrong with the vehicle.
    • Which repairs you were told had been attempted.
    • Repairs that have been suggested by the repair department, but that have not been done.
    • Time lost from work due to not having a vehicle or breakdowns.
    • Cash out of your pocket for taxis, buses, tow trucks, anger management therapy, etc.

    Use a paperback journal-type notebook, something you can keep in the car. Try to get one with bound pages, so that your noted don't accidentally get torn out and lost or fall out and disappear. Make it big enough that you can write clearly and if you can get one with a built-in pocket, great! Be sure you have all of the tow receipts, charge receipts, repair tickets, invoices, or other loose papers pertaining to the vehicle.

    Refund or Replace?

    Most people who have undergone the horrors of a lemon vehicle opt for a refund so they can cut their losses and run. But remember, in most cases, especially if you got substantial mileage out of the vehicle before it went south, the manufacturer can deduct for the wear and tear, miles, and depreciation.

    Having a good attorney, one with a specialty in Lemon Law, can save you lots of personal wear and tear, not to mention frustration. An attorney will see to it that you get what you are entitled to and that all of your costs and trouble are taken into account when it comes time to settle the case.

    Don't Drive It Off A Cliff

    Yes, driving it off a cliff has crossed the minds of many a lemon holder, but try to refrain. First, it's bad for the environment; second, it'll end up costing you. Another temptation that many a lemon owner has succumbed to is that of refusing to pay another cent on a loan for a vehicle that seems intent on driving you crazy. Bad idea.

    Keep Making Your Loan Payments

    The company that wrote that loan is entitled to the repayment of their money, regardless of what the vehicle turned out to be.

    If you find that you are paying not only the loan payment but also for taxi service, rides, a rental car, and other expenses, talk to someone at your loan company. Many lenders are able to assist by wither putting a hold on the loan or allowing you to pay just the interest for a few months while the lemon gets sorted out. Again, hang on to receipts and make copies for the lender if requested.

    If your lender is turning a deaf ear to your plight, this would be another excellent reason to seek an attorney specializing in lemon law.

    If You Have a Lemon

    If the vehicle has met the criteria above, you'll need to take a few steps in order to protect your rights. Here are a few of the steps you will need to take:

    • Check the recall list to see if the vehicle has been subject to a recall.
    • Send a Lemon Law Notice to the manufacturer to request a refund. Get one online using the free Adobe Reader. Sending the letter certified, with a return receipt requested, is the only sure way of getting your letter delivered to the right department at the manufacturer's.
    • If, after you've done all of the above and you still don't have a resolution, you will need to contact an attorney.
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