Q: I bought a car that has never run right. What can I do? Is there a lemon law that would get me a refund?
A: The Illinois lemon law only applies to new car sales, and isn’t worth much. It’s an example of how “consumer protection” laws often protect merchants more than consumers.
For a used car sale, you’re out of luck if it wasn’t still under a manufacturer’s warranty, and it was sold “as is.”
The Illinois lemon law for new cars is called the New Vehicle Buyer Protection Act. It’s Section 380 of chapter 815 of the Illinois Compiled Statutes. It applies to new car sales and leases, and only covers defects that occur during the first 12 months or 12,000 miles.
The law says if it’s a true lemon you’re entitled to a new replacement vehicle, or a refund. It’s a lemon if the seller is “unable to conform the new vehicle to any of its applicable express warranties.” Service or repair contracts, however, aren’t warranties.
If you think you got a lemon, you can sue. But before you can sue, you must jump through lots of hoops.
First, the defect must “substantially impair the use, market value or safety” of the vehicle. Second, you must give the dealer or manufacturer at least four tries to fix each particular defect. Or, the vehicle must be “out of service” for a total of at least 30 business days.
Third, you must give the dealer or manufacturer written notice that you want a replacement or refund.
Fourth, you must then go through arbitration. It’s informal, and not binding, and is supposed to end with the arbitrator recommending some kind of settlement. That recommendation won’t necessarily be a refund or replacement.
If you’re not offered a refund or replacement, and you don’t like what’s recommended, you can reject the arbitrator’s decision and sue.
You only have 18 months from the date of purchase to take that fifth and final step of filing suit. (Time spent on arbitration doesn’t count.) You can sue for a refund, or a new replacement vehicle.
If you sue, you won’t really get a full refund — there’s a deduction for a “reasonable allowance for consumer use.” Plus, you don’t get a refund of the taxes you paid.
And since the lemon law doesn’t award attorney fees if you win, finding a lawyer to represent you won’t be easy.
One expert says this law “has almost no value to consumers.” It may put some pressure on dealers and manufacturers to satisfy customers, but not much.
The federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act isn’t specifically a lemon law, but it can be used when warranties are breached in any kind of consumer transaction — not just new car sales. So you could file a “Mag-Moss” claim for damages resulting from any warranty that was breached by a new or used car’s defects. It awards attorney fees if you sue and win.
Finally, an “as is” sale requires a valid and conspicuous disclaimer of the implied warranty of merchantability. That’s usually done with a “Buyer’s Guide,” posted in a used car’s window, with the “as is” box checked.
John Roska is a lawyer with Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation. You can send your questions to The Law Q&A, 302 N. First St., Champaign, IL 61820. Questions may be edited for space.
This article was not written by Michigan Lemon Law.
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