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What Is a Lemon Car? Why You Should Be Aware!

  • Auto Insurance
  • Gerard Stevens
  • 9 minutes

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Whether buying a new or a secondhand car, it will be difficult for you to hold off the excitement. But you will be concerned about whether you’re dealing with a lemon car! Of course, no one likes to buy such a car. But wait, why are some cars called lemons, or what is a lemon car?  

A lemon car is a brand-new or pre-owned car with significant issues appearing after you buy it or lease it. Buying one can drain your wallet and leave you with a sour taste. However, some have fixable issues, which may be good news if you have to keep one or even want to purchase one. 

So, what is a lemon car? How can you identify such a one? What should you do if you buy a lemon car? Our blog has all that covered! 

what is a lemon car

What is a lemon car? 

Although the precise meaning differs from state to state, the word ‘lemon’ refers to a car with serious damage or malfunction that makes driving unsafe. For instance, it can be cars with malfunctioning brakes, motors, transmissions, or lights. A car gets considered a ‘lemon’ if it can’t live up to the manufacturer’s warranty, and you can’t repair the damage without major redesigns or overhauls. 

Understanding the difference between a recalled car and a lemon car is also crucial. Even with reliable cars, recalls occasionally become necessary and are a fairly typical occurrence. A recall indicates that the manufacturer must repair a particular defect in the car within a specific time. But when a car gets labeled a ‘lemon,’ there won’t be a fix to the damage, and the manufacturer won’t issue a recall.  


What must I do if I end up buying a lemon car? 

You may get some protection under federal and state lemon laws. Consumer product warranties get covered under US Code Chapter 50, Title 15, at the federal level. The Magnuson Moss Warranty Federal Trade Commission Improvements Act is the official name of the federal law that establishes guidelines for new and used car warranty operations. It means that the consumer should get compensated if multiple attempts to repair a car covered by a warranty are unsuccessful. 

State lemon laws differ and are not present in every state. Federal laws complement the existing state lemon laws. So the dealer must give you a refund or replace the car if repeated repairs made within the warranty term fail to solve the issue. However, once the warranty expires, few states provide legal protection for purchasing a lemon car. 

Steps to follow  

Contact the seller 

Tell them about the issues with your car and try to find a solution. The car may be under warranty, or the seller might agree to pay for the repair. If you discover a fault immediately, the seller’s return policy can still apply to the car. 

Write a letter 

Describe the issues, the time they started, and any repairs you did. Inform them that the defect(s) remain and that you intend to use the state’s lemon laws to seek a replacement or refund. If you wish to file a lawsuit, your state needs this letter. 

Document all communication and repairs 

Keep copies of everything, including text messages, letters, repair estimates, and bills. These could support your defense if you want to file a lawsuit later. 

Check out the state lemon laws 

You may only have a limited period to disclose issues if you wish to file a lawsuit in your state. You may also provide proof of any issues and your attempts to contact the seller. As soon as you suspect you may have a lemon car, research your state’s lemon laws. So, you are mindful of your rights and can ensure you follow the correct rules.  

What are the steps to avoid buying a lemon car? 

So, now you know what a lemon car is! With a new car, it would be challenging to identify unexpected issues. Still, there are techniques to steer clear of unreliable secondhand cars. Follow these tips to avoid buying a lemon car.  

Get a vehicle history report 

A vehicle history report (VHR) will provide you with basic details about a car, such as its history and if it has a clear title. Although you can get one free, many vendors will give it out. Here are some things a VHR might offer. 

  • Check for the title ‘brands’ that could indicate whether the car has problems. Cars with salvage titles are normally lemon cars.  
  • Accidents, from minor collisions to total loss, will appear in it.  
  • It also shows the list of owners. If they all decided to sell the car rather than repairing, you would be dealing with a serious defect.  
  • The VHR will have documentation of all maintenance and repairs, including oil changes. 
  • When a carmaker discovers a safety defect, they must conduct a recall and provide a free repair. If the VHR indicates an open safety recall, it isn’t safe to drive it until repairing. 

Do a test drive and check for red flags 


It’s time to check in person once a car passes inspection on paper. The easiest way to avoid purchasing a lemon car is to inspect the vehicle. The next step is to hire a mechanic to give their professional judgment, although you may perform a used car check to rule out any lemons.  

  • Look: Have someone else start the car and give it some gas. Smoke in any color—white, blue, grey, or black, can suggest a problem. 
  • Feel: Examine the oil and test a small amount between your fingertips. Grit or metal flakes can indicate issues.  
  • Smell: A musty odor indicates internal water damage. An acidic or burning odor indicates engine problems. 
  • Listen: During the test drive, put the car through its paces and pay attention to the sounds it makes. Pinging, knocking, whining, and grinding noises might indicate engine and transmission issues. 

Go for a pre-purchase inspection 

If a car passes your preliminary check, go for a professional inspection. You could ask the seller to deduct the cost of repairs from the selling price if the mechanic detects issues. You might spend $100 on a comprehensive car safety inspection, but you could save much more in the long run. You’ve got a good car in your possession if it passes every test!  

Don’t stop there, though. It would be a shame to save money on the car to overpay on a loan. Depending on your credit score, you can submit a single form and receive multiple auto loan offer from lenders. 

What are the basics of lemon law? 

Check with your local attorney general’s office or local department of motor vehicles to research your state’s lemon laws. Your eligibility will depend on several factors. 

The type of car 

Your car’s eligibility for the lemon law in your state will depend on its type. Some states, including Alabama, don’t cover leased cars. In contrast, states like Alaska, South Dakota, and Colorado only cover brand-new cars. Business and specialty vehicles (such as motorbikes, RVs, ATVs, and boats) have different lemon law coverage. 

How long have you owned the lemon car 

You can’t use a car for around ten years, detect a problem, and then declare it a lemon. The same goes for driving it 30,000 miles in a year and expecting compensation. For instance, you have 18 months from the delivery date to launch a lawsuit in Virginia. Additionally covered are used cars under the following conditions: For instance, Washington State permits used cars for up to two years and 24,000 miles and new cars for up to 30 months. 

The rate for the lemon car’s repairs 

You cannot label a car as a lemon if it possesses an issue you can solve with a $10 car part. The issues must significantly deter a car’s use, market value, or safety. Also, dealers must get reasonable chances to fix the issues! 

Examples of lemon cars 

So, now you realize what a lemon car is! Not all problems will result in a car being a lemon. Automakers can typically repair any issues a car might have through a recall. Before making a new or used car purchase, you can identify a potential lemon car by being aware of certain examples of lemon cars and their severe flaws. The following are some cars identified as a lemon! 

  • Yugo 45 (1984-1992) 
  • Renault 14 (1977-1983) 
  • Dodge Dart (1963-1966) 
  • Datsun 120Y (1974-1978) 
  • Lotus Elite (1974-1991) 

Does auto insurance cover lemon cars? 

Most insurance companies don’t cover lemon cars or pay for repairs caused by manufacturing flaws. If your case goes into a trial, you might be able to negotiate a settlement that pays your insurance premiums for the period your car was not roadworthy. 

Are you looking for an affordable auto insurance policy? Then Way.com has you covered! Use our app or website to get multiple quotes from all insurers. Compare them and buy the one with the cheapest quote. What’s more? You can save up to $971 a year while buying an auto insurance policy via Way! 

How many times before a car is a lemon? 

Typically, four unsuccessful attempts to address the same issue within 18 months or 18,000 miles categorize your car as a lemon. If your car needs repair for more than 30 days in the shop within these limitations, it can also be considered a lemon. 

Can I return a lemon car? 

Yes, within a particular timeframe. Another good reason to maintain your records is to ask for a new car or a refund if the issue isn’t repaired within a fixed number of efforts or days. 

Is purchasing a lemon car safe? 

Yes, in some instances. Whether it’s worthwhile to spend money on the car first depends on the type of problem and the overall number of repairs it will require. If one simple, inexpensive problem needs a fix, like side-view mirror automation, it would be sensible to spend the money on the fix. Consider other cars if the brake system, odometer, or side view mirror automation requires replacement. 

Should I buy a lemon car? 

It’s your call. If you’re considering buying a car with a lemon title, check its history and know what issue made it a ‘lemon car.’ Buying one won’t be a great choice, especially considering how expensive new cars are even before they get faulty. So if you’re buying one, always check the VHR and ensure that you have a mechanic evaluate the car before buying. 

Save greatly on you car insurance policy


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