Understanding Illinois Lemon Law
American car dealerships sell roughly 150,000 cars each year classified as lemons: cars with repeated, unfixable problems. Lemons can come from any manufacturer: Toyota, Chrysler, Ford and almost every other manufacturer has built lemon vehicles over the years.
“Lemon laws” enacted across the United States help protect consumers who purchase defective vehicles and provide a legal procedure to compensate them for their losses. Additionally, a powerful federal law known as the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act provides protection for consumers who purchase cars that are having problems and have an unexpired manufacturer’s warranty.
Illinois’ lemon law, the New Vehicle Buyer Protection Act, covers passenger cars and motor vehicles weighing less than 4 tons designed for carrying more than 10 people such as a large van or minibus.
It also covers vehicles used as living quarters, vehicles that pull freight, cargo or “implements of husbandry (farming and ranching equipment).”
The lemon law also covers vehicles that fire departments or fire protection districts purchase, and specified recreational vehicles. The law doesn’t cover used vehicles.
The lemon law protects individuals who purchase or lease vehicles for a year to transport themselves, others and personal property for primarily household purposes. The law also protects fire departments and fire protection districts that buy or lease vehicles.
The state’s lemon law covers any vehicle “nonconformity,” which it defines as a “defect or condition that substantially impairs the use, value, or safety of a new motor vehicle and does not conform to the manufacturer’s express warranty.” The law does not compel manufacturers to repurchase or replace vehicles if the nonconformity “does not substantially impair the use, value, or safety of the motor vehicle, or the nonconformity is the result of abuse, neglect or modification or alteration of the motor vehicle by the purchaser.” For example, the law doesn’t cover annoying rattles or stereo problems, or anything the purchaser does to the vehicle after the point of sale.
The Illinois lemon law compels manufacturers to repurchase or replace a vehicle if they are unable to “conform the vehicle to any of its applicable express warranties” after a reasonable number attempts. Basically, if those who sold you your car can’t fix the issue, they have to provide you either a new vehicle or your money back.
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Per the Illinois lemon law, once agreeing to repurchase a vehicle the manufacturer must pay the full purchase price minus a reasonable use allowance. The manufacturer must also pay collateral charges, not including taxes paid by the purchaser. When repurchasing a leased vehicle, the manufacturer must pay the lease cost to the consumer minus the same reasonable use allowance. They must also pay collateral charges and also the pay-off amount to the lessor.
Any replacement vehicle, per the Illinois lemon law, must be a new vehicle of like model line or otherwise comparable.
The Illinois lemon law defines “reasonable number of attempts” as four or more attempts for the same problem without success. The lemon law also defines reasonable attempts to mean it is unreasonable for a car to be in service repair for 30 business days or more. If either condition is met within one year after purchase or within 12,000 miles of operation, the consumer can request repurchase or replacement of the nonconforming vehicle. The consumer must send the manufacturer a letter detailing the alleged defect with the vehicle to satisfy the provisions of the Illinois lemon law.
The Illinois lemon law’s provisions covering refund or replacement don’t apply until the consumer as first resorted to an “informal dispute settlement procedure,” i.e. arbitration. In some instances, arbitration can allow for a faster resolution of conflicts between consumers and manufacturers. Arbitration hearings usually last only one day, and take place in a much less formal setting than a court. Consumers should bring all documents relating to the vehicle and the repair process, including the letters exchanged with the manufacturer. They should also arrange for witnesses to appear at the hearing, including friends who have witnessed the vehicle’s problems.
However, arbitration often ends with an outcome unfavorable to the consumer. The third party arbitrator may award the consumer with additional repair attempts, which doesn’t provide any remedy they didn’t have before. They may also decide to dismiss the claim, siding with the manufacturer. The law makes no mention of the ability to recoup attorney’s fees during arbitration. Fortunately, the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act allows for consumers to sue for attorney’s fees alongside damage awards in court.
The manufacturer must abide by the decision of the arbitrator, while the consumer does not. If dissatisfied with the outcome, a consumer can bring civil action in court. By filing a claim under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, Illinois consumers can hire lawyers who will represent them without the vehicle owner having to pay any attorneys’ fees directly out of their pocket. This is because the federal Act provides that the vehicle manufacturer shall pay the claimants’ reasonable attorneys’ fees if the claimant prevails against the manufacturer. Lemonlawusa.org encourages vehicle owners with a lemon to obtain legal counsel. You can bet the car manufacturers have legal counsel at the ready to help defend against lemon law claims both in arbitration and in court.