Understanding Louisiana Lemon Law
Car manufacturers sell on average 150,000 cars per year in the United States classified as lemons: cars with repeated, unfixable problems. Lemons can come from any manufacturer: Chevrolet, Chrysler, Honda and every other manufacturer has built lemon vehicles over the years. Many of those vehicles are sold in Louisiana.
“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.
The Louisiana lemon law covers any car, van, or truck sold in Louisiana required to be registered and used for transporting passengers or goods for public, private, commercial or for-hire purposes. The lemon law also covers personal watercraft and all-terrain vehicles still under warranty and used exclusively for personal uses. The lemon law covers the chassis and drive trains of motorhomes sold in Louisiana still under warranty.
Louisiana’s lemon law covers used vehicles, but does not cover motor vehicles with a gross vehicle weight of 10,000 pounds or more. It also does not cover motorhomes used exclusively for commercial purposes.
The Louisiana lemon law provides relieve to consumers buying vehicles for personal, family, or household purposes. The lemon law further covers those to whom the new vehicle is transferred during the duration of the vehicle’s warranty. The law covers anyone to whom a new vehicle is leased and anyone else entitled to enforce the warranty.
The lemon law covers vehicle “nonconformities.” Louisiana’s lemon law defines a nonconformity as “any specific or generic defect or malfunction, or any defect or condition that substantially impairs the use and/or market value of a vehicle.” If the vehicle does not conform to an applicable express warranty, the customer must report the nonconformity to the manufacturer within either the duration of the warranty or within year of delivery of the vehicle; whichever is sooner. Once the consumer reports the problem, the manufacturer or its authorized agent must make necessary repairs to conform the vehicle to the warranty.
If the manufacturer can’t repair the problem, the law requires them to repurchase or replace the vehicle. Before the manufacturer does so, however, the vehicle in question must be subjected to a “reasonable number of repair attempts.” The Louisiana lemon law defines that as four or more times for the same problem without success, or if the vehicle is in the shop for a cumulative 45 calendar days or more without successfully repairing the problem.
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The Louisiana lemon law provides for a presumption that a reasonable number of attempts has been undertaken to repair the nonconformity. After the vehicle has been out of service for a cumulative total of 90 days for reason of repair, the manufacturer loses the right to rebut the presumption and must replace or repurchase the vehicle.
The Louisiana lemon law compels manufacturers to repurchase or replace a motor home if the consumer provides written notification of the need for repair. The consumer must also provide evidence the motorhome was out of service for at least 90 days because of the nonconformity, and evidence the nonconformity has been subject to repair four or more times.
The lemon law compels manufacturers to reimburse the consumer up to $20 per day for a rental vehicle for the duration of the repair period of a nonconforming vehicle. This provision goes into effect as long as the nonconforming vehicle is still under warranty. The consumer must also bring the vehicle to the dealer from whom it was purchased for repair of a nonconformity. The repair period must also exceed ten working days or be the third attempt for the same issue to qualify for rental reimbursement.
If the manufacturer cannot repair the nonconformity, the Louisiana lemon law requires them to either repurchase or replace the vehicle. A manufacturer repurchasing a vehicle must repay the full purchase price, along with any amount paid by the consumer at the point of sale including finance charges. The manufacturer must also pay collateral costs, including sales taxes, license and registration fees, and similar governmental charges.
The manufacturer can withhold a reasonable allowance for use. That allowance is calculated depending on the amount the consumer uses the vehicle before the first notice of nonconformity or when the vehicle is not out of service by reason of repair.
The Louisiana lemon law says the reasonable allowance for use does not apply to replacement vehicles.
Before a manufacturer replaces or repurchases a nonconforming vehicle, Louisiana lemon law requires consumers to participate in “informal dispute settlement,” i.e. arbitration. If the manufacturer has established such a procedure, the lemon law’s provisions requiring refund or replacement do not apply until the consumer has first resorted to it.
In an arbitration, a neutral third party (an arbitrator) decides whether a reasonable number of repair attempts have been made and what award, if any, should be granted to the consumer. If the consumer accepts the arbitrator’s decision, the manufacturer agrees to comply with it.
There are downsides to the arbitration process. Firstly, attorneys are not required for either side in arbitration. However, the manufacturer will certainly either send an attorney or someone advised by an attorney. Any consumer looking to pursue the arbitration process in Louisiana is advised to speak with a law firm beforehand.
Arbitration programs allegedly assist both the consumer and manufacturer in collecting evidence to be presented from each side, so that it may be shared with both sides prior to the hearing. Unfortunately, in arbitration both sides have fewer rights to discovery: the legal process by which litigants can obtain evidence. In a lemon law case this puts consumers at a disadvantage, as they need discovery to gather evidence to prove their cases, and much of the evidence is held by the manufacturer and dealership.
Before the arbitration begins, the owner should collect 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. The vehicle in question should be ready for inspection and test drive at the hearing.
By pursuing a claim under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, Louisiana 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.