Understanding Maine 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, Dodge, 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.
Maine’s lemon law covers vehicles sold or leased in the state designed for the conveyance of passengers or property on public highways.
The lemon law covers used vehicles, but not vehicles used primarily for commercial purposes with a gross vehicle weight of 8,500 pounds or more.
The Maine lemon law covers consumers who purchase or lease vehicles and anyone to whom the vehicle is transferred during the duration of the vehicle’s warranty. The lemon law further covers any other person entitled by the terms of the warranty to enforce its obligations.
Maine’s lemon law covers any defect or condition, or combination of defects or conditions that substantially impairs the use, safety or value of the motor vehicle. The lemon law refers to these as “nonconformities.”
A manufacturer does not have to repair any nonconformity caused by abuse, neglect, or unauthorized modifications or alterations by the consumer.
The manufacturer must repair any nonconformity if the consumer reports it within the period of the written warranty, or within the “eligibility period.” The law defines the eligibility period as during the term of the vehicle’s express warranty, 18 months after its delivery to the consumer or within the first 18,000 miles of operation, whichever is earlier.
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Maine’s lemon law compels manufacturers to replace or repurchase a nonconforming vehicle if they are unable to repair it after a reasonable number of attempts. The law defines “reasonable number of attempts” as four or more repair attempts for the same condition without success. After this, if the nonconformity remains, or if the vehicle is out of service for more than 15 business days, the manufacturer must repurchase or replace the vehicle.
The number of reasonable attempts falls to one if the nonconformity in question could potentially cause death or serious injury if driven.
The Maine lemon law requires manufacturers, when repurchasing a nonconforming vehicle, to repay the full purchase price. Manufacturers must also pay all collateral charges, including sales taxes, registration fees and similar government charges. The manufacturer must also pay for reasonable costs incurred by the consumer as a result of the nonconforming vehicle, including towing and alternative transportation.
The manufacturer may withhold a reasonable allowance for use. That allowance is calculated from the mileage reported on the request for arbitration.
When replacing a vehicle under the Maine lemon law, the manufacturer must provide a comparable motor vehicle. The reasonable allowance for use does not apply to a replacement.
The Maine lemon law’s provisions for repurchase or replacement don’t apply until the consumer has first resorted to the state-operated arbitration program or an informal dispute settlement procedure that otherwise complies with the state law.
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 action in the civil court system. By filing a claim under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, Maine consumers can hire lawyers who will represent them without the vehicle owner having to pay any attorneys’ fees directly out of their pocket. The 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. Shouldn’t you have competent legal counsel in your corner?