Understanding Missouri Lemon Law
Roughly 150,000 cars sold in America every year are 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 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 under the manufacturer’s warranty. Some lemons may eventually be recalled by the manufacturer, if the problems are systemic.
Missouri’s lemon law is known as the Missouri New Vehicles Warranty Law.
The Missouri law protects buyers of new vehicles by enforcing the manufacturer’s express warranty. However, it does not apply to used cars. The Missouri lemon law doesn’t apply to leased vehicles either, unless the car was bought through a lease-purchase agreement. Missouri law also doesn’t completely cover commercial motor vehicles, motorcycles, mopeds or recreational motor vehicles other than their chassis, engines, powertrain, and component parts.
Missouri lemon law covers any “nonconformity,” defined as any problem or condition that impairs the use, market value safety of the new motor vehicle to the consumer. Consumers must report problems or defects in writing to the manufacturer to use Missouri’s lemon law provisions. If the consumer does so during the warranty term or within one year of receiving the vehicle, the manufacturer must fix the nonconformity.
Missouri’s lemon law presumes the manufacturer has been allowed a “reasonable number of repair attempts” to fix the nonconformity. The law defines this number as four or more repair attempts by the manufacturer or their authorized agents. After this, if the nonconformity remains, or if the vehicle is out of service for more than 30 working days, the manufacturer must repurchase or replace the vehicle.
The lemon law states that before pursuing further resolution, the consumer or their representative must give written notification to the manufacturer of the need to repair the problem. Then the manufacturer is allowed one final repair attempt. Once notified, the manufacturer must immediately inform the consumer regarding a reasonably accessible repair facility. After the consumer takes the vehicle to the repair facility, the manufacturer has 10 days to completely fix the problem so the vehicle conforms to the warranty.
Often manufacturers will mandate an “informal dispute settlement procedure,” i.e. arbitration, before proceeding with any refund or replacement. Missouri’s lemon law says any action must be commenced within six months after the express warranty expires, or 18 months following the vehicle’s original delivery to the consumer.
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. A manufacturer’s arbitration process must comply with the Code of Federal Regulations.
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. Consumers can bring legal representation, though legal fees may not be awarded by the arbitrator unless the manufacturer has chosen to include them as an award in their arbitration application. Any consumer looking to pursue the arbitration process in Missouri is advised to speak with a law firm beforehand.
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Arbitration programs allegedly assist both 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 also be ready for inspection and test drive at the hearing.
Missouri consumers with warrantied vehicle problems would be well served to contact a law firm for a consultation on what their next step should be, whether it be going through with arbitration or proceeding to trial. In court, consumers are guaranteed the ability to gather evidence under the state’s civil discovery rules, and to be represented by a qualified lawyer who can guide them through the often complex legal process.
By pursuing a claim under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, Missouri 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 may have to pay the claimants’ reasonable attorneys’ fees if the claimant prevails against the manufacturer.