Understanding Vermont 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: Chevrolet, Honda, 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.
The Vermont lemon law covers consumers who purchase or lease vehicles still under the manufacturer’s warranty, and anyone to whom the vehicle is transferred within its warranty period. The law further covers any other person entitled by the warranty’s terms to enforce its obligations.
Vermont’s lemon law covers vehicles purchased, leased, or registered in the state. The lemon law does not cover tractors, motorized highway building equipment, road-making appliances, snowmobiles, motorcycles, the domicile portions of recreational vehicles, or trucks with a gross vehicle weight rating over 12,000 pounds.
The Vermont lemon law does not cover any government entity, or any business or commercial enterprise that registers or leases three or more motor vehicles.
Vermont’s lemon law covers “nonconformities,” defined as any defect or condition covered under warranty that substantially impairs the use, value or safety of the vehicle to the consumer. Problems caused by the consumer’s abuse, neglect, or unauthorized modification or alteration are not covered by the Vermont lemon law.
The lemon law requires manufacturers to repair any nonconformity reported by the consumer within the warranty term. The manufacturer must affect the necessary repairs even if those repairs take place after the warranty expires.
Vermont’s lemon law compels manufacturers to repurchase or replace a vehicle if they are unable to correct a nonconformity after a “reasonable number of repair attempts.” The lemon law defines that as three or more times for the same problem without success, or if the vehicle is in the shop for 30 calendar days or more without successfully repairing the problem.
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Consumers must keep written evidence of repair orders issued by the manufacturer or its authorized agent. The repair attempts must be undertaken by the same agent or authorized dealer unless the consumer shows good cause for taking the vehicle to a different agent or authorized dealer.
After the presumption of a reasonable number of repair attempts is met, the consumer must notify the manufacturer in writing of the nonconformity and their claim for replacement or repurchase. The notice must be on a form prescribed by the Arbitration Board provided by the manufacturer at the time of the vehicle’s original delivery.
Within the written notice, the consumer will elect to use either the dispute resolution mechanism established by the manufacturer or the state arbitration board. Arbitration must be held within 45 days after the manufacturer’s or dispute resolution mechanism’s receipt of the written notice, unless the consumer or manufacturer has good cause for an extension of time not to exceed 30 days. Receipt is defined as when supporting documentation from the consumer is complete. Within the 45 day period, the manufacturer shall have a final opportunity to correct and repair the nonconformity. Any right to a final repair attempt is waived if the manufacturer does not complete it at least five days prior to a hearing.
The Vermont lemon law requires manufacturers to pay the full purchase price when repurchasing a vehicle. The manufacturer must also pay all finance charges, registration fees and incidental and consequential damages. The manufacturer may withhold a reasonable allowance for the consumer’s use of the vehicle, calculated from the number of miles prior to the first repair attempt.
The lemon law requires manufacturers replacing a nonconforming vehicle to be a new vehicle from the same manufacturer of comparable worth, with all options and accessories and with adjustments for any model year differences. The reasonable allowance for use does not apply to replacement vehicles.
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, Vermont 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.