Understanding Virginia 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, 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 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 Virginia lemon law, also known as the Motor Vehicle Warranty Enforcement Act, covers cars and trucks sold in Virginia to transport persons or property. The law further covers recreational vehicles as well as leased vehicles, if the consumer on the lease is responsible for repairs. The Virginia lemon law does not cover vehicles which run on tracks, off-road vehicles, trucks with a gross vehicle weight more than 10,000 pounds, motorcycles, mopeds, or the living facilities of recreational vehicles.
The lemon law protects consumers who purchase or lease a vehicle for personal, family or household reasons. The law further protects anyone to whom the vehicle is transferred for the same purposes during the lemon law rights period, and anyone else entitled by the warranty to enforce its obligations. The law defines the “lemon law rights period” as 24 months following the vehicle’s original delivery to the consumer.
The lemon law covers “nonconformities,” defined as any specific defect or condition or combination thereof that substantially impairs the use, market value or safety of the vehicle. The defect and condition must also render the vehicle nonconforming to the warranty.
Problems caused by the consumer’s abuse, neglect, or unauthorized modification or alteration are also not covered by the Virginia lemon law.
The Virginia lemon law compels manufacturers to repurchase or replace a vehicle if they are unable to correct a nonconformity after a reasonable number of attempts. The lemon law defines this as three or more times for the same problem without success, or if the vehicle is in the shop for 30 days or more without successfully repairing the problem. That duration is extended to 60 days for recreational vehicles.
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If the consumer notifies the manufacturer or their authorized agent of a nonconformity within the two year lemon law rights period, the manufacturer must repair the issue. The manufacturer must repair the nonconformity even if the repairs are made after the expiration of the aforementioned term of protection.
The Virginia lemon law requires manufacturers repurchasing a vehicle to pay the cash price for the vehicle, including any allowance for a trade-in vehicle. The manufacturer must also pay collateral charges, including sales taxes, title charges, manufacturer-installed or agent-installed items and earned finance charges. Manufacturers must also repay reasonably incurred incidental charges directly caused by the vehicle’s nonconformity. The manufacturer may withhold a reasonable offset for use, calculated from the number of miles attributable to the consumer’s use up to the date of the first arbitration hearing.
When replacing a vehicle, a manufacturer must provide a replacement vehicle that is either identical or of comparable value. The manufacturer must also reimburse the consumer for fees and sales taxes, as well as necessary towing and rental costs incurred as a direct result of the nonconformity.
The Virginia lemon law states its protections don’t apply to a consumer who hasn’t first resorted to the manufacturer’s established informal dispute settlement procedure, i.e. arbitration. The arbitration mechanism must be certified by the Virginia Division of Consumer Services. The manufacturer must also have provided adequate written notice of the mechanism’s existence, including its incorporation into the terms of the warranty.
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, Virginia 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.