History of Cars that Were Total Lemons


Cars are vehicles that occupy most of the roads, parking lots, restaurants, malls, and other public areas. People tend to rely on cars as the ultimate transportation tool that allows them to get to one place in a convenient way and time. While there are a lot of outstanding cars that are in demand, there are also cars that are considered total “lemons.” In the automotive industry, the term “lemons” to denote to defective vehicles and have been repeatedly repaired without the problem being resolved. They are considered to be of poor quality and is unreliable cars for people to use. In this article, we will be looking at some of these cars that were considered lemons in the past. 

Chevrolet Corvair

Due to several issues including sudden and dangerous oversteer especially when driven at a high speed, the Chevrolet Corvair (produced from 1960-1969) has been considered one of the “lemon” cars. Additionally, the car had problems with suspensions and braking systems, as well as issues on rust and corrosion.

Despite of its revolutionary and advanced design features (such as rear-mounted and air-cooled engine) for its time, the car has been overshadowed with its safety and handling issues. 

A book critiquing the car also added to its infamous name. Ralph Nader, who authored “Unsafe at Any Speed” in 1965 wrote not only about the issues of the car, but also how the management disregarded the complaints of its customers. Emphasizing this in his book, only added to increased scrutiny and criticism to the vehicle.  

Ford Pinto

Another car that was considered one of the “lemons” is the Ford Pinto produced from 1971 to 1980. The vehicle was popular in the market during its time because of its large production numbers. However, one of the main issues that made the car notorious was its design flaw in the fuel tank system that made it susceptible to rupture and fire in rear-end collisions. The Pinto was also known with issues in its suspension, braking, and transmission systems. 

These issues were verified in the 1970s, when NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), conducted an investigation into Pinto’s fuel tank design and found that it failed safety standards. Though the production team of the vehicle was aware of the issue, they decided not to recall the cars or fix the problem due to its large fixing cost and potential loss of sales. The Ford Pinto was another car that was criticized in Ralph Nader’s book “Unsafe at Any Speed”. 

AMC Gremlin

American Motors Corporation (AMC) manufactured AMC Gremlin from 1970 to 1978. It was considered a “lemon” by some consumers and critics due to the many issues that arose with the car. Some of these issues included poor build quality, reliability problems, and a lack of features compared to other cars in its class. The Gremlin’s unusual design and small size may not have been appealing to the consumers which contributed to the vehicles’ poor sales and reputation as a “lemon” in the automotive industry.

Cadillac Cimarron

Described as an “overpriced” and an “underperforming” car, the Cadillac Cimarron which was produced from 1981 to 1988, was also branded “lemons” by some of its consumers. Despite being built on the same platform and marketed as the more economical Chevrolet Cavalier, the Cimarron had few luxury features to rationalize its high price tag. Moreover, the Cimarron was also criticized for its lack of power.


Last on the list is the Trabant notorious for its poor build quality, reliability problems, and a lack of features compared to other cars of its era. It was also known for being underpowered and very slow, which made it less appealing to many consumers. The Trabant was popular in Eastern Europe, particularly in East Germany, during the Cold War era. It was a common sight on the streets of East Germany and other Eastern European countries due to its low cost and the lack of other affordable options for personal transportation. However, as the Cold War came to an end and the Iron Curtain fell, the Trabant quickly fell out of favor with consumers due to its many shortcomings.

How to Avoid Purchasing a Lemon Car

  •  Research the maker and model of the car you’re interested in to see if there are any known issues or recalls.
  •  Even if the vehicle has a warranty, have a mechanic inspect the car before buying it. 
  •  Check the car’s vehicle history report as it will provide information about any accidents or damage the car has been in.
  •  Test drive the car and pay attention to any unusual noises or vibrations, as well as how the car handles.
  •  Look for signs of wear and tear, such as worn tires or brakes, a dirty or clogged air filter, and fluid leaks.
  •  Check the odometer reading to make sure it matches the car’s age and usage.
  •  Check the car’s title. Make sure it is clean and not rebuilt.
  •  Compare the price of the car with similar models to make sure you’re getting a reasonable deal.
  •  Discuss with the dealer or seller about the car’s maintenance and repair history.

Why are there “lemon cars”?

There are several reasons why lemon cars may come into existence:

Manufacturing defects

Sometimes, cars may be built with defects in the manufacturing process, such as faulty parts or poor-quality control. These cars may have problems that develop soon after purchase.

Design defects

Some cars may have design flaws that cause problems to occur, such as poor fuel efficiency or handling issues.

Improper assembly

Some cars may not be assembled properly, causing problems to occur such as leaks, electrical issues, or even accidents.

Lack of maintenance

Sometimes cars may have been poorly maintained by previous owners, which can cause issues to occur.

Fraudulent practices

In some cases, dealers or sellers may try to sell cars that have been in accidents, have been rebuilt, or have other issues without disclosing this information to buyers.

Lack of laws and regulations

Some countries may have less strict regulations and laws that allow used cars to be sold with issues, without any penalty or responsibility.

It’s important to be aware of these reasons to make more informed decisions when purchasing a used vehicle.

 How do you know that a car is a lemon?

  1. The car has frequent repair history in shops. If a car is frequently in the shop for repairs, it may be a sign that it has significant issues.
  1. The same issue keeps repeating. If a car has the same problem that keeps recurring, despite multiple attempts to repair it, it may be a lemon.
  1. The car does not function as it should. If a car does not function as it should, such as having poor fuel efficiency or poor handling or braking, it may be a lemon.
  1. The car has been in an accident or has been rebuilt, and the seller or dealer did not disclose this information.
  1. The car is not covered by the manufacturer’s warranty, or the warranty is considered void due to the issues the car is experiencing.
  1. The car has been driven for low mileage and yet has a large number of issues. 

What is the Lemon Law?

The “Lemon Law” is a law that provides consumers with legal remedies if they purchase or lease a new or used vehicle that has a defect that substantially impairs the use, value, or safety of the vehicle. In the United States, the lemon laws are established at the state level and are different from state to state. Most of the states in the US have lemon laws that cover new cars, used cars, and leased cars. Some states also cover trucks, motorcycles, and recreational vehicles. Federal lemon laws, such as the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, which applies to all products sold in the US, including cars, provide additional protections for consumers who purchase vehicles with warranty issues.

Each state has its own lemon law, which may have different requirements and procedures for consumers to follow. Generally, consumers must first give the manufacturer or dealer a reasonable number of attempts to repair the problem before seeking legal remedies under the lemon law. The specific number of attempts and the time frame for when these attempts must be made vary by state.

Final Thoughts

Although the term “lemon” refers to a new vehicle that has multiple, significant defects that cannot be repaired, the term can also be used informally and subjectively, and what one person considers a “lemon,” another might not. A car can be considered a lemon if it has a defect that substantially impairs the use, value, or safety of the vehicle and the manufacturer is unable to fix the problem or issues of the car after numerous attempts. If you suspect that the car you’re looking at is a lemon, it’s important to do your research, get a vehicle history report, and have it inspected by a mechanic before purchasing.

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