What to Do If You’re Sold a Defective Car


Cars have become an integral part of the American lifestyle. Most Americans own personal vehicles and usually start driving as early as their sixteenth birthday. The concrete jungles of suburbs and urban areas, with everything spread out far, accompanied by a lack of personal transport, require most individuals to own a car out of necessity.

While this necessity expands the car market, it also increases the likelihood of getting scammed. Your car dealership may unintentionally or deliberately try to sell you a defective car. Selling bad vehicles, colloquially known as lemon cars, entitles you to compensation according to US law. Here’s what you can do if you are sold a defective car.

Signs You Have a Lemon Car

Before you take legal action against your dealer, you must determine if you are sold a lemon car. If these signs describe your vehicle, it is likely a lemon:

1. Steering Problem

Check your car’s steering. If your vehicle often drifts and you have to steer it straight, it is likely a lemon. Your steering wheel may also be damaged and not move your car in the direction it should. Never drive a car with a steering problem, as you cannot control it well, and you may get into a traffic accident.

2. Worn-Out Tires

Your tires are essential to car control, and worn-out tires can make it challenging to control your vehicle on the road. Check for signs of wear and tear on the side of your new vehicle’s tires. If you buy a used car, some signs of wear and tear in the middle of the tire are typical, but not at the sides. Cupped tires with uneven lines are also a safety risk and indicate a lemon car.

3. Tailpipe Smoke

When you drive your car, check the color of the smoke from the tailpipe. A good car will puff out gray smoke. Black smoke indicates your air filter is dirty, while blue smoke means your vehicle is burning oil, which requires expensive repairs. Expect black or blue smoke if you have a lemon car.

4. Check for Recalls

If a manufacturer lets a faulty batch through, they issue a recall. You can find the list of recalls on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration‘s website. You can confirm if your car has any factory defects by checking the website. If your model has a recall issued, it proves that your dealer sold you a lemon car.

5. Irreparability

You probably took your lemon car for repairs the first time it caused issues. However, either the problem didn’t get resolved or returned in mere days or weeks. No matter how many repairs you get, your car won’t function properly. This irreparability might be a sign that your car is defective. Old cars generally need frequent repairs, but if your new car needs repairs, it can be a lemon car.

Lemon Laws

Deliberately selling a lemon car is illegal in the United States. Lemon laws exist on both federal and state levels to provide maximum consumer benefit.

Lemon Law Requirements

Ensure your car fulfills these requirements to be protected under lemon laws:

  1. The car dealership must have tried to repair the car a reasonable number of times, defined by the court but usually three to four times. Remember to get it fixed by your dealer only: if you go to third-party mechanics, you wouldn’t be eligible for a lemon car claim.
  2. The car problems started within the first two years of purchasing the car.
  3. You have been unable to drive the car for 30 days in total. These 30 days don’t have to be consecutive.

What To Do If You Have a Lemon Car

If you have a lemon car, be sure to follow these tips:

1. Keep Repair Records

If you suspect your car is a lemon, keep detailed records of every repair. Note when you got the repair done, how many days you couldn’t use your car due to the repairs, how long did the repair last, and the nature of the repair. By showing these records in court, you can prove that the manufacturer couldn’t fix your car despite having multiple chances to do so, and it caused you inconvenience.

2. Hire an Attorney

Once you have the evidence of being sold a lemon car, hire an attorney immediately.   Hiring an attorney increases your chances of winning your case due to their firm grip on the law but choose a suitable attorney according to their experience and specialty.

Ensure your attorney is specialized in the lemon law of your state and your vehicle. For example, if you own a Tesla in Los Angeles, hire a California Electric Vehicle Lemon Law expert. An attorney can effectively fight your case, get your money back, negotiate a replacement car, or get compensation.

3. Negotiate With the Dealership

Before filing an official complaint, you can try negotiating with your car dealership. Talk to a manager and leverage your legal rights. An attorney can help you get a settlement in exchange for you not reporting the dealership to the state’s Attorney General’s office. You can also offer to fill out the Customer Satisfaction Survey (CSS) with positive feedback for the dealership in exchange for the settlement. CSS forms determine the dealership’s market success and the manufacturer’s partnership with the dealership, so they are powerful negotiating chips.

4. File the Lawsuit

If all else fails, you can take the dealership to court. You file a lemon lawsuit with the help of your attorney against either your dealer or your manufacturer. However, ensure that you still have a warranty; if you do not attempt to get the car repaired during its warranty period, you will be forever stuck with your lemon.

In court, your attorney argues that you tried to get the car repaired multiple times but did not get fixed, so you are entitled to a refund or a new car. Based on your repair records, the judge will give their decision.


While cars are integral to the modern lifestyle, you sometimes might get sold a defective car that just doesn’t get repaired properly. In such a case, you are entitled to a refund or a replacement. Lemon cars have several problems, from steering issues to bad tires, and it can be dangerous to drive one.  Keep your repair records intact, hire an attorney, and either negotiate with the dealer or file a lawsuit. A qualified attorney will increase your chances of winning your claim.

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