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How Do You Know if You Have a True ‘Lemon’?

Did you purchase what you believe to be a “lemon” vehicle? How do you know? How does the law protect you? A “lemon”, technically, is when you purchase a new car that turns out to be perpetually defective or unsafe to drive, which can be a source of great angst for many car buyers. For a car to actually be considered a lemon under Missouri’s lemon law, it must satisfy a specific set of criteria.

Under Missouri’s Lemon Law, new vehicles that have been taken to a repair shop four or more times (with unsuccessful results) within the first year or term of the manufacturer warranty is generally considered to be a “lemon” under the law. Another way for your new car to qualify as a lemon under Missouri law is to be out of commission for 30 or more days within the warranty or one-year period (whichever is shorter). 

Not just any problem, no matter how persistent, qualifies a car as a lemon. The problem must be significant enough that it impacts the car’s value, use, or, most importantly, safety. While a faulty sunglasses holder in your new car, for example, may be annoying, it probably doesn’t rise to the level of significance required of a lemon. A few examples of substantial defects include: 

  • A cruise control system that doesn’t shut off when the driver taps the brakes
  • A steering wheel that doesn’t stay in place, causing the car to veer off the road if the driver releases his hands for even a split second
  • A locking system that is unreliable and leaves the car vulnerable to thieves

Not all new vehicles are eligible for protection under Missouri law. Motorcycles, mopeds, commercial vehicles, off-road vehicles, and the non-chassis portion of RVs are not covered. 

What Remedies Do Missouri Car Owners Have? 

Before we cover the rights of Missouri citizens under consumer protection and “lemon” laws, it should be noted that car owners may have a duty to notify the dealer or manufacturer in writing that they believe the vehicle they purchased is a lemon. If the dealer or manufacturer agrees with the car owner, the owner may be entitled to either a comparable new vehicle or a buyback of the vehicle. Car owners may appeal refusals by the dealer by contacting the manufacturer. The manufacturer might agree to settle the matter through arbitration. If you aren’t satisfied with the offerings of the dealer or manufacturer, it’s time to speak with a consumer lawyer who has experience handling lemon laws. 

What If I Bought a Defective Used Car? 

Just because your car was purchased as used doesn’t mean you are out of options for recourse. Luckily, other state and federal consumer protection statutes (such as the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act and the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act may apply if Missouri’s Lemon Law does not. If your used car keeps giving you problems, you should exercise your rights under any applicable warranties you purchased. Also, there are certain things about used vehicles that sellers must disclose, like accident and repair history. Some dealers are especially devious when it comes to mandatory disclosures.

Getting Help; Exploring your Legal Options

The notion is simple: when you pay for something, it should work as advertised. If this principle isn’t upheld in a transaction as significant as a car purchase—not to mention a new car—then consumers have a right to be upset and the selling dealer or manufacturer should make it right. 

So, our first suggestion is to always ask the person that sold or made the product that doesn’t work to fix the problem. If they don’t, state and federal lemon laws (and state consumer protection laws such as the MMPA) protect car buyers from getting stuck with defective and outright dangerous vehicles. It’s not uncommon for dealers and manufacturers to need a little prodding to get the wheels of justice moving; you may need to file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, or your state’s Attorney General’s Office (see:

 If that doesn’t work, you should seek an experienced consumer protection lawyer to see if you have a case, and what your legal options may be. 

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