What to Do if Your Car Is a Lemon in Virginia

With interest rates at record highs, financing a new car has become a significant financial commitment, one that requires careful planning and consideration. You’ve diligently saved for a substantial down payment to ease the burden of high monthly payments. You meticulously select a car that seems perfect, expecting it to be a reliable companion on Virginia’s roads for years to come. However, just when you think you’ve made a wise investment, your car starts showing signs of serious defects breaking down several times on the side of the road. It’s a situation that’s both disheartening and distressing.adimage1

Fortunately, in Virginia you’re not left without recourse. The state’s lemon law is designed to protect consumers who find themselves saddled with a defective vehicle. In this blog, an attorney for lemon law from our team shares what to do if your car is a lemon and your big investment has turned sour.  Continue reading to learn more.

Understanding Virginia’s Lemon Law

The Virginia Motor Vehicle Warranty Enforcement Act, or lemon law, provides a remedy for consumers who purchase or lease new vehicles with significant defects. For purposes of this blog, we’ll refer to this as the Virginia Lemon Law or lemon law. To benefit from the lemon law, you must meet certain criteria and understand what constitutes a lemon vehicle.

Eligibility Criteria

  • Purchase or Lease: You must have purchased or leased a new vehicle in Virginia.
  • Timeframe: The defect must occur within 18 months of the vehicle’s delivery date.
  • Usage: The vehicle must be intended for personal, family, or household use.
  • Attempts to Repair: The manufacturer or its agents must have had a reasonable number of attempts to repair the vehicle.
    • Quantifying Attempts: A “reasonable number of attempts” is defined as either three attempts for the same defect, one attempt if the defect is life-threatening, or if the vehicle is out of service for a cumulative total of 30 days for any number of issues.

Note: If you have a used car, it might be protected under the lemon law if the previous owner had purchased it as a new car within the previous 18 months.

Definition of a Lemon Vehicle

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A “lemon vehicle” is identified by its failure to conform to the manufacturer’s express warranties, which significantly affects the use, value, or safety of the vehicle. According to the Virginia Lemon Law:

  • Conformity to Warranties: The vehicle must exhibit a defect or condition that substantially impairs its use, value, or safety.
  • Manufacturer’s Obligation: The manufacturer must be unable to fix the vehicle’s defect within a reasonable number of attempts.
  • Substantial Impairment: The vehicle has a defect or condition that significantly impairs its use, market value, or safety, even if the defect or condition doesn’t affect the vehicle’s drivability.

Initial Steps to Take

If you suspect your car is a lemon as defined by Virginia law, swift and methodical action is crucial due to the 18-month timeframe. For example, you must gather comprehensive repair records and notify the manufacturer as prescribed by state law if your vehicle defect(s) have not been repaired.

Maintenance and Record-Keeping Tips

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Maintaining a vehicle and keeping thorough records are essential steps in managing a lemon law case. Well-documented maintenance can provide evidence that car issues are due to manufacturing defects rather than owner negligence.

Documentation Best Practices

Organized Records: It is crucial to keep all maintenance receipts, work orders, and inspection reports in an organized manner. They should include:

  • Date of service
  • Description of the service provided
  • Mileage at the time of service
  • Detailed notes on any car issues reported or observed

Digital Backups: In addition to physical copies, vehicle owners should create digital backups of all records. Cloud storage services or dedicated folders on a computer can serve as secure backup options.

Timely Filing: After each service, promptly file the documents in the designated location. This ensures that no crucial information is lost and that everything is readily accessible for lemon law proceedings. This documentation will be vital for substantiating a lemon law claim.

Notifying the Manufacturer

Initiating your lemon law claim requires notifying the vehicle manufacturer in writing. This detailed letter serves as a crucial first step in asserting your legal rights and seeking remedies for persistent vehicle defects.

Essential Information to Include:

  • Vehicle Identification: Clearly state your vehicle’s year, make, model, and Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) for easy reference.
  • Purchase Details: Specify the name and address of the dealership where you purchased the vehicle, along with the exact delivery date.
  • Defect Documentation: List each recurring vehicle problem in detail, including the dates you attempted repairs at the dealership and the nature of any outstanding issues.
  • Desired Outcome: Indicate your preferred resolution, whether it’s vehicle replacement or a full refund.
  • Supporting Documents: Enclose copies (not originals) of all purchase-related paperwork and repair orders to substantiate your claims.

Formatting and Submission:

  • Sign and date your letter for legal validity
  • Make a copy for your records

Consider sending the letter via certified mail with a return receipt requested. This provides documented proof of delivery and protects your legal interests. Keep both the certified mail receipt and the green return receipt as evidence. It’s essential to adhere to these initial steps to set a strong foundation for your lemon law claim.

Filing a Lemon Law Claim

If the manufacturer does not contact you to schedule a final repair within 15 days from receipt of the written notice or is not forthcoming with a refund or replacement, you will need to take any further action within the 18-month timeframe. This can mean arbitration or filing a lawsuit against the manufacturer. Arbitration is an avenue if you wish to resolve your disputes without going to court. However, you can still file a lawsuit if you’re unhappy with the decision of arbitration.

Initiating Arbitration

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Before engaging in a civil lawsuit, there is often the option of informal dispute resolution. The Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) AutoLine program represents a resource for facilitating settlements between consumers and automobile manufacturers. This program acts as a bridge of communication, offering mediation services provided the manufacturer participates in the AutoLine network.

Before initiating arbitration, verify manufacturer participation through the BBB website. Upon registering your complaint, the BBB will initiate contact with the manufacturer. Subsequently, you may be contacted directly by the manufacturer representative seeking a mutually agreeable resolution. Alternatively, you can request BBB representative intervention to advocate on your behalf.

If the dispute remains unresolved at this stage, or if you decide to skip the dispute process (as many do), consulting with lawyers who deal with lemon law is typically the next prudent step. Remember, you only have 18 months from the date your vehicle was delivered to file a lemon law lawsuit. This time frame provides a crucial window to seek legal remedies for persistent vehicle defects.

Extended Deadline if Using Manufacturer’s Dispute Resolution

If you attempt to resolve lemon law issues through the manufacturer’s informal dispute resolution process (e.g., arbitration), you receive additional time to file a lawsuit. In such cases, the filing deadline expands to 12 months after the manufacturer’s final action in the dispute resolution process.

Importantly, you still retain the original 18-month deadline as a fallback. You can choose whichever deadline provides the most time to file your lawsuit, depending on the timing of the manufacturer’s final action.

While BBB AutoLine presents a worthwhile avenue for dispute resolution, manufacturer-provided arbitration generally warrants caution. These programs often prioritize compromises over the full legal remedies you may be entitled to.

Consider BBB AutoLine a strategic stepping stone towards a favorable outcome. Remember, swift action is crucial, and the BBB can bridge the gap towards securing a satisfactory resolution within the legal timeframe.

Pursuing Legal Action

If your case cannot be resolved through arbitration or with the manufacturer, you can file a civil lawsuit. A lawsuit can lead to either a replacement vehicle, a buyback, or monetary compensation for your losses.

Replacement or Repurchase of the Vehicle

Under the Virginia Lemon Law, if a vehicle is classified as a lemon, you may be entitled to a replacement vehicle or a repurchase. The law stipulates that the manufacturer should replace the vehicle with an identical or comparable new vehicle. If you choose repurchase, the manufacturer must refund:adimage2

  • The full contract price
  • All licensing fees
  • Registration fees
  • Taxes

Choosing Vehicle Replacement:

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If you opt for a replacement and the manufacturer agrees, you are entitled to a comparable vehicle acceptable to you. This ensures a satisfactory resolution that upholds your investment and expectations.

You will receive a replacement valued at the original contract price, minus a fair usage deduction. This deduction is calculated based on the mileage accumulated before reporting the first issue. Should the manufacturer disagree with replacement, you retain the right to return your vehicle for a full refund, further protecting your consumer rights.

You can continue driving your current vehicle until you receive either the replacement or your refund, ensuring uninterrupted transportation throughout the process.

Opting for Refund:

Selecting a refund allows you to return your vehicle and receive a complete financial reimbursement. The manufacturer cannot object to this preference. Similar to the replacement scenario, the refund amount will be the original contract price minus a mileage-based usage deduction. Once again, you maintain driving privileges until the refund is finalized, minimizing inconvenience and disruption.

Additionally, any charges for financing, towing, and rental car expenses during the repair periods may also be recovered. Remember, documentation of all expenses is crucial for reimbursement claims, and you must provide receipts or proof of payment.

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Why You Need an Attorney When Facing a Lemon Car

Navigating the complexities of Virginia Lemon Law while contending with a defective vehicle can be a frustrating and overwhelming ordeal. While notifying the manufacturer and outlining your desired remedies may seem straightforward, seeking the guidance of an experienced attorney for lemon law offers crucial advantages:

Skill and Experience

Lemon law attorneys possess in-depth knowledge of your state’s specific regulations, ensuring every step of your claim adheres to legal requirements. They understand the intricacies of paperwork, deadlines, and communication strategies to maximize your chances of a successful outcome.

Leveling the Playing Field

Manufacturers often have dedicated legal teams focused on minimizing their liability in lemon law cases. An attorney acts as your advocate, protecting your rights and ensuring your voice is heard with equal force.

Building a Strong Case

Attorneys can skillfully gather evidence, document every detail of your vehicle’s issues, and construct a compelling case on your behalf. This includes obtaining repair records, negotiating with dealerships, and, if necessary, preparing for litigation.

Emotional Support and Guidance

Dealing with a “lemon” car can be emotionally draining. Your attorney will provide support throughout the process, answer your questions, and alleviate anxieties, allowing you to focus on your daily life while they handle the legal complexities.

Negotiating the Best Outcome

Attorneys are skilled negotiators who can secure the best possible resolution for your case, whether it’s a favorable replacement vehicle, a full refund, or additional compensation. Their experience often means they can obtain more favorable settlements than individuals facing manufacturers alone.

Peace of Mind

Knowing your rights are protected by a competent legal professional allows you to navigate this stressful situation with peace of mind. You can be confident that your claim is being handled effectively and professionally, maximizing your chances of a successful outcome.

While you have the right to navigate a lemon law claim on your own, partnering with an experienced attorney significantly increases your chances of securing a favorable outcome and achieving justice for your defective vehicle.

Don’t Let a Lemon Car Leave You Feeling Sour

Dealing with a lemon car in Virginia can be a complex and stressful ordeal, but you don’t have to handle it alone. PJI Law is here to provide essential support and guidance in navigating Virginia’s lemon law. Our team of local lemon law lawyers is well-versed in the nuances of these laws and is committed to advocating for your rights as a consumer.

At PJI Law, we understand the challenges you face with a lemon vehicle. We approach each case with a personalized strategy, ensuring that your situation is handled with attention and care. Our goal is to help you move forward from this frustrating experience with a positive outcome, protecting your consumer rights every step of the way.

If you’re struggling with a lemon car, let PJI Law be your ally. Contact us by calling (703) 865-6100 or fill out our online form to schedule your consultation in Fairfax, Virginia. Together, we can tackle your lemon law issues with confidence and clarity, helping you turn a challenging situation into a resolved matter.

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Copyright © 2024. PJI Law, PLC. All rights reserved.

The information in this blog post (“post”) is provided for general informational purposes only and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information in this post should be construed as legal advice from the individual author or the law firm, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting based on any information included in or accessible through this post without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s state, country, or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.

PJI Law, PLC
3900 Jermantown Road, #220
Fairfax, VA 22030
(703) 865-6100
https://www.pjilaw.com

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