“Lemon” law protects shoppers from bitter deals

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COLUMBUS – Making the decision to purchase a new vehicle typically involves a good deal of planning, research and, of course, money.

A car is not only a huge investment but it also plays a very significant role in our everyday lives – doing without one becomes a major hassle.

When given lemons … In order to prevent a situation in which a consumer purchases a new vehicle only to be continually inconvenienced by malfunctions, safety concerns and defects, Ohio has specific laws in place to prevent the manufacture and sale of cars that are deemed to be “lemons,” according to Sen. Scott Oelslager.

By definition, a lemon is a motor vehicle that has had one or more problems that are covered by the manufacturer warranty, yet that still substantially impair the use, value or safety of the vehicle.

Ohio first adopted the Lemon Law in 1987.

“By requiring auto makers to repair vehicle defects that occur within the first 12 months or 18,000 miles of use, Ohio’s Lemon Law is one of the most comprehensive of its kind in the nation,” Oelslager said.

The law requires that the automaker or dealer be given adequate time to correct problems with the vehicle. However, if those problems are not corrected, the consumer could be eligible for a refund or a replacement.

Buyers should understand their risk of purchasing a lemon, but they should also understand their rights and responsibilities as a consumer under Ohio law.

… Make lemonade. Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery suggests that car buyers need to keep careful track of all warranty and repair orders. Check every work order to make sure it includes an itemized list of repairs as well as repair costs if they are not covered under the warranty.

Also, make sure these orders include the length of time the vehicle was in the shop.

Car owners should keep a careful record of all the problems and defects they’ve experienced with the vehicle and be sure to present a copy of this list to the service person at the dealership.

Finally, read and understand the owner’s manual in order to follow the maintenance requirements for the vehicle.

If the manufacturer can show that you have not properly maintained your car, you could forfeit your eligibility to receive a refund or replacement, Oelslager said.

Loss recovery. In the case where a consumer does get stuck with a lemon, federal and state lemon laws work to ensure that his or her losses can be recovered.

Manufacturers who sell defective vehicles are in violation of Ohio’s Consumer Sales Practices Act and could be subject to fines of up to $25,000 per day.

In May of 1999, the Ohio General Assembly passed legislation that strengthened Ohio’s Lemon Law even more with regard to the sale and purchase of used vehicles.

The new law requires dealers to disclose any problems with the vehicle and to provide a list of all defects the car has sustained.

In addition, this bill requires the title of defective or returned cars to be branded to read “buyback,” and state that the vehicle “was returned to the manufacturer because it may not have conformed to its warranty.”

If dealers fail to comply with this latest provision of the Lemon Law, they could face fines of up to $1,000.

Before you buy. Used car buyers also have the option of using the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles Web site to track the title and history of a vehicle before purchasing it.

Car shoppers should have the vehicle identification number of the car they are considering before visiting the site at state.ohus.ndns/division/hmv/bmv.html.

Click on the online title inquiry box to search for information.

This tool, combined with Ohio’s Lemon Law and the guidelines suggested for consumers, are available to help prevent consumers from unknowingly purchasing a used car that is a lemon.

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