When Louisiana resident Jessica Walker drove out of a local used car dealership with her newly-purchased car, she didn’t expect a legal battle that would take over two years of her life. Just one day after the purchase date, the car wouldn’t start. Unbeknownst to Jessica, the car was previously involved in a head-on collision. Worse, the car’s documents were fraudulent, and the sale itself was not even legal. Unfortunately, Jessica’s situation is just one of many cases of fraudulent or misrepresented car sales.
When purchasing a vehicle, it’s important to know how to protect yourself in case your newly-purchased used vehicle is a “lemon.” No offense is intended to lovers of the sweet, tangy, bright yellow fruit, but, since the early 1900’s, the word “lemon” also refers to something worthless. In the 1960s, it became more common to use the word lemon to refer to worthless cars. A lemon is a vehicle that is defective, requires too many repairs, or is even beyond repair, within a reasonable time after it was first delivered or purchased.
This is where lemon laws come in. Depending on the state, lemon laws vary as to what and when a vehicle purchased qualifies as a “lemon,” however, in general, they provide remedies to buyers in the form of a replacement, a refund, reimbursement for the costs of a temporary vehicle, as well as attorney’s fees in the event of litigation.
Whether you are a purchaser, dealer, manufacturer, or litigation lawyer, here’s what you need to know about Louisiana lemon law.
What is the lemon law in Louisiana?
Louisiana’s lemon law is provided for by LA Rev Stat § 51:1944:
(A) If a nonconformity in a motor home has not been repaired within the time periods provided for in R.S. 32:1943(A)(2), or if after four or more attempts within the express warranty term, or during a period of one year following the date of the original delivery to the consumer of a motor vehicle which is not a motorhome, whichever is the earlier, the nonconformity has not been repaired or if the vehicle is out of service by reason of repair for a cumulative total of ninety or more calendar days during the warranty period, the manufacturer shall:
- Replace the motor vehicle with a comparable new motor vehicle, or, at its option,
- Accept return of the motor vehicle and refund the full purchase price plus any amounts paid by the consumer at the point of sale, and all collateral costs less a reasonable allowance for use to the consumer, or any holder of a perfected security interest in the motor vehicle, as their interest may appear, if the transaction was a sale.
How does the lemon law work?
In a nutshell, the lemon law may be triggered (that is, the vendor should issue a replacement or refund), if, within a certain period, the vehicle turns out to be defective and can no longer be fixed, despite the manufacturer’s multiple attempts to repair, or when the vehicle has been out of service for a long time. The specifics on each scenario are outlined below.
Louisiana lemon law on replacement or refund of a motor vehicle (not a motorhome)
As stated previously, Louisiana lemon law provides for two remedies to consumers: (1) a replacement from the manufacturer; or (2) a refund of the full purchase price (plus other costs) by the manufacturer or upon return of the motor vehicle. However, obligations shall only arise on the part of the manufacturer if either of the following conditions occur:
- Failure to fix defects or non-conformity to the warranty after four or more attempts to repair the motor vehicle, during either of the two periods, whichever is earlier:
- The period provided by the express warranty;
- One year following the date of the original delivery to the consumer of a motor vehicle;
- The vehicle has been out of service because it is being repaired for a cumulative total of ninety or more calendar days during the warranty period;
A non-conformity, as defined by Louisiana lemon law, is “any specific or generic defect or malfunction, or any defect or condition that substantially impairs the use and/or market value of a vehicle.”
Louisiana lemon law on replacement or refund of a motor home
For motorhomes, the purchaser may demand a replacement or refund if the manufacturer fails to repair the motorhome, within the prescribed periods in LA Rev Stat. 32:1943(A)(2). These periods are:
- 5 business days after receipt of notification from the consumer of the non-conformity. In such cases, the manufacturer must respond as to where the motorhome may be delivered for repair.
- 10 business days after delivery and the manufacturer must be able to repair the non-conformity.
These periods may not be extended without the consent of the purchaser.
Manufacturer’s duty to repair
The conditions enumerated above presuppose that the manufacturer, its agent, or its authorized dealer has the obligation to repair a motor vehicle. That is, if the conditions under LA Rev Stat § 51:1942 are present:
- A new motor vehicle does not conform to an applicable express warranty;
- The purchaser of the vehicle has reported the non-conformity to the manufacturer or to any of its authorized motor vehicle dealers; and
- The vehicle is made available for repair within either of these two periods, whichever is earlier:
- Before the expiration of the warranty; or
- During a period of one year following the date of the original delivery of the motor vehicle to the consumer.
It is important to take note that the timelines prescribed above only apply to the date of reporting the defect, as well as the date of when the vehicle is made available for repair. The conduct of the repair itself may exceed that time period, and this shall not affect the obligation to repair.
On the other hand, in order to qualify for remedies under Louisiana lemon law, vehicle owners also have the responsibility to report any defects or issues they encounter with the vehicle before the expiration of the prescribed period.
Is there a lemon law in Louisiana for used cars?
Yes, the lemon law applies to used cars, although this is subject to certain limitations. Any defects must be reported (1) within a year following the vehicle’s original delivery to a consumer or (2) within the vehicle’s express warranty term—whichever is earlier. In most cases, second-hand cars will be more than a year old or over its express warranty term, which places it outside the purview of the lemon law.
However, that does not mean buyers of second-hand cars have no recourse in case they end up with an unusable or overly defective vehicle. Second-hand vehicle dealers also offer service contracts or warranties. When these are breached, buyers may still be compensated under federal law, specifically the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act. In order to qualify for compensation under this law, three requirements must be met:
- There is a valid warranty;
- During such valid warranty period, the car was presented for repair; and
- The manufacturer (or car dealer) was unable to conform to the warranty within a reasonable amount of time or after a number of attempts to repair.
The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act also contains a fee shifting provision, which means the purchaser can also be compensated for legal fees if the purchaser wins the litigation.
In 2018, luxury car manufacturer Mercedes Benz ended up owing over $400,000 after failing to refund a woman a little over $6,000 for a defective vehicle she purchased. Vehicle manufacturers, dealers, and sellers must be familiar with their obligations under the lemon law, even after the purchase has already been made. By doing so, they can save themselves from lawsuits, which may even be more expensive than just giving out a refund or a replacement vehicle.
Purchasing a vehicle is a major investment that not only involves a lot of money, but also one’s economic security, personal safety, and mobility. Lemon laws are in place to protect consumers’ hard-earned money. At the same time, it is also there for a public purpose, so as not to erode trust in the vehicle manufacturing industry. Finally, it also reduces the likelihood of dangerously malfunctioning vehicles being driven on public roads.
Even when buying used cars, consumers must be aware of the limitations of their warranties, especially when purchasing vehicles “as is.” Before making any major purchase, it is always wise to consult a legal expert familiar with state and federal laws to examine the fine print on warranties and sales contracts.