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Vehicle Maintenance Issues And The New York Lemon Law

Published May 22, 2013

As the owner of a new vehicle still under warranty, the last you want to hear is that your car's manufacturer has voided that warranty due to improper maintenance upon the vehicle.  Nobody ever likes spending a lot of money to fix their cars - but it's especially bad when you shouldn't have to be paying it in the first place.  You need your car, so if a manufacturer holds you over a barrel in this manner, you might have little choice but to give in. This article will discuss how these types of maintenance issues can give rise to a New York Lemon Law case, and also provides suggestions on how to avoid such problems.

It hardly needs to be mentioned that you should make sure to perform routine maintenance on your vehicle per the manufacturer's guidelines. If you go one day or one mile past the maintenance guideline in your owner's manual before you get an oil change you are simply asking for trouble. Most of us lead busy lives and it's easy to forget when something needs to be done. On the other hand, your car is probably one of your largest investments, so it's worth taking the time to get things done right. 

The good news is that for smaller issues, it's doubtful a manufacturer will scrutinize your maintenance practices. Unfortunately, however, if you need a big repair, your vehicle's manufacturer might suddenly want to scrutinize everything. Replacing an engine or transmission can cost thousands of dollars, and although some manufacturers are better than others, all of them look for an excuse to not have to pay if they can avoid doing so.

Having all maintenance performed in a timely manner will do little for you, however, if you can't prove it. Thus, keeping your maintenance records is of the utmost importance. Producing such records is the ultimate answer to an allegation that you shirked your maintenance obligations. Note that I would consider gasoline receipts to be a maintenance record. I have seen manufacturers refuse to honor a warranty due to 'bad gas." BMW used this excuse a lot before finally taking responsibility for their fuel pump issues.  Many jurisdictions will actually test fuel samples at a gasoline if this concern is raised. Being able to prove where you got your gasoline could actually be quite important indeed.

So what happens if you do everything right and the manufacturer still tries to stiff you? Sadly, I have seen a good number of cases where all maintenance was performed properly, records were kept, and the manufacturer still determined it wouldn't pay for the repair. If this happens, you might end up having a New York Lemon Law case under the refusal to repair provisions of the statute. Importantly, there are some specific prerequisites towards bringing a case on the basis of 'refusal to repair', so if you are in this position you should probably contact a New York Lemon Law attorney.

Interestingly, I have encountered a number of situations where the manufacturer tried to assert that the vehicle wasn't maintained properly, AFTER they repaired the vehicle. Invariably this happens once you assert a Lemon Law claim. The manufacturer will claim that the dealership made a mistake by repairing the vehicle, and should have noticed the problem with the vehicle was caused by improper maintenance. This argument amazes me, because it is highly unlikely that major repairs would be conducted under warranty if there was any suspicion that maintenance requirements weren't met. Call me cynical, but I think this argument is just a convenient, though weak, defense to a New York Lemon Law claim.

One final note: from a legal perspective, performing your own oil changes is a bad idea. If you absolutely must do it, keep your oil and oil filter receipts. However, it's better to just pay a reputable business to do it for you. If you were to end up having a New York Lemon Law case, being able to prove your oil changes actually occurred can make the difference between winning and losing, and records from a reputable facility are simply better evidence than your oil receipts and testimony.



Eugene Krukas, Esq.

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Bellmore, NY 11710

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