New York Lemon Law – A Nutshell

Lets start at the beginning, shall we?


The New York Lemon Law, otherwise known as New York General Business Law Section 198-a, is a consumer protection statute originally enacted in 1983 as a response to rampant consumer complaints about defective automobiles. It has a four year statute of limitations, which means that you can bring a lawsuit or arbitration to enforce your rights under the law within four years of your purchase or lease of the vehicle in question.

What happens if I have a Lemon?

Did you ever hear the phrase, “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”? That is what comes to mind when I’m asked what happens if your car is a lemon. One mans lemon is a car manufacturer’s sparkling example of modern engineering. The trick is getting the right person (or ajudicating entity) to agree it’s a lemon. Once you get that accomplished (more about that in a minute), you’re entitled to your choice of the following:

Repurchase of the vehicle by its manufacturer.
Comparable replacement vehicle.

What makes my car a lemon?

This is the type of question that deserves a simple answer. So here it is. Your car is a lemon if it has been subject to a sufficient amount of warranty repairs.

Now let me give you the real answer.

First off, for new cars (which are what I concentrate on), we will only take into account warranty repairs that occur within the first 2 years or 18,000 miles from original delivery of the vehicle, whichever comes first.

Contrary to popular belief, the law does not explicitly require a specific number of warranty repairs or days out of service for repair to qualify your vehicle as a lemon. Rather, during that 2 year / 18,000 mile time period, if the manufacturer has been unable to repair a substantial defect under warranty, given a reasonable opportunity to do so, then the manufacturer should repurchase or replace the vehicle under the law.

This is where the law pulls a fast one on us. Even though it gives us a fuzzy ‘reasonableness’ standard to determine how many repairs are sufficient to qualify the vehicle as a lemon, it proceeds to tell us that a court should presume a reasonable repair opportunity when the vehicle has been repaired under its warranty 4 times for the same defect (with the defect continuing to persist after the 4th repair attempt), or 30 days altogether for warranty repairs.

Theoretically, a court could decide that only a couple of repair attempts, or perhaps 20 days out of service for repair, satisfy the reasonableness requirement. Particularly in cases where the defect complained of puts the occupants of the vehicle in danger of serious harm. In practice, however, we generally want to see 4+ repairs or 30 days before litigating these cases.

What if my car is working wonderfully after 14 repairs and 112 days out of service?

Per the case of DaimlerChrysler Corporation v. Spitzer, it doesn’t matter if your car is currently working properly. What matters is how much it was repaired during the 2 year, 18,000 mile presumption period.

What are substantial repairs?

Good question!

Specifically, the statute requires that the defect complained of “substantially impair the value of the vehicle to the consumer.” Now at this point I am torn between detailing the origins of this language and summarizing the intricacies of its dual subjective/objective interpretation, or giving you a plainer answer.

For once, simplicity rules the day. Generally speaking, for a defect to be considered substantial enough to justify Lemon Law relief, it should detrimentally effect the functionality or safety of the car. Radio static does not cut it. The interior molding is loose, too bad. Water leaking into the vehicle, you have my ear. Transmission fell out 8 times. You’re my new best friend!

Will I have to pay a lawyer?

The Lemon Law is considered a consumer protection statute. One nice thing about such statutes is that in order to make the laws more practical for consumers to utilize, there are often fee-shifting provisions contained within them that require a defendant to pay the legal fees of a consumer who wins a case in court. This creates an incentive for the automobile manufacturers to settle meritorious cases early in order to avoid having to pay out even more money in legal fees (both for their own lawyers, and for the consumers). In cases where the manufacturer voluntarily repurchases or replaces a vehicle pursuant to the New York Lemon Law, they will pay a fee to the attorney, at that early stage, of approximately $2,000.00, give or take a few hundred. If it goes into litigation and settles, or if the consumer ends up winning the case, the attorney fee paid by the manufacturer will be a great deal higher.

What else do I need to know?

Now you’re asking too much! Do you want me to end this blog on its second post? If you absolutely must have more New York Lemon Law information this very minute, might I humbly suggest reading the New York Lemon Law FAQ section of the web site?

Get to it!