A typical New York Lemon Law case involves a vehicle that has been serviced repeatedly for the same problem, or has been out of service for repair for an unreasonable amount of time. These are inability to repair cases. I previously wrote a blog that concentrates on these types of cases.
There is also another kind of New York Lemon Law case which perhaps doesn’t get as much attention, but is just as important. Refusal to repair cases. These are cases where the vehicle is brought to the dealership for warranty repairs and the dealership is either unable to verify the consumer’s complaint (cannot duplicate customers concern), or it verifies that something is wrong with the car, but determine that the problem is not covered by the vehicles warranty.
Refusal to repair cases are more difficult to pursue because there is a fundamental disagreement between the consumer and the manufacturer. The manufacturer believes that there is either nothing wrong with the car, or alternatively, that whatever is wrong with the car is not its responsbility. On the other hand, in an inability to repair case, the manufacturer has attempted a repair, which implies that it recognizes something was wrong with the vehicle and that it was its responsibility to fix it. In those cases, where there are sufficient repairs, a manufacturer will usually concede that it must repurchase or replace the vehicle, and it does so voluntarily. This almost never happens in a refusal to repair situation.
Thus, refusal to repair cases must usually be litigated or arbitrated. An expert must be retained to inspect the vehicle, verify a defective condition, and testify about it. The manufacturer will, of course, produce its own technical specialists who will testify that there is nothing wrong with the vehicle or that the defect is the consumer’s fault. Ultimately, it can often come down to credibility, or if it’s an arbitration, the arbitrator’s test drive.
In addition to the evidentiary hurdles that consumers must get through in order to win their refusal to repair case, there is also a procedural step which often proves difficult. Pursuant to the New York Lemon Law statute, the following steps must occur before a consumer can bring a refusal to repair case:
The consumer must bring the defect to the attention of the dealership
After the dealership refuses to commence repairs within 7 days of being notified of the defective condition, the consumer must write a letter to the manufacturer of the vehicle, notifying it of its dealerships refusal to commence repairs, and demanding that it commence repairs within 20 days of its receipt of the notice. I have provided a sample letter here which you can use as a template when drafting your own. Make sure that when you write your letter, you identify the vehicle by VIN number, and provide contact information (address and phone number) for yourself.
The letter must be mailed via Certified Mail, with Return Receipt Requested (the two green slips at the post office), to the manufacturer, NOT the dealership.
The statute is very specific about how these steps must be carried out. Of course it’s also important to keep a photocopy of your letter, keep the certified mail slip when its given back to you at the post office, and the return receipt slip when it is mailed back to you after the manufacturer receives your letter.
There is one side benefit to these procedural hurdles. When a manufacturer receives this type of letter, it will often contact you to make arrangements for one of its own technical specialists (instead of a dealership employee) to inspect the vehicle and conduct repairs if the defective condition is verified. I have had plenty of situations where this type of 20 day notice letter has resulted in the vehicles finally being fixed. And of course, any such repair can potentially be used in an inability to repair case.
One thing to note is that the 2 year / 18,000 mile Lemon Law presumption period applies to refusal to repair cases. If you purchased or leased your vehicle more than 2 years ago, or have put on more than 18,000 miles, the refusal to repair provision of the New York Lemon Law is not applicable to your case.
I often advise individuals to prepare their own 20 day notice letter using the sample letter I provided as a template. If you follow all of the steps in this article, and 20 days after receipt of your letter the manufacturer has still not commenced any repairs, you may have a Lemon Law case. At that point you should call me or another New York Lemon Law attorney, who can then assist you in pursuing your case further.