The Common Law: Is My New Car a Lemon?

Shedding light on Texas' Lemon Law

I bought a new car a few months ago and it has lived in the repair shop ever since. They tell me it's a problem with the transmission. The car always breaks down within a few weeks after getting it back from the shop. I've heard about the Texas Lemon Law, but how do I know if the law can help me?

The Lemon Law is administered by the Texas Department of Transportation and is designed to protect consumers from chronically malfunctioning new cars. Under the law, car owners or lessees are entitled to have their "lemons" repaired, replaced, or repurchased by the auto manufacturer.

Under the Texas Lemon Law, if your recently purchased or leased new motor vehicle develops a defect or condition that substantially impairs its use, market value or safety, you may be eligible for relief. You must have bought or leased a new vehicle from a licensed Texas dealer or lease company. The recurring problem with the car must be considered a serious defect or abnormal condition, and that problem must be covered by the manufacturer's written warranty. A serious defect is generally something essential to the car's safety and drivability. For example, malfunctioning brakes and faulty transmissions are generally considered serious defects, but a bad car radio is not a serious defect.

Even if your car is covered by the "Lemon Law," numerous requirements must be met before you qualify for relief. You must report the defect to the dealer or manufacturer within the warranty term. Determining how many reasonable chances the dealer has to fix the problem depends on the defect. In the majority of cases, the car must be taken to the dealer for repairs at least two times during the first 12 months or 12,000 miles and then two more times during the next 12 months or 12,000 miles. There are other possibilities to be covered under the Lemon Law, including the serious safety hazard test and the 30-day test.

You must present the manufacturer with written notice (via certified mail, if possible) of the defect to offer it one last chance to make repairs. If, after all of the above, the defect still prevents normal daily use of the car or represents a serious safety hazard, you would qualify for relief under the Lemon Law. Because the Lemon Law is somewhat technical, it's best to contact the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles for specific information (888/368-4689).

Please submit column suggestions, questions, and comments to thecommonlaw@austinchronicle.com. Submission of potential topics does not create an attorney-client relationship, and any information submitted is subject to being included in future columns.

Marrs, Ellis & Hodge LLP, www.jmehlaw.com.

The material in this column is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute, nor is it a substitute for, legal advice. For advice on your specific facts and circumstances, consult a licensed attorney. You may wish to contact the Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas, a non-profit public service of the Austin Bar Association, at 512-472-8303 or www.austinlrs.com.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

lemon law, Texas lemon law, lemon, repair problems

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