Understanding Massachusetts Lemon Law
Approximately 150,000 cars sold in America on average every year are classified as lemons: cars with repeated, unfixable problems. Manufacturers including Chrysler, Toyota, Ford, and many others build their fair share of lemons every year. Many of those vehicles are sold in Massachusetts.
“Lemon laws” enacted across the United States help protect consumers who purchase defective vehicles and provide a legal procedure to compensate them for their losses. Massachusetts consumers can take advantage of these laws. Additionally, a powerful federal law known as the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act provides protection for consumers who purchase cars that are having problems and have an unexpired manufacturer’s warranty.
The Massachusetts lemon law provides a legal remedy for consumers who buy or lease new cars and certain used cars that turn out to be lemons.
According to the law, if the car does not conform to the terms of its written warranty and the manufacturer or their authorized agent is unable to repair the car after a reasonable number of attempts, the consumer is entitled to a refund or replacement.
The Massachusetts lemon law covers motor vehicles and motorcycles sold, leased or replaced by a dealer or manufacturer. It covers used vehicles sold or leased within the “term of protection,” defined as one year or 15,000 miles of operation after the delivery of the vehicle. The law does not, however, cover motor homes, vehicles built primarily for off-road use, or any vehicle used mainly for business purposes.
The Massachusetts lemon law covers vehicle “nonconformities.” The law defines a nonconformity as “any specific or generic defect or malfunction, or any concurrent combination of defects or malfunctions that substantially impairs the use, market value or safety” of the vehicle.
Massachusetts’ lemon law does not cover any nonconformity caused by consumer negligence, accident, vandalism, or unauthorized modification. It also does not cover damage resulting from attempts to repair the vehicle by someone other than the manufacturer or their authorized agents.
The law protects vehicle purchasers and lessees of motor vehicles for purposes other than resale. It also covers anyone to whom the vehicle is transferred during any express or implied warranty period, and anyone else entitled by the terms of the warranty to enforce its obligations.
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The manufacturer must repair any warrantied vehicle that does not conform to the applicable express or implied warranty. However, the consumer must report the nonconformity to the manufacturer within the term of protection.
The Massachusetts lemon law compels manufacturers to repurchase or replace the nonconforming vehicle if they are unable to repair it. Before doing so, however, the consumer must allow the manufacturer a “reasonable number of attempts” to fix the vehicle. Massachusetts’ lemon law defines that as three or more times for the same nonconformity without success. The definition also covers any time the vehicle is out of service for 15 business days or longer to repair any nonconformity.
After the aforementioned reasonable number of repair attempts, the consumer must allow the manufacturer one final opportunity to “cure the nonconformity.” This final repair attempt can’t exceed seven business days, and begins on the day the manufacturer is first notified or should have been notified that a reasonable number of repair attempts have occurred. The manufacturer or their authorized agents cannot require written notice from the consumer of the existence of any nonconformity.
The Massachusetts lemon law says a manufacturer repurchasing an owned vehicle must pay the vehicle’s full contract price. They must also reimburse the consumer for incidental costs, including sales taxes, registration fees and finance charges. They must also pay for towing and reasonable rental costs directly resulting from the nonconformity. The manufacturer may deduct from their payment any cash award made by the manufacturer in an attempt to resolve the dispute that was accepted by the consumer. They may also deduct a “reasonable allowance for use,” calculated using the number of miles the nonconforming vehicle traveled before its return to the manufacturer.
Manufacturers repurchasing leased vehicles must pay back all payments made by the lessee under the terms of the lease agreement, as well as incidental costs, less any cash award accepted by the consumer and a reasonable use allowance.
The Massachusetts lemon law states when a manufacturer replaces a motor vehicle, they must also reimburse the consumer for any fees incurred for registration or any sales taxes as a result of the replacement. They must also reimburse the consumer for towing and reasonable rental costs as a result of the nonconformity.
Consumers can request arbitration through the Massachusetts New Car Arbitration program administered by the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation. Participation in any other arbitration or dispute resolution mechanism does not affect eligibility for state-certified new car arbitration.
In an arbitration, a neutral third party (an arbitrator) decides whether a reasonable number of repair attempts have been made and what award, if any, should be granted to the consumer. If the consumer accepts the arbitrator’s decision, the manufacturer agrees to comply with it. A manufacturer’s arbitration process must comply with the Code of Federal Regulations.
Arbitration hearings usually last only one day, and take place in a much less formal setting than a court. Consumers should bring all documents relating to the vehicle and the repair process, including the letters exchanged with the manufacturer. They should also arrange for witnesses to appear at the hearing, including friends who have witnessed the vehicle’s problems.
There are, however, downsides to the arbitration process. Firstly, while attorneys are not required in the process, the manufacturer will almost certainly send an attorney or someone advised by an attorney to represent them at the hearing. Any consumer looking to pursue the arbitration process in Massachusetts is advised to speak with a law firm beforehand.
Secondly, one of the reasons arbitration is faster is because both sides have less rights to discovery: the legal process by which litigants can obtain evidence. In a lemon law case this puts consumers at a disadvantage, as they need discovery to gather evidence to prove their cases, and much of the evidence is held by the manufacturer and dealership.
Lastly, even though consumers have the option of rejecting the arbitrator’s decision, the manufacturer is allowed to introduce the arbitrator’s decision in trial. This could bias the jury against the consumer. In light of the foregoing, vehicle owners with valid lemon law claims should seek the advice and counsel of qualified attorneys with experience handling lemon law claims.
By filing a claim under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, Massachusetts consumers can hire lawyers who will represent them without the vehicle owner having to pay any attorneys’ fees directly out of their pocket. This is because the federal Act provides that the vehicle manufacturer may pay the claimants’ reasonable attorneys’ fees if the claimant prevails against the manufacturer. Lemonlawusa.org encourages vehicle owners with a lemon to obtain legal counsel. You can bet the car manufacturers have legal counsel at the ready to help defend against lemon law claims both in arbitration and in court.