Understanding South Carolina 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 South Carolina.
“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. South Carolina 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 South Carolina 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.
South Carolina’s lemon law covers vehicles designed, used and maintained for the transportation of ten or fewer persons. The lemon law also covers trucks with an empty weight of 9,000 pounds or less and a gross weight of 11,000 pounds or less.
The South Carolina lemon law doesn’t cover motorcycles, the living quarters portion of recreational vehicles, and off-road vehicles.
The lemon law covers consumers purchasing or leasing a vehicle to be used for personal or household purposes. The law further covers anyone else entitled by the warranty to enforce its obligations. South Carolina’s lemon law also covers anyone to whom the vehicle was transferred within the warranty period.
The South Carolina lemon law covers vehicle nonconformities. The lemon law defines a “nonconformity” as a defect or condition that substantially impairs the use, value, or safety of the vehicle. The lemon law does not cover any defect or condition resulting from an accident or unauthorized modification or alteration.
South Carolina’s lemon law requires manufacturers to repair any nonconformity reported to them within the first 12 months of purchase or the first 12,000 miles of operation, whichever comes first. If the manufacturer is unable to conform the vehicle to its warranty after a reasonable number of attempts, the manufacturer must either repurchase or replace the vehicle.
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The South Carolina lemon law requires the consumer to allow the manufacturer a “reasonable number of attempts” to fix the problem and bring the vehicle into conformity. The lemon law defines a reasonable number of attempts as three or more times for the same nonconformity without success. The definition also covers any time the vehicle is out of service for 30 business days or longer to repair any nonconformity.
Before filing a claim under the South Carolina lemon law, the consumer or their representative must notify the manufacturer of the need for repair by registered, certified or express mail. The manufacturer must be allowed a final opportunity to fix the issue. The manufacturer then has ten business days to notify the consumer of a reasonably accessible repair facility. After the consumer delivers the vehicle to the facility, the manufacturer has up to ten business days to repair the nonconformity.
If all repair attempts fail, the South Carolina lemon law compels manufacturers to either repurchase or replace the vehicle. When repurchasing a vehicle, the manufacturer must pay the full purchase price as delivered, plus applicable finance charges, sales taxes and governmental charges. The manufacturer may deduct a “reasonable allowance for use,” calculated by the number of miles the nonconforming vehicle traveled before its return to the manufacturer.
When replacing a vehicle under the South Carolina lemon law, the manufacturer must provide a comparable motor vehicle. The reasonable allowance for use does not apply to a replacement vehicle.
If the manufacturer has established an “informal dispute settlement procedure,” i.e. arbitration, the consumer must first resort to it before filing a lemon law claim in civil court. The consumer must also participate in a consumer-industry appeals, arbitration or mediation panel if the manufacturer requires such in the warranty.
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 South Carolina 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, South Carolina 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.