Can I Return My New Car to the Dealer If It Has Problems?

defective car

Picture this: You’ve just signed the papers on your new car and you’re driving home in it. Everything seems to be going perfectly until suddenly, you notice a loud clunking sound coming from the engine. What do you do?

The short answer to the question is: yes, you can return the vehicle – but there’s more to it.

Returning a defective vehicle to a dealer or manufacturer isn’t as easy as taking an item back to Walmart. Many car dealers and manufacturers have complex policies and procedures that make returning a car arduous and confusing.

However, the good news is you may be legally entitled to a buyback (refund) or replacement car from the manufacturer under your state’s “lemon law.” These laws protect consumers who discover significant mechanical issues shortly after purchasing their vehicle.

Here’s how lemon laws work and how to file a claim if you believe you have a defective car.

What is Lemon Law?

Lemon law (also known as the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act) was enacted on the federal level in 1975 to protect consumers from buying defective products. Today, all states have their own lemon laws that define criteria, under which consumers can receive financial compensation or replacements regarding a defective vehicle.

Under both Federal and state lemon laws, a vehicle may be deemed a lemon if the defect is proven to interfere with its safety, value, or functionality – and cannot be repaired. In addition, the following conditions must be met before a claim can be filed:

  • The manufacturer must be given a “reasonable number of repair attempts” to fix the issue.
  • If they cannot fix the issue, the consumer can seek a buyback (refund) under their state’s lemon law.
  • The defect must be a result of poor manufacturing, not driver abuse.

Check Your State’s Lemon Law

Each state has its own lemon laws, which means there are unique requirements for filing a lemon law claim based on where the vehicle is registered. States differ their lemon law requirements on factors like:

  • The time allotted in which you can file a claim after purchase.
  • Whether you can file a claim for a new or used vehicle.
  • The number of repair attempts the manufacturer is allowed before a claim can be filed.

For instance, Arizona requires four repair attempts from an authorized mechanic or dealership before a driver can file a lemon law case. In contrast, states like New Jersey and California require at least two repair attempts on a defect – but do not specify an exact number.

This vague description leaves the law open to interpretation and can be a point of contention in court. Hiring a lemon law attorney in California or New Jersey can help prevent this issue.

States also differ on the types of vehicles that are covered by their lemon laws. For example, both Colorado and Illinois’s lemon laws apply only to new vehicles. However, California lemon law applies to both new and used cars so long as they are under warranty.

Since California is one of the few states with a lemon law for used cars, consumers need a good California lemon law lawyer to receive the benefits they deserve.

The Importance of Working with a Lemon Law Attorney

Manufacturers are notorious for dragging their heels when it comes to buying back or replacing defective vehicles. Moreover, auto manufacturers are equipped with high-powered legal teams that will try everything in their power to push back against your claim.

Most consumers who purchase a lemon have limited knowledge of how lemon law works – since they have not likely dealt with the process before. However, manufacturers are aware of this and use consumer ignorance to their advantage.

For instance, the manufacturer’s lawyers will try to blame the consumer, claiming that excess wear and tear or abuse caused the failure. Alternatively, they may claim that the driver did not give the dealership enough opportunities to repair the defect.

It takes a seasoned lemon law attorney to face a manufacturer’s legal team and hold the automaker accountable for an entire buyback. This is important because buybacks are more than just a refund for the cost of the vehicle, it also includes:

  • Down payment, monthly payments made, the remainder of the balance – minus a mileage offset.
  • Reimbursement for all official costs – registration, sales tax, etc.
  • Reimbursement for all incidental costs stemming from the lemon – towing fees, cab fares, hotel stays, meals, etc.

Only an experienced lemon law attorney in your state can ensure you get every penny you are owed. Additionally, if you win your case, the manufacturer will be responsible for paying your legal fees.


If your vehicle starts to show signs of a mechanical defect while under warranty, you may be entitled to a refund or replacement under your state’s lemon law. can help determine if your case falls under the state’s lemon law and guide you in filing a claim against the dealer or manufacturer of your vehicle.

Author Bio:

Brian K. Cline’s Lemon Law Legal Group provides premier legal services. Our California lemon law lawyers aggressively and ethically force vehicle manufacturers to buy back defective and dangerous vehicles. Our team includes experienced trial lawyers with over 40 years of combined trial experience.


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