One of the most important things a car owner can do to increase the odds of having a successful lemon law claim is to keep good records. Sounds obvious enough, but the truth is that less than fifty percent of people keep their repair orders. And out of that fifty percent who do keep them, they are usually stuffed in the glove box and incomplete, meaning they are missing one or two. And maintenance records like oil changes and regular service visits? Forget about it. Most of us can’t be bothered to keep silly things like that.
Well, that’s all well and good until your car breaks down. And then breaks down again. And again. And when you’ve finally had it up to here with the dealership and the games they play, and you’re ready to file a lemon law claim, the first thing we ask after a brief discussion of the vehicle defect, is “Do you have copies of all your repair orders?” And boy do we love it when our clients say, “Yes! I’ve got all my documents.”
Keeping Good Records = Success!
The reason keeping good records of your repairs and maintenance visits is so important boils down to the nature of a lemon law claim. As the car owner, we must prove that you gave the manufacturer a “reasonable opportunity to repair a substantial defect.” There are three parts to that loaded phrase.
First, we have the burden of proof, meaning that it is not the manufacturer’s job to produce the repair orders. It’s our job. Sure we always try to get copies from the dealerships, but half of them comply with our requests (which sometimes require a letter threatening litigation), and half of them don’t.
Second, we have to prove that it is a substantial defect. The easiest way to do that is to show the repairs listed on the repair orders. If the transmission was replaced or the engine blew, the repair order speaks for itself.
Third, you have to give the manufacturer a reasonable opportunity to fix the defect. The courts have decided that three to four repair visits are required (unless the defect is likely to cause death or serious bodily injury, in which case two or even one visit might suffice). And the best way to prove how many times you presented your vehicle for repairs, is to simply show them the repair orders.
Lastly, even if you prove that your vehicle has a substantial defect and you gave the manufacturer a reasonable time to fix the defect, the manufacturer will often claim that the defect was your fault. Why? They’ll blame it on your lack of maintenance receipts. They’ll say that the engine blew because you failed to get regular oil changes. And even if they are not correct, if you don’t have proof that you serviced your vehicle regularly, you will most likely lose what could have been a strong lemon law claim.
Don’t Delay, Start Keeping Records Now!
Of course, hindsight is 20/20. But from now on, make sure you get a work order every time you drop off your vehicle. Make sure the work order accurately states each and every one of your complaints. And then be sure to also get a repair invoice when you pick up the car, and make sure it accurately reflects what the dealership did (or didn’t do!) to address each concern.
Be sure to take your vehicle in for all its maintenance visits like oil changes and tire rotations. You always want to have any repairs performed by a manufacturer-authorized dealership, but for things like oil changes and other maintenance visits, it’s okay to do those at a Jiffy Lube or Sears, but just make sure you get receipts and you keep them with the repair orders.
Keeping good records is a good habit and will put you in the best position to get money back for your vehicle if it turns out to be a dreaded “Lemon!”