Avoiding a Lemon

While speaking with one of my clients today, she popped the big question: “Since you specialize in lemon law claims, what car would you suggest for my next vehicle, and what cars would you avoid?”

This is probably the most common question that I get.  And it’s a good one.  It was also a bit ironic since her lemon law claim involved a Honda, and I drive a Honda.

The Complex Automobile

The truth is that modern vehicles are very complex machines.  Much more complex than the cars that were built ten, five and even two years ago.  On the roads today we’ve got standard cars, hybrids, bio-diesel vehicles, electronic cars, and the cars of the future are already a reality and being planned and built as we speak.

These vehicles are extremely complex, and most of them have a super-computer at the helm that manages the hundreds of thousands of tasks that your car undertakes just to drive from your garage to the supermarket.

And yes, sometimes these vehicles break down.  Sometimes they break down because of a defect that occurred while manufacturing your particular vehicle, and sometimes they break down because of a design defect.

The important question is whether or not the manufacturer, through its authorized dealerships, can determine what the defect is, and how to resolve it within a reasonable number of repair attempts.  If they can’t fix the problem, then you may find yourself in the dreaded lemon law club.

No One’s Perfect – The Lemon Law Reality

The fact is that all manufacturers produce a lemon every now and then.  It comes with the territory.  And despite all the horror stories you may hear about lemon vehicles, they make up a very small percentage of the cars that are produced and end up on the road.

That said, some manufacturers tend to build vehicles that exhibit more defects and, consequently, more lemons than others.  And although most of our lemon law cases are from “The Big Three” – Ford, GM and Chrysler – that most likely is the result of the fact that those manufacturers have the most cars on the road.  The good news about The Big Three is that they tend to be pretty fair in evaluating lemon law claims, and they usually try to resolve these matters without having to resort to litigation.  However, that is not always the case, and sometimes these claims do end up in the courts.

Now, you may think that the foreign manufacturers are a much better option.  However, I can tell you without a doubt that this is not always the case.  In fact, some of the luxury brands like Mercedes and BMW can produce some pretty defective vehicles.  This is most likely due to the fact that these vehicles tend to be more refined and complex than others.  From my experience, BMW can be hit or miss in how they deal with lemon law claims, and Mercedes is not very easy to deal with unless you have a “slam dunk” claim.

Overall, it would be a mistake to rush to judgment about any of the manufacturers, as each case is different.  And to complicate things further, what one manufacturer may consider a lemon, another may not.  And even two representatives at the same manufacturer may reach two different conclusions.

Helpful Car Search Tips

Here are some tips that may prove to be helpful in your car search:

  • Do some Internet research on the car that you are thinking of getting.  Get on some of the message boards and check out other car owners’ complaints.  If you see a pattern of transmission complaints, for example, then you’ll know to stay away from that particular vehicle.
  • Ask other drivers on the road.  Most people are happy to talk about their vehicle.  And even more happy to complain about it!
  • Contact the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and see if there are any major safety recalls.  They can be reached at (888) 327-4236 and www.nhtsa.dot.gov.
  • Try to avoid getting a car that is a new model.  There are usually lots of kinks that need to be worked out.  No need to be a guinea pig!
  • Always get a vehicle that has a good warranty.  And make sure to get the Extended Service Contract.  It’s good insurance to have in case your car ends up having problems.
  • If you are purchasing a used vehicle, make sure you get a Certified Pre-Owned Warranty.  Never purchase a vehicle “As Is.”  And always check out the CarFax report.

If you follow these tips first, then my advice is simple.  Pick a car you love, drive safe and have fun!  Because there’s really no way to know for sure if it will be a lemon or not.