Buying a new car is usually a well-thought-out decision, but even when people research their purchase thoroughly, they sometimes regret making it soon after. There is no "cooling off" period in Alabama for car buyers, so they cannot return a new car due to buyer's remorse. However, a vehicle owner can return a vehicle if it meets the state's lemon law requirements.
If they believe that the dealer engaged in fraud or did not live up to the sale contract, the buyer can file a complaint with the Alabama attorney general's office to find relief. Also, in some instances, they can return the vehicle if the dealership has a cooling-off period written into a sales contract.
What Is the Lemon Law?
Approximately 150,000 new cars purchased each year are "lemons," vehicles with persistent, unfixable problems. Lemon laws protect consumers from becoming victims of fraud and incurring financial problems. After purchase, a new owner has a limited time to report the vehicle as a lemon. All states have lemon laws, including Alabama, and each has different requirements for what constitutes a lemon. When an owner can prove that their car is a lemon, they can get a refund or a replacement vehicle.
The Alabama lemon law covers self-propelled vehicles primarily driven on highways, but does not cover vehicles weighing over 10,000 pounds or motor homes. A vehicle in Alabama may be a lemon if:
- Date of its delivery was 24 months or less.
- Vehicle has less than 24,000 miles on it.
- Owner, manufacturer, the manufacturer's agent or an authorized dealer attempted to fix the vehicle's defect at least three times.
- Vehicle has been out of service and possessed by the manufacturer, their agent or an authorized dealer for a minimum of 30 days.
What Is Covered by Alabama's Lemon Law?
The lemon law in Alabama covers conditions that don't conform to the manufacturer's express warranty: they must impair the vehicle's use, safety or value significantly; the condition arises or occurs only when in the course of regular use of the motor vehicle; it does not happen due to abuse, unauthorized alterations, modifications or neglect; and is not due to an accident or other damage.
The lemon law covers an individual who buys a new car for family, household or personal purposes. The lemon law does not cover consumers who buy a new car to resell it or to use it for commercial purposes. Alabama's lemon law does not cover used cars or leased vehicles.
Claims Under Breach of Warranty
While the Alabama lemon law allows the owner of a lemon up to three years to pursue a claim, the courts enable residents to pursue a claim for breach of warranty if the vehicle manufacturer fails to repair it within four years. The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act of 1975 is a federal act that helps consumers who have tried to repair their product according to the terms of their vehicle warranty.
This law applies to several products, including new cars. If a car is still defective after multiple unsuccessful repair attempts, a breach of warranty has occurred, and the consumer may receive either a replacement vehicle or a full refund. They may also get a refund if they lose their use of the vehicle for a total of 30 days due to repairs.
Auto manufacturers do not guarantee that a vehicle will be defect-free. However, they state that they will repair the car through an authorized network if a defect arises during the warranty duration. If the manufacturer refuses to give the consumer a replacement or refund, they have grounds for a consumer protection lawsuit.
What Happens When a Lemon Law Claim Is Successful?
If the manufacturer, the manufacturer's agent or an authorized dealer can't fix the vehicle under an express warranty, then the owner may be successful with their claim. This gives them some options.
If a claim is successful, the defective vehicle's manufacturer can replace the lemon with a new car that is comparable. The owner can also return the vehicle and get a refund of the full contract price, non-refundable portions of the extended warranty and services, collateral charges and finance charges sustained after they initially reported the problem, as well as any incidental damages.
Preparing for a Lemon Law Arbitration
When preparing to go to arbitration under Alabama's lemon law, the vehicle owner's best bet is to contact the state consumer protection agency or the Better Business Bureau (BBB), which has its own dispute resolution program, BBB Auto Line. The program guides the consumer in collecting documentation, negotiating a potential settlement, and making their way through arbitration.
Vehicle owners who provide substantial evidence tend to fare better than those who don't have much evidence to support their claims. Documents they can use are:
- Ads and brochures about the vehicle.
- Vehicle service records showing the frequency of repairs and what services took place.
- Any other documents that show the owner's attempts to repair the car.
Federal Buyers Remorse Protection
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has a three-day cooling-off period for some purchases, but this does not apply to new vehicles. Unlike most products, as soon as an owner drives the car off the sales lot, it goes down in value significantly. If a cooling-off period were to be applied to new vehicles, dealers would have to resell vehicles at a loss.
The FTC's rule applies only to sales made at an individual's home, work or at the seller's temporary location, like a hotel, motel, restaurant or convention center. It protects consumers from high-pressure sales tactics in these locations. While some may believe the three-day cooling off rule offers protection across the board for purchases, it does not.
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.