The Common Signs of a Lemon Car: A Simple Guide

A notorious horror film trope is the broken-down car on a desolate stretch of highway. Terror ensues. But, as anyone who has experienced a breakdown knows, it’s horrifying all on its own- no ghouls needed.

However, you can prevent your breakdown nightmare. If you have ever found yourself at the mercy of an unreliable car, this guide is for you. Keep reading to learn more about spotting a lemon car and what to do if you have one.

What Are Lemon Cars?

In the early twentieth century, Americans referred to their worthless, malfunctioning items as lemons. Later on, in the 1960s, as car ownership skyrocketed, lemons became synonymous with junk cars.

If your car keeps breaking down, you might have a lemon car. Common lemon car problems are bad brakes, transmission trouble, and a dying engine. But, comfort and aesthetic issues do not usually qualify for lemon protection.

How to Avoid Purchasing a Lemon Car

You never have to leave a dealership with a lemon if you follow some preventative tips. For one, only purchase from reputable sellers. Second, to research a used car, use The National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS).

In-person, examine the vehicle thoroughly with these tips in mind:

  • Search under the hood for a rusty or greasy engine
  • Doors and trunks that don’t close right might indicate shoddy repair work
  • While driving, the steering wheel should turn smoothly, without sounds or shaking
    • Corrections shouldn’t be necessary unless on a bumpy or uneven road
  • Press the fenders down hard to check the suspension
    • The car should respond with two soft bounces
    • Any other response could mean expensive suspension trouble

If you only check one thing off of this list, check the suspension. Unfortunately, repairing a car suspension is often as expensive as purchasing a new car.

At a dealership, a buyer’s guide should list if the car is being sold under warranty or “as is.” Beware of as-is sales; it means that the dealer can not guarantee the car’s quality.

And, always remember to study the fine print of any warranty. If you find yourself fixing a car you’ve just purchased, it’s time to revisit any warranties or contracts from the dealer.

Common Lemon Laws

Sometimes, despite your greatest efforts, you still end up with a lemon on your hand. American car buyers can thank The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act of 1975 for lemon laws today. This law requires manufacturers to follow specific standards when providing warranties.

Generally, the law considers a car a lemon when a seller doesn’t disclose serious defects so that they could sell the car for more than it’s worth. However, the exact definition of a lemon car varies in legal terms from state to state. Warranty standards vary across the country as well.

It’s simple to find this information online or through your local state’s Bureau of Consumer Affairs office.

Knowledge Is Power

Making a researched car purchase protects you from a fraudulent sale. Your due diligence also ensures that your vehicle doesn’t have any hidden safety issues. Now that you are a lemon expert, you can prevent yourself from owning or driving a lemon car.

If you enjoyed this, explore our other informative automotive reads.