Legislating lemons - Women and the Law

If your car still has that new car smell, but is as reliable as the one propped up on its axles in your cousin's driveway, take heart. Connecticut, as most other states, has a law that protects consumers from being saddled with a vehicle that qualifies for citrus status.

Connecticut's "lemon law" (which can be found at C.G.S. Section 42-179 et seq.) applies to new passenger vehicles, combination (passenger and commercial) vehicles and motorcycles purchased or leased in Connecticut. This law covers any defect or condition that substantially impairs the use, safety or value of the motor vehicle to the consumer, as long as the defect or condition was not caused by her actions or neglect.

The unsatisfactory condition of the car must be reported to the manufacturer (or its authorized dealer) within two years from the delivery date or the first 24,000 miles of operation, whichever occurs first. The manufacturer then has the opportunity to correct the problem, but not the right of endless attempts to do so. The law presumes that the manufacturer has had a reasonable opportunity to correct the problem if the car has either been repaired four or more times or is out of service for a cumulative total of 30 days during this 2 year/24,000 mile period. The manufacturer is also assumed to have had a reasonable opportunity to correct the problem if the vehicle has a serious problem (likely to cause death or serious injury if driven), it has repaired the same defect at least twice within one year of delivery or during the express warranty period and the problem still exists. If the manufacturer is unable to correct a problem that meets these criteria, it must replace the vehicle or refund the consumer.

If you are the unlucky soul that has acquired such an automotive dud, it will be important to keep records and logs of your service visits and what work was performed. Ask the dealer for any Technical Service Bulletins, which are instructions from the manufacturer that alert dealerships of specific defects or necessary repairs in certain models. Finally, prepare a timeline, organizing each repair by date and work performed and including any phone calls and in-person contact.

If the car's repair history meets the "lemon" criteria it is essential to review your owner's manual/warranty booklet to determine whether the manufacturer or leasing company requires a written notice of a claim. If so, notice should be provided in accordance with the notice requirements. A concurrent request for arbitration can be filed with the Department of Consumer Protection. The Connecticut Lemon Law establishes arbitration as an informal process for resolving disputes between consumers and automobile manufacturers. The Better Business Bureau offers a comprehensive review of the Connecticut lemon law on its website http://www.lemonlaw.bbb.org. The Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection also has a great deal of lemon law information and all of the arbitration forms available online at http://www.ct.gov/dcp/site/default.asp.

Julie Donaldson Kohler is an attorney and principal of the firm of Hurwitz Sagarin & Slossberg in Milford and can be contacted at jkohler@hss-law.com or 203-877-8000.