By James Limbach

September 16, 2010
Help is available to Connecticut consumers who think they've bought a "lemon" -- a new passenger vehicle or motorcycle that is at the shop for the same problem week after week.

But, for that to happen, they have take part in the state's Lemon Law Program, said Connecticut Consumer Protection Commissioner Jerry.

"People may be missing an opportunity to receive repayment or even a new vehicle from the manufacturer if they don't take advantage of this low-cost arbitration program," Farrell said. "But documentation is extremely important. An owner who keeps bringing his car back for the same problem needs to be certain that the problem -- the car's 'symptoms,' if you will -- get included on each repair order."

Under state law, the auto shop must provide consumers with a written repair order when they pick up their vehicles. The repair order must contain the customer's complaint, the date, the mechanic's proposed diagnosis and solution, and the amount paid.

"Make sure you check your repair order carefully while you're still at the shop," Farrell said. "If all those details are not spelled out in writing -- especially the specific problem your vehicle is having -- ask that the information be entered in, and get the shop to print you a revised repair order."

Be thorough

Vague documentation will not be enough to qualify the car as a "lemon" under the guidelines of the state program, Farrell said. To qualify for arbitration under the "Lemon Law" all of the following conditions must be met:

• 1. the consumer must have purchased or leased the vehicle in Connecticut and it must have a passenger, combination or motorcycle registration;

• 2. the defect must be covered by the manufacturer's written warranty;

• 3. the same defect must occur four times within the first 24,000 miles or two years, whichever first occurs, or, the vehicle must be out of service for more than 30 days for repair for any defects during the 24,000 miles/two year time period; and

• 4. the manufacturer must have been given a reasonable opportunity to repair the defect (this requirement is met if the vehicle has been subject to repair four times, or, two times in the first twelve months for a defect that poses a serious risk of death or bodily injury) and in some situations, based upon the facts, one repair attempt could be sufficient.

The vehicle owner must pay a one-time $50 fee to apply for the arbitration program.

Peter from Winsted, CT, who could likely benefit from the program, tells of a stalling problem he had with his Jeep Commander Limited, 4.7L. "The dealer has looked at it and has found no solution," he writes "All they tell us is it is a result of poor design. That is unacceptable, my wife drives this car and her safety is at risk. Even one of the repair employees laughed it off and said, 'oh it happens to me all the time, it is kind of fun.' Fun for who? I am so angry."

As long as the vehicle was bought in Connecticut, and all other criteria are met, even a person living in another state is protected by Connecticut's Automobile Dispute Settlement Program, commonly known as the Lemon Law.

"As the first program of its type in the United States, Connecticut's Automobile Dispute Settlement Program has provided relief to about 6,400 owners of defective new passenger vehicles and motorcycles," Farrell said. "Manufacturer defects can quickly turn a 'dream car' into a financial and logistical nightmare, and consumers can't afford to shoulder the cost of this burden. We're fortunate to have the Lemon Law program available to provide cost-effective, timely arbitration to resolve disputes between consumers and automobile manufacturers."

The Automobile Dispute Settlement Program closed the 2009-2010 fiscal year with $1,063,000 awarded to consumers in cash and replacement vehicles. Since 1984 the program has returned nearly $55 million to consumers in cash refunds and replacement automobiles.

Connecticut, of course, is not the only state with a Lemon Law. All 50 states and the District of Columbia have them. A list of the states, with the provisions of their laws, can be found here.