Thomas McCutcheon

Probably every Alabama lawyer is asked about the automobile lemon law. Let’s talk about how it applies, when it applies, and what it does.

First, the Alabama lemon law only applies to the sale of new automobiles. If you bought a used car, it doesn’t apply you. If the vehicle was purchased for commercial use such as for use in a business like to transport show dogs (true story) the lemon law does not apply. The vehicle must be used for personal or family purposes and does not apply to motor homes or vehicles that weigh more than 10,000 pounds.

Second, the lemon applies during the first year or 12,000 miles, whichever first occurs. However, if the problem occurs and is reported during this period, the lemon applies.

Here’s how it works. The lemon law applies if the same condition has been subject to repair attempts three or more times by an authorized dealer plus a final attempt by the manufacturer or the car is out of service for more than 30 days cumulatively (meaning that the days don’t have to be consecutive).

The remedy (which is what you’re entitled to if you win) is a refund of the full contract price including all dealer prep, options, sales tax, license and registration fees. When it happened to me personally, at the local Ford dealership with a Lincoln Navigator, they treated me so well I was impressed. They tried to fix it, brought in a manufacturer’s rep and then gave me a brand new Navigator just like the one I had.

The reality of the lemon law that I think is not readily apparent is that everyone who buys a new car signs an agreement to arbitrate. This is a non-judicial method of resolving differences. I don’t think that it is particularly favorable to the consumer and is in place to protect businesses from both publicity and the judgment of a jury.

If I were to take a lemon law case, I would file the lawsuit in the county where the sale occurred and would not ask for a jury. I would expect the case to be moved to arbitration but the arbitrator is supposed to follow the Alabama lemon law and any other statutory warranty or common law claims that were brought in the lawsuit and found to be valid. The decisions of arbitrators typically are not reviewable unless the court retains jurisdiction to review the decisions and they generally don’t.

Buckle up, drive safely and as always, your referrals are appreciated! 256-764-0112

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