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You recently purchased a new car, and everything is going great. You drive it to your parents’ house to show off your new ride and head over to your girlfriend’s house to treat her to a night on the town. However, you pull up to a stop sign a few blocks away from her house and the car stalls. It won’t move, and you have no idea what is happening.

You may just have bought a lemon car.

What makes a car a lemon?

The term for lemon used to describe unpleasant people or things in the 19th century – relating to the sour taste of a lemon. Over time, we picked up “lemon” for motor vehicles that do not work properly. Now we have lemon laws that protect buyers from purchasing lemons on accident.

Each state has their own law for addressing lemons, but in the state of Virginia, your car has to meet one of three qualifications to be classified as a lemon:

  1. Have unsuccessfully undergone three attempts at repair
  2. Had one attempt at repair of a serious safety defect
  3. Have been out of service for at least 30 days

Your vehicle is a lemon if any of these qualifications happen within the first 18 months of ownership.

What can I do with my lemon?

Virginia has one of the strongest lemon laws in the country. The lemon law, or Motor Vehicle Warranty Enforcement Act, protects consumers from unfair vehicle warranties and hold manufacturers accountable for their products. The act even covers leased vehicles and reasonable attorney’s fees.

If you cannot fix your lemon, you ask the manufacturers for either a replacement vehicle or a refund of the purchase price. You have to provide a written notice to the manufacturer, and the manufacturer gets one final attempt to fix it within 15 days.

If the manufacturer is not agreeing with either a replacement or refund, you can take legal action within 18 months. Typically, the state recommends you try arbitration – to avoid courtroom costs – or file a lawsuit.

Even if you go through arbitration and do not like the outcome, you could follow through on a lawsuit. However, you should consult with a legal advisor before making any major decisions. It is important to also keep detailed records of the repairs and damages to your car throughout the ownership period.