You bought something that is defective - a car, boat or a washing machine. If the seller and the manufacturer won't - or can't - honor the warranty, then you need to know about the following three laws. They are in order of importance so take note.

All of this presupposes you bought something with a warranty from a merchant. I am not talking about things you bought at a garage sale or from some dude on Craig's List. The laws are in descending order of importance. And there is an overlap as well. You may be able to invoke more than one law at a time, depending on what your product is.


The Lemon Law

When it will help: You bought a new car or truck which is defective.

How can it help? All 50 states have lemon laws and generally they apply when a brand new vehicle has a defect that cannot be fixed after four repair attempts (some states say three) or 25 to 30 days in the shop. If you hit one of those two thresholds, the manufacturer must buy your vehicle back for a refund or swap you into a new, non-defective replacement. They must also pay your attorney fees and court costs. In other words: If you have a good lemon law claim, it will cost you nothing to pursue it with an attorney. If your problem is with a non-new car which still has a warranty in place OR a new car which doesn't quite fit the Lemon Law, proceed to the next law.


The Magnuson Moss Warranty Act

When it will help: You bought a defective consumer product that came with a warranty.

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How can it help? This is a Federal statute that covers any consumer product with a manufacturer's warranty. It overlaps with the lemon laws and covers things other than cars or trucks. This is what you will be looking at if you bought a bad RV, ATV, motorcycle, watercraft and so on since most state lemon laws do not cover those things. This law does not have the bright line of the four times or 30-days down limits but applies to items which cannot be repaired after a "reasonable" number of repair attempts. The law allows for a refund or replacement as well, along with attorney fees and court costs. The tricky part is knowing what "reasonable" is, which can vary from case to case. If you have a lemon law claim, you can also use this law since the two overlap. And like the lemon law claim, many attorneys will handle Magnuson Moss claims without charging you for fees since the fees are recoverable from the other side if you win.


The Uniform Commercial Code

When it will help: You bought a non-consumer product which is defective.

How can it help? This law governs the sale of goods and is the source of most warranty law in 49 states and sometimes Louisiana. The rights to reject nonconforming goods or to return goods which cannot be repaired arise from the UCC. Likewise, the definitions of what constitute a warranty come from here. This law does not explicitly allow for the recovery of attorney fees from the other side so it is not as lovable as the laws above. Still, if it's all you have, it will help. And, this law overlaps with the Magnuson Moss cases and the Lemon Law cases. Since this law covers the sales of all goods, it covers more transactions than the preceding laws. But since it does not allow for the recovery of fees and costs, it means that many smaller cases will not be economically feasible to pursue unless you want to DIY in small claims.


There you have it. And as I said, the laws overlap such that if you have a Lemon Law claim you also have a Magnuson Moss and UCC claim. If you have a Magnuson Moss claim, you also have a UCC claim. It's just the poor UCC claim which sometimes might be brought as a standalone (when you have a defective non-consumer good, for example). And why would you want to stack claims in the first place? Just in case you lose a count of your action on a technicality. File every cause of action you have. To paraphrase a famous quote: File them all; let the court sort them out.

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Steve Lehto is a writer and attorney and has been practicing law for 23 years, almost exclusively in consumer protection and Michigan lemon law. He wrote The Lemon Law Bible and Chrysler's Turbine Car: The Rise and Fall of Detroit's Coolest Creation.

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