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Lemon Laws

South Carolina has a lemon law that applies only to new vehicles. This law protects consumers who purchase or lease a new car, if the new car turns out to be defective. New means: (1) the vehicle was sold to a dealer by the manufacturer, (2) it was only used for test drives and (3) title has not been issued. A new car is considered to be a lemon if it meets three conditions. The first condition is that the car’s problems or defects show up within the first twelve months or the first 12,000 miles, whichever comes first. The second condition is that the problem causes a lot of trouble with the car's use, market value or safety. The third condition is that the manufacturer or dealer cannot repair the car within a reasonable time.

Under this law a reasonable time is considered to be either three attempts to repair the same problem or loss of use of the car for thirty or more days when the car is being repaired. The thirty days do not have to be in a row. They can be the total days out of service.

Even if the car meets all of these requirements, it still will not be a lemon if the problem was caused by your abuse, neglect or unauthorized alteration of the car. Alterations are not just repairs, they are adding something to the car or making changes in the car. So if you plan to have alterations made in your new car, be sure to have the manufacturer or dealer make the alterations or have the manufacturer approve them before they are made.

If your new car is a lemon, the manufacturer must do one of three things. The manufacturer must either repair the car, replace the car or take it back and refund your money. The manufacturer, not you, has the choice of whether to replace the car or to take it back and refund your money.

To get repairs, replacement, or a refund, you may have to do several things yourself. First, you must give the manufacturer notice of the problems with the car within the twelve month/12,000 mile time period. Giving notice to the dealer where you bought the car is not the same as giving notice to the manufacturer. You will be better off if you give this notice in writing. Second, you may have to give written notice to the manufacturer that the car has not been repaired during previous attempts and you are giving final written notice to get the car repaired. You will have to give the manufacturer this final chance if the manufacturer mentioned or put in writing the final chance to repair at the time you purchased the car. This final chance gives the manufacturer an extra ten business days to repair the car. Third, you must go through any arbitration procedure the manufacturer uses. Arbitration is an informal procedure set up to help resolve disputes. This procedure is usually faster and cheaper than court. The arbitration procedure should not cost you any money. Also, a decision will usually be made within forty days. Any decision made in the arbitration proceeding is binding on the manufacturer, but if you are not satisfied you can still file a law suit. If you do go to court to force the manufacturer to replace the car or to take it back and refund your money and you win in court, you may also be entitled to recover court costs, reasonable attorney's fees and any expenses that were caused by the car's problems.

When you buy or lease a new car, it is important to buy only from reputable dealers. Read everything carefully, especially the warranty, and keep all papers and receipts. Also, when repairs are made under a warranty, you should keep a log of the repair attempts. Each repair should be noted by dates, times, the types of repairs requested and so forth. Any failure to make a requested repair should be noted, along with any statements made by the service department employees.

If the lemon law does not cover the car you leased or purchased, you may still have rights under general sales and warranty laws. You can also file a complaint with the Department of Consumer Affairs at www.consumer.sc.gov or by calling 1-800-922-1594.

This information was prepared to give you some general information on the law. It is not intended as legal advice about any particular problem. If you have questions about the law you should consult a lawyer. If you do not know a lawyer, you can call the South Carolina Bar Lawyer Referral Service weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. The number is 799-7100 in Richland or Lexington Counties, and 1-800-868-2284 from other parts of the state.