The Edmond Sun

January 18, 2013

How to determine when a car is really a lemon

Matt Hopkins
Special to The Sun

EDMOND — Q: My new car is a lemon. Can I make the dealer take it back?

A: Ah, the smell of a new car. Nothing quite like cruising around town cradled in supple leather you will fully own after 72 equal payments. Nothing could damper the joy that comes from the air-conditioned seats and voice-activated navigation. Nothing except that extremely annoying and constant pop that sounds every time you brake while turning right. Or the inability to shift into reverse in cold weather. Or the car’s refusal to start after a hard rain. Those things can turn the sweet aroma of new leather into the terrible stench of regret and injustice. Yes. Smells like lemons.

If you have heard of the lemon law, you also may have heard the phrase caveat emptor. Let the buyer beware. And that is where your dilemma starts. Generally, when you buy something, the law lets you do it at your own peril. Look it over. Kick the tires. Once you sign the papers, it is yours — freckles and all.

But manufacturers developed warranties to entice us to buy more freely. And that is where the lemon law comes in. Oklahoma’s lemon law provides some protection to buyers in your situation. But only some.

Who is protected? The law protects buyers of new vehicles that weigh under 10,000 pounds. But the lemon law doesn’t guaranty your right to love your new car. The defect in your vehicle must be covered by the car’s warranty, must substantially impair the car’s use and value and must not be caused by your abuse or neglect.

So what should you do? Report the defect in writing to the dealer or manufacturer within the earlier of the warranty period or one year from delivery of the car. If the dealer and manufacturer cannot fix the defect within four tries, or the car is out of service because of repairs for a total of 30 business days during the shorter of the warranty period or one year from delivery, you have yourself a lemon.

So what now? Your warranty may require you to participate in dispute resolution at some point during the process, so read its terms carefully. You may ultimately be entitled to return the car for a full refund, less the value of the use you got out of the car, according to a statutory formula. Go to for more detail.

MATT HOPKINS is an attorney for Lester, Loving & Davies P.C. More information is available at Send questions to