The Dangers of DIY Lemon Law Claims


By Attorney Terrence M. Polich

Many people try to pursue a Lemon Law claim on their own without hiring an attorney.   After all, the Lemon Law is supposed to be a self-enforcing consumer statute, providing lemon owners with a full refund or a comparable new vehicle.  What can possibly go wrong?  The answer is, unfortunately, plenty. 

Despite lawmakers’ intent in designing the Lemon Law, vehicle manufacturers employ numerous traps for the unwary lemon owner.  The following are but a few: 

1.        The extended warranty.  The manufacturer offers an “extended warranty” in exchange for a release of claims.  This is a common initial offer.  An extended warranty sounds attractive, but if you sign a release you may sign away your lemon law claim entirely.  If the vehicle still cannot be repaired under the extended warranty – or if more problems develop later, you are out of luck. 

Your Lemon Law rights may be extinguished when suit is not filed within three years of taking delivery of the lemon vehicle.  The extended warranty offer in many cases is a stalling tactic used to keep you from consulting with a lawyer and filing suit within the three-year statute of limitations applicable to these claims.

2.       “We’ll trade you out of the vehicle.”  The manufacturer offers to “upgrade” you into a new replacement vehicle “MSRP to MSRP” or “Option to Option.”  You pay any difference between the MSRPs or for any option upgrades.  This kind of “trade out” can cost you thousands of dollars you are not required to pay under the Lemon Law. 

The Lemon Law provides either a full refund with a small use deduction or a substantially similar replacement vehicle free of charge.  The law requires the manufacturer to pay off the financing on the lemon vehicle if you accept the refund option.  The does not require you to reimburse the manufacturer for a higher MSRP on the substantially similar replacement vehicle if you select that option.  There is no reason to pay the manufacturer to do something the law already requires it to do -- essentially for free. 

3.       Arbitration.  Wisconsin’s Lemon Law requires consumers to resort to the state certified dispute settlement mechanism of the manufacturer before a lawsuit is filed.  These dispute settlement mechanisms are typically pro-manufacturer and do not order appropriate Lemon Law relief.  Representatives of these entities often try to convince you to take less than you deserve.  Don’t fall for it. 

Remember, the Lemon Law entitles qualifying vehicle owners to obtain a full refund, less a small use deduction, or a substantially similar replacement vehicle.  Binding arbitration is not required under Wisconsin’s Lemon Law.  You should not agree to binding arbitration under any circumstances. 

Spending time and effort in the manufacturer’s certified dispute settlement mechanism usually slows down the process by which you can obtain real relief or worse, convinces you to take less than you deserve.  Participate in the state-certified dispute settlement mechanism only in paper form.  Be wary of offers made in this context as they may not provide the relief you are entitled to.  If you receive an adverse decision from a certified dispute settlement mechanism, you do not have to accept it.  You can still go forward with your Lemon Law claim. 

4.       The customer service black hole.  In many cases the lemon owner does what the manufacturer’s warranty guide tells them to do:  contact customer service and start “a claim.”  The consumer is then given the full run around as they are passed off from representative to representative.  None of these people can ever seem to get the problem resolved or any satisfactory answers -- let alone a full refund or replacement vehicle.  The manufacturers’ customer service operations are so bad that they seem designed to exhaust and frustrate you to the point where you will just give up and go away without pursuing Lemon Law relief. 

Don’t get sucked into the black hole of customer service.  If you think you may have a lemon, contact a qualified, experienced Lemon Law attorney. 

Attorney Polich is a partner at Lawton & Cates, S.C. He has been helping consumers and winning Lemon Law cases throughout Wisconsin for over 20 years.