When you drive a new car off the dealer’s lot, it immediately loses up to 11% of its value. A year later, and it could be worth 25% less than what you paid for it. This depreciation occurs naturally, and not as the result of any defects in the car. In fact, this rapid depreciation is one reason that many people favor buying used cars over new.
However, in Ohio, buying a new car comes with some perks, even aside from the bragging rights. Specifically, consumers who buy new cars are protected by Ohio’s lemon law in the event their pricey purchase turns out to be, well, a lemon. In this article, we consider what Ohio’s lemon law is and how it works to protect new-car purchasers.
What are consumers’ rights under Ohio’s lemon law?
The lemon law defines three major rights for Ohio consumers that buy new motor vehicles:
- The right to repairs of defects during the first year after purchase or the first 18,000 miles of operation, whichever provides the shorter period.
- The right to replacement or refund if defects cannot be repaired.
- The right to sue for violations of the lemon law.
The law also requires manufacturers, directly or indirectly, to provide consumers with a notice of their rights under the law.
Statutory Definitions and the Right to Repairs
O.R.C. § 1345.72(A) imposes on manufacturers a duty to repair new motor vehicles that do “not conform to [an] applicable express warranty” if a “consumer reports the nonconformity” within the first year after purchase or 18,000 miles of operation, whichever is earlier.
Understanding the scope of manufacturers’ duty under 1345.72(A) requires knowing how the law defines the terms that we italicized above. For instance, the law only protects consumers who buy new motor vehicles — but what do those terms mean? Thankfully, we can look to O.R.C. § 1345.71 for a handy glossary, from which we’ve drawn the following summaries:
- Motor vehicles include passenger cars, noncommercial motor vehicles, and portions of motor homes. They do not include vehicles used in a business (except for farm trucks), mobile homes, recreational vehicles, or manufactured homes.
- An express warranty is a manufacturer’s or distributor’s written warranty for a new motor vehicle concerning the vehicle’s condition and fitness for use.
- Consumers include (1) the purchaser of a new motor vehicle, unless he or she purchased the vehicle for resale purposes; (2) a lessee of a motor vehicle under a lease for 30 days or more; (3) anyone to whom the vehicle is transferred while an express warranty applies; and (4) any other person entitled to enforce the warranty according to its terms.
- Finally, a nonconformity is a defect or condition that substantially impairs the use, value, or safety of a motor vehicle and does not conform to the manufacturer’s or distributor’s express warranty.
The Right to Replacement or Refund
Under O.R.C. § 1345.72(B), if a manufacturer can’t repair a motor vehicle by correcting a nonconformity after a reasonable number of repair attempts, it must, at the consumer’s option, either replace the motor vehicle with a new one acceptable to the consumer or accept a return of the motor vehicle and refund the full purchase price plus incidental damages.
Generally, a “reasonable number of repair attempts” means that:
- The same nonconformity has been subject to repair at least three times, and continues to exist or recurs;
- The vehicle is out of service because of repair for a cumulative total of at least 30 calendar days;
- There have been at least eight attempts to repair any nonconformities; or
- There has been at least one attempt to repair a nonconformity that is likely to cause death or serious bodily injury if the vehicle is driven, and the nonconformity continues to exist or recurs.
Lawsuits under Ohio’s Lemon Laws
If a manufacturer fails to comply with the repair, replace, or refund requirements described above, then O.R.C. § 1345.75 authorizes a consumer to file a lawsuit against the manufacturer. A prevailing plaintiff in such cases is entitled to repair, replacement, or a refund, plus reasonable attorney’s fees and all court costs.
However, the consumer’s cause of action under O.R.C. § 1345.75 is subject to some defenses by the manufacturer:
- Statute of limitations. A consumer has only five years to sue the manufacturer after the date when the motor vehicle was delivered. If the consumer’s suit is not timely, the manufacturer can ask the court to dismiss the case, and the court will normally do so.
- Abuse, neglect, or modification. A manufacturer is not liable if the nonconformity that the consumer complains of resulted from abuse, neglect, or the unauthorized modification or alteration of the vehicle by someone other than the manufacturer.
Additionally, a consumer may be required to take his or her claim against a manufacturer to arbitration before filing suit. O.R.C. § 1345.77(B) imposes this requirement in circumstances where a manufacturer requires arbitration, notifies the consumer about that fact, and the Ohio attorney general has approved the process of arbitration used by the manufacturer.
Ohio’s lemon law protects consumers against defects discovered shortly after a new car is bought. However, manufacturers can try to play games with consumers’ complaints by forcing them to arbitration or even blaming them for the defective condition in the car. Successfully pursuing a claim against the manufacturer of a new car that ends up being a lemon often requires hiring an Ohio lemon-law attorney.
If you recently bought a new car that ended up defective, and the manufacturer or dealer is giving you the runaround, contact the lawyers of Dyer, Garofalo, Mann & Schultz today for help with your case. We offer free case reviews and work diligently to ensure your rights under Ohio’s lemon law are protected.
Prior to forming Dyer, Garofalo, Mann & Schultz, Doug worked as a bodily injury claims adjuster for a large insurance company. This unique experience has been a tremendous asset to Doug in his fight to achieve maximum cash settlements for his clients in minimum time. Since departing from the insurance company, Doug has dedicated his entire legal career to helping injured clients when they need it the most.