Elisabeth Answers Your Consumer Questions

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It's time once again for me to address the questions that are on your minds, my readers. Here are three letters with questions that are relevant to so many of us. I hope my answers are helpful to you.

Question: I purchased a 2007 [vehicle] from [dealership] in Charlotte N.C. It had 32 miles on it. It is eight months later and I have had the vehicle back a number of five times. October: vehicle hard to steer, pulling to the right; November: transmission fluid leakage, bolts not put on correctly; January: popping noise when turning steering wheel, severe hesitation when trying to pick-up speed. Feb/March: hesitation and popping in the wheel more severe.

Click Here to Ask Elisabeth Your Consumer Questions About This Topic or Any Other Consumer Issue

As a teacher, I have to drive to my students using my own vehicle, and every time I get in this vehicle — every time I pull into traffic — I wonder if this will be the day that I don't return home. I cannot afford a lawyer, but I will continue to fight this injustice if I have to represent myself. I continue to make my car payments because my credit is good (at this point). I will tell anyone who will listen … I was sold a "lemon" by this dealership. And according to the North Carolina lemon law, I am well within my rights.

— DM, Charlotte, N.C.

Answer: Congratulations, DM, you have actually made a lot more progress than many motorists just by knowing there are such things as lemon laws and how they work. For those unfamiliar, here's the deal. To the general public: a "lemon"" is slang for a crummy car — one that gives you a sour feeling and makes you pucker up your face. To the government, a lemon is a crummy new car.

This distinction causes a lot of confusion. Plenty of consumers call me to complain about the lemons they've bought. The first thing I always ask is "new or used?" The callers always seem surprised. I guess they're wondering what could be wrong with a new car. The answer is plenty.

Each state's lemon law is a little different. Generally, you must have purchased or leased the car brand new. In some cases you can make a claim if the previous owner bought the car a short time ago and then quickly sold it to you. Some state lemon laws only cover vehicles used primarily for personal use. Others include cars and SUVs but exclude motorcycles. Each state sets a time and mileage limit. For example, you may be required to make a lemon law claim within 15 months or 15,000 miles of buying the vehicle. Explore the lemon law in your state for details.

Each state also defines what counts as a lemon. For example, in one state if the dealer can't correct critical brake or steering problems in one try, the car's considered a lemon. In another, a car is defined as a lemon if the dealer has tried and failed three times to repair a repeat flaw. In a third state, the lemon law covers new cars that have been in the shop for a cumulative total of more than 30 days.

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