Home Consumer Protection Massachusetts Lemon Laws

Massachusetts Lemon Laws

muccilegal January 29, 2024

Massachusetts, like other U.S. states, has its own specific Lemon Laws that give purchasers of defective cars certain legal rights as consumers. Calling a defective car a “lemon” is something that has been around for at least the last 100 years. The term “lemon” presumably derives from the sour taste in the mouth that might arise after buying a vehicle that wasn’t as good as one was led to believe!

Each state has its own Lemon Laws but basically they all refer to regulations about vehicles that have defects discovered after purchase. Massachusetts has three main Lemon Laws. These are:

  • New Lemon Law: this law applies to the purchase of new vehicles;
  • Used Car Lemon Law: this law applies to the purchase of used vehicles from a dealer;
  • Private Sale Lemon Law: this law applies to the purchase of used vehicles from a private individual, i.e. someone who is not a used car dealer.

New Lemon Laws in Massachusetts

If you buy a new car from a licensed dealer, and the vehicle has a defect which affects its use, or makes it unsafe or affects its market value, you can pursue compensation from the dealer under Massachusetts’s New Lemon Law. There are certain conditions which apply before compensation can be sought.

  1. The purchase of the car must have been for use by an individual or family, not a business.
  2. You must be able to prove that the defect is “substantial”, i.e. it is not just cosmetic or a minor problem which can be rectified easily. The defect must affect the car’s ability to be used, or make it unsafe to use, or be so serious that it “substantially” affects its potential resale value. The best way to prove that the resale value has been “substantially reduced” is to get the car appraised by an independent assessor. Anything more than a 10% reduction in value within the term of protection is considered a valid reduction for compensation.
  3. There is a time and/or mileage limit that applies to the use of the Lemon Law. You have one year from the date of purchase or 15,000 miles of use within which you can seek compensation from the dealer. This is known as the “term of protection”.
  4. The dealer or a nominated repair shop must have the opportunity to repair the defect at least three times before any further step can be taken. If none of the three repairs rectify the defect, then one further repair attempt can be made.

Compensation for a defective new car

The dealer may offer one of two types of compensation. You can keep your defective car until compensation is finalized.

  1. A replacement car. If the dealer does not have an exact replacement, a more expensive option cannot be forced on the purchaser. The new term of protection starts on the date of the acquisition of the replacement. Registration transfer fees and sales tax which were paid for the original car must be paid by the dealer.
  2. The contract value of the car in cash plus associated expenses. The refund must take into account any trade-in deal that was negotiated with the dealer originally as well as additional costs such as transfer of registration, sales tax etc. A reasonable deduction for the time/mileage you have used the car will be made. This is calculated as the contract price/100,000 x mileage car has been used. For example, if you bought the car for $40,000 and used it for 3,000 miles before its defects were notified to the dealer, the deduction would be 40,000 x 3,000 /100,000 = $1,200, which would indicate a $38,800 refund.

Used Car Lemon Law

Car dealers must repair or refund defective new cars

The Used Car Lemon Law is basically similar to the New Lemon Law but applies to a used car that was purchased from a dealer in Massachusetts that had been driven under 125,000 miles on the odometer at the time of sale and cost more than $700. In Massachusetts, a “dealer” is defined as someone who sells more than 3 cars in any 12 month period. The dealer may not necessarily be a licensed used car dealer, though.

Like the conditions attached to seeking compensation for defects in a new car, there are also conditions attached to used cars. These are as follows.

  1. The mileage and sale price limits mentioned already above.
  2. Cosmetic details e.g. appearance, color changes, etc., are not included.
  3. If the car has been repaired by someone other than the dealer or an authorized agent, then this invalidates the warranty.
  4. If the car has been “substantially” altered after purchase, then this invalidates the warranty.
  5. If the defects are caused by an accident, or neglect, or vandalism, then these defects are insufficient to be used to seek compensation.

The Used Car Warranty

Used car dealers must attempt a repair or buy back a defective used car

When purchasing a used car from a dealer, you should receive a written warranty from the dealer. The dealer cannot opt out of providing the warranty unless the vehicle has more than 125,000 miles on the odometer. The warranty must be dated and signed and state the term of protection that the warranty covers.

The term of warrant depends on the mileage of the car on the date of sale. The more miles it has done, the less time the warranty is valid for. For example, the term of protection for any car that had been driven under 40,000 miles at the date of sale is 90 days or 3,750 miles of use. For cars sold when they had done between 80,000 and 125,000 miles, the term of protection is 30 days or 1,250 miles from the date of purchase.

If you encounter a substantial defect in the car during the term of protection, you need to notify the dealer within 3 days of the need for a repair. The dealer cannot refuse to repair it but can offer to buy back the car or get the car repaired by another repair yard. The dealer has three attempts to get the car repaired satisfactorily. Repairs then carry an additional 30 day warranty.

Note that there are numerous further details that cover Used Car Lemon Laws that you should find out about so that you are dealt with fairly by the dealer.

Private Sale Lemon Law

This Lemon Law applies to sales of used cars by someone other than a dealer, e.g. a private individual. Private sellers of used cars must inform the potential buyer of any known defects that the car has before any sale has taken place. If you buy a car and it has an obvious defect that you have discovered within 30 days of purchase, you have the right under the Private Sale Lemon Law to ask for a refund. The catch is that you must have some evidence that the car was knowingly sold by the seller with a defect but the seller did not reveal the defect.

Like with the other two Lemon Laws, the defect must substantially affect the effective use of the car or render it unsafe to drive.

The refund value of the car is the total price that was originally paid minus a deduction for the use of the car after its sale. This is calculated at 15 cents a mile.

Unlike seeking compensation from a dealer or manufacturer, canceling a sale with a private seller can be more difficult. You may need convincing evidence that the defect should have been obvious to the seller before its sale. If the seller refuses to cancel the sale and return your purchase amount, you may need legal advice. If you decide to sue the seller, the small claims court may be a suitable option for amounts of less than $7,000. For more costly cars, you may need to file a lawsuit through the District Court.

For more information, visit our website Mucci Legal or contact us for a free initial legal consultation today.


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