Apologies for the Image. Have you got the Bill Clinton of transportation parked in your garage–a car or truck that’s constantly causing problems? If so, you may have a lemon. Here are some signs to look for:
Problems That Shouldn’t Occur
One of the defining characteristics of a lemon is that it afflicts you with problems that just shouldn’t happen to a new car. For example, engine failure, a dead transmission, and paint that fades or peels, even though the car is only six months old.
They Can’t Seem to Fix It
Any problem that just won’t go away is a sure sign of a lemon. It probably means the component (or design) is defective, and that replacing it with another bad component won’t ever fix the problem. In most states, after three to four attempts to fix the same problem, a vehicle is usually eligible for redress under applicable lemon laws.
It’s In the Shop More Than It’s in Your Driveway
In most states, if your car spends more than 30 days during its first year of existence back at the dealer as the result of a problem or repair issue, it has met one of the primary qualifications to be labeled a lemon. Pucker-up, buttercup!
If you are thinking about buying a certain model car or truck and notice that prices on 1- to 2-year-old examples are vastly lower than the original new-car sticker price, then watch out. Dealers may be trying to unload the lemon cart right into your driveway. It’s a bad sign, in the first place, if a lot of first-time buyers dumped their nearly new vehicle back on the dealer’s lot. What does that tell you about how much they liked it? And it’s another bad sign if the prices are “fire sale” giveaways, and the salesman seems just a bit too eager to “work with you.” Compare the car’s original MSRP “sticker price” with the price being asked now. If the car is two years old or less, the depreciation shouldn’t be more than 35% of MSRP. If it is, be careful. While the car may not be a lemon in the sense that it is problem plagued, it may just be an unpleasant, unattractive model that no one wants. And neither do you.
You’ve probably seen ads for these. Typically, they are current model year vehicles sold as “new”–but which have some miles on them. Some are dealer “demos” driven by the sales staff, and that’s not so bad. You can get a really good deal sometimes on one of these cars, if you don’t mind that someone else has already been driving your “new” car. But some “program cars” are ex-media test vehicles, driven by one lead-foot automotive journalist after another.
This can include track time, and some severe street driving, too. Most media fleet vehicles are in circulation for a couple of months, during which they rack up 5,000 to 10,000 miles–really hard miles. The problem is you aren’t going to be able to tell whether a “program car” was puttering around the dealership, or being beaten to within an inch of its life by a crazed automotive journalist. Be cautious about “program cars,” and consider buying an extended warranty, if it’s available.