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Your Rights: Defects, Repairs, and Lawsuits

We hope our cars will last for years, but sometimes they don't. Read on for advice on what to do if your car seems to spend more time in the shop than on the road.

Step One: Check for Recalls

If a defect is discovered in the design or manufacture of an automobile that affects that vehicle's safety, then the vehicle may be recalled by the manufacturer or by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). This means that owners of recalled vehicles are entitled to bring their cars into dealerships and get the defective parts repaired or replaced free of charge.

Dealerships are required to notify owners of recalls in a handful of states, and many manufacturers choose to notify consumers even in states where it is not required. However, many car owners never receive notice of pending recalls. These owners must rely on the NHTSA, which keeps track of all pending recalls on its website.

Most dealerships perform recall remedies quickly and easily, but some don't. If a dealership or a mechanic refuses to perform a remedy, be sure to complain to the manufacturer or the NHTSA. Correcting the defect may be necessary for the safe operation of your vehicle.

Step Two: Find Out if Your Car is a Lemon

Some cars never seem to work properly no matter how many repairs they get. These cars are known as "lemons." Technically, a lemon is a car that has a defect that substantially impairs the owner's ability to operate a car; that was present when the owner bought the car; and will not be repaired after a reasonable number of repair attempts.

Once you determine that your car is a lemon, you are entitled to a refund or a replacement vehicle. If the dealership refuses to replace your vehicle, speak with an attorney. She may be able to help you pursue your claim with the dealership and explain your other options to you.

Step Three: Think About a Product Liability Suit

We hope to learn and fix defects before they cause major damage, but we aren't always successful. In these cases, you might consider filing a product liability suit against the car manufacturer. In such a lawsuit, you would claim that the car was defective when you first purchased the vehicle, that you were using the vehicle in a manner intended by the manufacturer, and that you suffered damages as a result of the defect in the vehicle. Unlike many other kinds of law suits, there is no need to show that the manufacturer acted carelessly or made any error when producing the car.

These standards even apply when the car was in an accident due to driver error. Each car sold in the U.S. is supposed to be "crashworthy," in other words, that the car should be able to protect its drivers and passengers in the event of a collision. Of course, not every injury is preventable, but vehicles should include basic safety features such as seat belts, strong frames, and airbags.

Finally, if you think you might sue your car manufacturer, consult with an attorney as soon as possible. Most states have time limits, known as statutes of limitations, for bringing lawsuits.

For more information, see FindLaw's sections on Lemons and Stages of a Personal Injury Case.

Get a Free Case Review

Let the buyer beware is a great principle, but sometimes when a seller passes off a defective product it simply isn't fair. Fortunately, the law may provide remedies to many of those who purchase defective goods. Contact a qualified local attorney for a free consultation to discuss your situation and learn your recovery options.

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