So You Bought a Lemon

You’ve just shelled out thousands of dollars for a new car. You’ve been assured by the dealership that it’s a fantastic vehicle and you won’t have any problems. But then you’re driving your kids to school and your car just … stops working. Or even worse, you’re on the highway on the way to work and your car breaks down apropos of nothing. The worst case scenario for every new car owner has come true for you. You bought a lemon.

What is a lemon?

The term ‘lemon’ refers to any extremely disappointing or underperforming investment. In the auto industry, it refers specifically to a defective, malfunctioning, or poorly conditioned car wherein the buyer is unaware of the vehicle’s true nature.

Reliability is one of the top factors that influences new car buyers, and a lemon is inherently contrary to that. Lemons are unpredictable and (often times) unsafe.

Are there laws to protect you?

There are things called ‘lemon laws’ in almost every state in the US that protects customers who have purchased faulty vehicles. The same, alas, cannot be said for most of Canada. The only provinces with any sort of ‘lemon laws’ in place are Ontario, Nova Scotia and Manitoba, and they’re still far from ideal. In Manitoba, for instance, the actual definition of what a lemon is not well laid out, and all three provinces’ lemon laws fail to target private sellers (only licensed dealers).

Luckily, Ontario tends to take buying and selling used vehicles fairly seriously and has strict rules that dealers and private sellers must abide by. Buyers must be given a UVIP (used vehicle information package) which provides them with the VIN, plate number, make model and year of the vehicle they’re purchasing, the Ontario Vehicle registration and odometer information, any outstanding debts on the vehicle, the wholesale and retail values for the model and year (if available), and retail sales tax requirements, the bill of sale, and tips on vehicle safety standards inspections.

What can you do?

Your best option is to contact CAMVAP (the Canadian Motor Vehicle Arbitration Plan). While it’s funded by the auto industry, only five of the representatives on the policy board come directly from the auto industry. The other six members come from a mixture of government and the Consumer’s Association of Canada.

CAMVAP works in association with 80 arbitrators across the country so it’s usually not difficult to find one close to home. They will hear both your side and the manufacturer’s side of the case before viewing (and possibly test-driving the car) before making a decision.

Outcomes range from your claim being dismissed to the manufacturer being forced to buy back your car. CAMVAP can also order repairs and compensate you for the money you’ve already spent fixing the car.

How to spot a lemon before buying

If you’re in the market for a car, there are some things you can do to ensure you’re not being duped. Unsurprisingly, they all have to do with inspecting the car thoroughly before purchase.

Make sure you look over these areas of your car very carefully:

  • Window sticker
  • Exterior
  • Interior
  • Under the hood
  • Tires
  • Steering
  • Suspension
  • Tail pipe
  • Try out the gas pedal

Consumer Reports goes into more detail over what specifically you should be looking for.

You should also make sure to check the reliability record, check for recalls and TSBs (Technical Service Bulletins), check the vehicle’s history and visit a mechanic to have your car thoroughly inspected before purchase.