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What To Know About The Virginia Lemon Law (2023)

The lemon law in Virginia dictates that a vehicle with a serious defect, or multiple defects that keep it in the shop for an extended period, must be repaired to satisfactory condition within a reasonable number of attempts or days.

If repair is not possible, the manufacturer must replace the vehicle with the same (or similar) vehicle or accept a return of the vehicle for its original purchase price.

Virginia Lemon Law Rules for New Cars

woman calls for help next to broken down car

Virginia’s lemon law is geared toward the newest vehicles with valid manufacturer warranties still attached.

This means it applies to all new vehicles sold at car lots.

Lemon Law Requirements for New Vehicles

The lemon law applies in Virginia if:

  • The vehicle is still under the original manufacturer’s warranty.
  • The problems with the vehicle begin within 18 months of purchase.
  • The issue with the vehicle “significantly impairs” the use, market value, or safety of the vehicle.
  • The vehicle came with the issue. (i.e. You didn’t drive it off the lot and immediately sideswipe a curb, jacking up the running board or suspension.)

If your car meets the definition of a “lemon” in Virginia, the car dealership/manufacturer is required to do one of the following things:

  • Repair the car within a reasonable number of attempts
  • Repair the car within a reasonable number of days
  • Replace the car with an identical or equivalent vehicle that is acceptable to you
  • Allow you to return the car for a full refund (minus a “reasonable allowance” for time used prior to the 1st notice to the manufacturer or dealer)

Repair the car within a reasonable number of attempts

What constitutes a reasonable number of attempts to repair a vehicle in Virginia is three (3).

The exception to this is if the issue with the vehicle is a “serious safety defect”, which reduces the number of failed attempts at repair to one (1).

If the dealer/manufacturer cannot repair the vehicle after three attempts (one in the case of serious safety defect), the manufacturer must allow you to return the car for an identical (or comparable) vehicle or refund.

Repair the car within a reasonable number of days

What constitutes a reasonable number of days in Virginia is 30.

If the vehicle is in the shop for more than 30 days for a combination of issues within the lemon law time period, it’s considered a lemon and the manufacturer must allow you to return the vehicle for an identical (or like) vehicle or refund.

These 30 days do not have to be consecutive. Instead, they are cumulative.

Any time your car is in the shop within the lemon law period counts toward your 30 days, even if they are months apart.

Replace the car with a “substantially identical” vehicle

If the manufacturer cannot repair the vehicle within the allotted number of attempts or days, they must allow you to return it.

When you return the car, you may request a replacement vehicle.

This replacement vehicle must be similar enough to the original vehicle (same make, model, have the same features, etc.) and acceptable to you.

The manufacturer must pay any additional taxes and fees associated with the exchange, as well as any incidental charges (interest, car rental fees, etc.), but may deduct an allowance for the time you used the vehicle up until they (or the dealership) were first notified of the issue.

This fee is calculated by a standard formula.

They may also deduct for any assessed damage.

Allow you to return the car for a full refund

If you do not want a replacement vehicle after your first vehicle turns out to be a lemon, you may request a refund instead.

When refunding a lemon, dealers must refund the full buying price of the car (including all taxes, fees and interest paid on the loan), minus the usage fee and deduction for assessed damage.

Virginia Lemon Law Rules for Used Cars

All vehicles within the lemon law coverage period are subject to the lemon law in Virginia.

This means very new previously-owned vehicles with low mileage may be eligible.

The lemon law applies to used cars in Virginia if:

  • The vehicle is still under the original manufacturer’s warranty.
  • The original warranty passed to the new owner.
  • The issue with the vehicle is covered by the warranty.
  • The issue with the vehicle was not caused by improper use by the former owner.
  • The vehicle is still within Virginia’s lemon law eligibility period.

Virginia Lemon Law Time Limit

The time limit in Virginia for filing a lemon law claim is 18 months or 12 months (one year) after the last action taken by the manufacturer in the lemon law dispute settlement procedure, whichever is later.

But first notice of the defect in the vehicle must be reported within the effective lemon law period.

The period in which you have to initially report a defect to the manufacturer is:

  • 18 months
  • During the manufacturer’s warranty term

Whichever comes first.

Once the defect is first reported to the manufacturer, the lemon law period extends for as long as the issue remains unfixed and you are in this midst of dispute resolution through the manufacturer.

When that dispute resolution ends (the manufacturer fails to repair the vehicle within the allotted three attempts or provide a replacement or refund), you still have 12 months to file a lemon law claim with the manufacturer’s arbitrator or through the courts.

How do I file a lemon law claim in Virginia?

Before filing a lemon law claim in Virginia, you must contact the manufacturer of the vehicle to try to get the issue resolved.

To do this, follow the instructions for dispute resolution in the warranty paperwork or owner’s manual that came with your vehicle.

Typically, this involves sending a certified letter with specific information to the address the manufacturer provides.

You can contact the manufacturer at any point after you first notice the defect to the vehicle.

You do not have to wait until after the third attempt at repairing the vehicle.

However, if you do wait until the third failed attempt at repairing the vehicle, you will have to give the manufacturer an additional (4th) attempt and 15 days to correct the issue.

So, it’s best to contact them earlier in the process (ideally after the 2nd attempt at repair when you have a record of ineffective repair attempts).

After the third repair attempt, if you have already notified the manufacturer, you may proceed with the dispute settlement process (arbitration) as explained in your vehicle’s owner’s manual.

If you cannot find this information or have difficulty with the process, you can contact the Consumer Protection Hotline of the Virginia Attorney General’s office for help.

General Lemon Law FAQ

To further your understanding of lemon laws, here are some frequently asked questions about how they pertain to vehicles.

What is a lemon law?

A lemon law is a law that protects consumers from defective products or “lemons,” generally by enforcement of a warranty.

What is a lemon car?

“Lemon car” meaning varies slightly from state to state, but, in general, if a new car has a defect the dealer or manufacturer cannot fix, that car is a lemon.

Defects in lemon cars typically affect the operation or safety of a vehicle, but not always.

Structural issues that affect that value of a car are also covered.

Is there a federal lemon law?

There is no federal lemon law specifically geared toward vehicles.

However, there is a federal warranty act called the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act which protects consumers from false or misleading warranties and makes warranties easier to enforce.

Since cars sold by dealerships typically come with full warranties, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act applies to them.

This act serves as the basis for state-specific lemon laws.

What’s in the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act (as it applies to vehicles)?

The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act includes several key points that pertain to vehicle warranties.

These points are:

  • No product is required to have a warranty (and many used cars don’t).
  • The terms of a warranty must be fully disclosed in simple, understandable language.
  • Any ambiguity in the language of a warranty is held against the warrantor (in this case, the manufacturer or dealer).
  • Warrantors cannot require only branded parts be used with their products for a warranty to remain valid (Ford can’t require only Ford parts be used on your vehicle).
  • Service contracts must follow these same rules.

Basically, if you feel like you’ve been duped by a warranty, you may have a case under the Magnuson-Moss Act.

And if your vehicle comes with a “full warranty”:

  • A dealer/manufacturer must repair any defect for free within a reasonable amount of time/reasonable number of attempts

Or, if the dealer/manufacturer cannot repair the vehicle, they must:

  • Replace the vehicle with an exact-match vehicle or allow you to return the vehicle for a full refund (including all taxes and fees)

Does the federal lemon law cover used cars?

If the used cars come with warranties, it does.

The Magnuson-Moss Act is not directed toward products themselves, but the warranties which cover them.

So, if you bought a used car that came with both a defect AND a warranty that covers that defect, the dealer must either repair your vehicle (in a satisfactory manner).

If they fail to do so, you can seek restitution under the Magnuson-Moss Act.

You may be able to come to an agreement with the dealer through arbitration, but, more likely, you will have to take the matter to court.

Does the lemon law apply to leased vehicles?

Yes. In Virginia, the lemon law applies to leased vehicles that are new and under a manufacturer’s warranty.

Chucking A Lemon In Virginia

When you buy a new car, whether you really need one or are just looking for an upgrade, there’s nothing worse than getting it home only to discover it’s a non-functional dud.

But manufacturers shouldn’t be shipping dud cars to dealerships and dealerships shouldn’t be putting dud cars out on their lots.

That’s the point of lemon laws, to ensure new vehicles driven off of car lots are safe, functional, and free from major defects.

So, if you think you’ve gotten a lemon car in Virginia, you shouldn’t accept it and you shouldn’t delay.

You do have recourse, and the sooner you bring the issue to the dealer’s and manufacturer’s attention, the stronger your “lemon” claim will be.