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What To Know About The Wisconsin Lemon Law (2023)

The lemon laws in Wisconsin dictate that a vehicle with a major defect that substantially impairs its operation, safety, or market value must be repaired to satisfactory condition within a reasonable number of attempts or days.

If the manufacturer cannot repair the vehicle, it must either replace the vehicle with the same (or similar enough) vehicle or accept a return of the vehicle for its original purchase price.

Wisconsin Lemon Law Rules for New Cars

guy stands with hands on hips in front of engine compartment

Wisconsin’s lemon law is specifically geared toward new vehicles.

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

Lemon Law Requirements for New Vehicles

The lemon law applies in Wisconsin if:

  • The issue(s) with the vehicle “seriously harms” its use, value, or safety.
  • The issue(s) with the vehicle is covered by the vehicle’s warranty.
  • The issue(s) with the vehicle occurs within the lemon law coverage period.
  • The vehicle came with the issue(s). (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 Wisconsin, 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
  • Accept a return of the vehicle for a full refund (minus a “reasonable allowance” for vehicle usage)

Repair the car within a reasonable number of attempts

What constitutes a reasonable number of attempts to repair a vehicle in Wisconsin is four (4).

The exception to this is if the issue with the vehicle substantially affects the use or safety, in which case the number of failed attempts drops to one (1).

If the dealer/manufacturer cannot repair the vehicle after four attempts (one in the case of a serious safety or operational 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 Wisconsin is 30.

If your vehicle is in the shop more than 30 days with any number of warranty-covered defects, 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.

Buy back the vehicle 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), as well as any incidental charges (including rental car fees and towing expenses).

The dealer may, however, subtract a reasonable allowance for mileage/usage.

This allowance is calculated by a standard formula.

Wisconsin Lemon Law Rules for Used Cars

The Wisconsin lemon law does not apply to pre-owned vehicles, regardless of whether they are still under warranty.

If you are having trouble with a used vehicle (including a dealer’s failure to comply with the vehicle warranty), file a dealer complaint with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

Wisconsin Lemon Law Time Limit

The lemon law coverage period in Wisconsin is the term of the original manufacturer’s warranty or one (1) year from delivery, whichever comes first.

All failed repair attempts on the vehicle must be made during this period.

As long as all repair attempts were made within the lemon law period, you have 36 months (3 years) to make your lemon law claim.

How do I file a lemon law claim in Wisconsin?

To file a lemon law claim in Wisconsin, you must use the state’s official Motor Vehicle Lemon Law Notice and Nonconformity Report.

This report must be sent by certified mail to the address the manufacturer provides in your vehicle’s paperwork.

If the manufacturer has a mandatory informal dispute settlement procedure (arbitration), you must go through arbitration before you may file a lawsuit in the state.

If the manufacturer has no dispute settlement procedure or arbitration fails, you may proceed with a lawsuit through the courts.

(You can also contact the Better Business Bureau’s Auto Line for arbitration. The BBB’s arbitration program is free and can ease the process.)

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

Chucking A Lemon In Wisconsin

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 Wisconsin, 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.