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The Plague of Lemon Cars

Why Are there Lemon Laws and Lemons?

Next to buying a house, a car is one of the most expensive assets that most Americans own. And like any product, there’s bound to be minor defects. A house will have some paint that’s chipped or a creaky step just like a car may have a few minor imperfections.

The problem, however, comes when the imperfections interfere with the safety and the use of the car. And while it’s understandable to accept some minor flaws in a recent purchase, we wouldn’t expect someone to pay to repair a product they recently purchased. The same is true of cars.

When you buy a car, you’re making an expensive commitment. So, it makes sense to want it to last. New car owners shouldn’t be left with the burden of paying for the expense and hassle of continuously trying to repair their cars. This is why all states have lemon laws.

Why are there Lemons at all? Manufacturers create millions of cars. While they take the time to check a majority of them, a few defective cars slip through the cracks and land in the hands of owners. Perfect cars aren’t possible, and the result is that some people end up with lemons, or cars that have flaws that interfere with their use, despite being new. The problem comes when the manufacturer or car dealer tries to push the responsibility for the defects off onto the customer.

What Should You Look for When Determining If Your Car Is a Lemon?

There are several defects you should be on the lookout for to determine whether or not your car is a lemon. Here are a few of the characterizes that your car may suffer from poor build quality:

Engine — Turbulent engine shaking, smoke (black, white, or blue), and visible oil puddles underneath your car are clear signs of a defective engine. Your check engine light may engage, and the engine itself can experience overheating. Pay attention to sounds too; an abnormally loud engine can indicate a problem.

Transmission — Transmission problems tend to reveal themselves when a car shifts gears. The shifting can feel mushy or slow and be accompanied by “clunking” or “thudding.” Gears will grind with transmission problems; the clutch tends to slip as well because it cannot be fully engaged, causing the car to jump out of gear.

Air bags — A major recall for Takata airbags has affected 19 automakers. These airbags have been known to deploy with explosive force causing extensive damage to those inside the car. At least 23 people have died because of these airbags. 37 million cars were affected by this recall.  

Seat Belts — There are several possible defects that you should be aware of for faulty seat belts. These are false latching, webbing defects, retractor failure, poorly mounted systems, and inertial unlatching. Faulty seat belts will become disengaged during impacts exposing passengers to deadly injuries.

Stability & Driver Assist — If you notice that your car accelerates rapidly when cruise control is engaged or decelerates rapidly when it is disengaged, it is likely there’s a problem with your cruise control. Other signs are that the check engine light comes on or other instruments begin to act up when the cruise control is engaged. Also, your car might even struggle to adhere to the speed settings, and the accelerator may become unresponsive.

Steering — Cars that struggle to stay in a straight line, tending to pull towards one side, have steering issues. These cars will have a noticeable difference in the feel of the steering and are often unable to correct themselves and drive in a straight line. There are other differences to note as well: problems with braking and one tire being hotter than others call hint at a problem.

Fuel Line Defects — If you smell fuel in and around your car, that could be a sign that there’s a fuel line defect. The engine may misfires or have hard starts as well. Car stalling can also signal a fuel line defect. One serious indicator to be aware of would be visible fuel leaks, puddles of gasoline that pool underneath the car. If you notice this, take your car in for repairs immediately.

Shakes & Rattles — Rattles and squeaks can arise from pieces of the car that weren’t bolted, screwed, or glued down in the factory. Rattles are often impossible to trace and fix without taking the car apart. Unfortunately, taking the car apart is pretty much guaranteed to produce other rattles and squeaks due to added stress on various parts of the car from improper installation.

Heating & Cooling — Engines with cooling problems create dangers for drivers. The engine overheats, causing the heat gauge to malfunction and lose coolant. If you smell metal, ozone, or burning, this could be a sign that your engine is overheating. Other signs of overheating are an engine that misfires or seizes suddenly, steam erupting from the radiator, and hot oil leaking out.

Brakes — If you notice that the car pulls to the side when you use the brake pedal, that the brakes stick, or that they don’t fully release after the brake pedal is released, your car may have faulty brakes. Other indicators are increased effort to stop the car with one or more wheels locking up during braking and pulsating brake pedals during use.

Suspension — Your car ride should be smooth. If your car regularly provides a rough ride, especially when stopping, then there may be issues with the suspension. Pay attention to see if your car pulls in one direction and if part of it appears lower than the rest of the car. Also, note any excessive, prolonged bouncing or dipping after clearing bumps/potholes.

Door Locks — Strange noises from the door’s interior; power locks on doors with erratic behavior. Locks on car doors with issues will not function properly, often leaving the car unable to lock automatically. If you have to manually lock your car, then you have a clear sign of a door lock issue.

Electrical System — Misrouted wiring that has chafed against the bodywork or was damaged in other ways during assembly will not necessarily register as error codes on the onboard diagnostic system. The only remedy for this issue is the replacement of the entire wiring harness.

Other Common Issues

These are not the only issues that contribute to a car’s classification as a lemon. Lemons present many other problems as well. 

  • Water Leaks: A poorly constructed car will allow water to seep in from around the windshields, door seals, and even the floor (if the floor pan was not sealed properly).
  • Mold: Cars exposed to water sometimes develop mold. This often leads to a foul-smelling, discolored interior. The spreading mold can create stains that continue to damage the interior of the car, making it unhealthy for occupants.
  • Dust: In rural or dusty areas, dust seeping into a car through the door seals, windows, and the floor pan creates as many problems as water leaking into the car. Dust is often impossible to completely remove from instruments, electronic equipment, or upholstery.

And here are some other common vehicle defects that give rise to damages:

  • Air Conditioner Mold
  • Anti-Lock Braking System Failure
  • Automatic Transmission Failures
  • Body Panels Don’t Fit
  • Car Parts Falling Off
  • Carpet and Upholstery Become Unstuck
  • Defective Battery
  • Defective Seat Belts
  • Difficulty Correcting Wheel Alignment
  • Door Locks, Catches and Latches Do Not Engage Properly
  • Engine Computer and Cruise Control Malfunctions
  • Engine Fire and Failure
  • Fuel Injection System Leaks
  • Paint Defects
  • Power Steering Loss
  • Premature Brake/Rotor Wear
  • Stalling
  • Turbo Failure
  • Sudden Acceleration and Surge
  • Uncontrolled Acceleration
  • Windows Don’t Open And/Or Close Properly

Read about several car models that have been particularly sour