Why Dealers Can Be Indifferent If They Can't Fix Your New Car Under Warranty

Lemon Laws fall on the manufacturer, with the dealer caught in the middle.

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Many consumers are baffled by the indifference they encounter from dealers who are unable to repair new cars under warranty. Buyers spend a ton of money on a new car–and are treated like royalty during the buying process–but once they show up in the service department? It seems the dealer doesn’t seem to care when the recurring problem cannot be pinpointed or repaired. I’ve spoken to countless consumers who were surprised by the Jekyll/Hyde difference between the front of the dealership and the back. But there is a very real reason why dealers seem to give up on the troublesome cars. It is a result of Lemon Law.

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All 50 states have some form of Lemon Law which mandates that manufacturers must buy back or replace fatally flawed cars. That is, the cars that cannot be repaired after a certain number of repair attempts or days in the shop. This is often four times OR 30 days in the first year. But the part of that sentence that causes the phenomenon described in the first paragraph is the word “manufacturers.”

Everyone knows the cars are built by car companies and sold by car dealers. Those dealers are independent of the manufacturer (although Tesla, is trying to upend this). So when the dealer sells the consumer a car, they tell the consumer that the car can be brought to the dealer for warranty repairs and service.

But repeated warranty repairs? There is an inverse relationship between the number of repair attempts made by the dealer and how much the dealer actually cares any more if the car is fixed. Part of it–I’ve been told–is that some manufacturers skimp on paying warranty claims for the repeat offender. Either because the work is obviously not being done properly OR the work is futile in the first place. Either way, bring your Ford dual clutch transmission-equipped vehicle to a Ford dealer for its third repair attempt and watch as service writers scatter to the four corners of the lot to avoid dealing with you.

But there is an even more obvious reason that dealers lose interest in the defective cars that return again and again: The MANUFACTURERS are the ones who have to give the remedy under the Lemon Law. The dealer has no skin in the game (except for goodwill, which they probably have lost anyway after selling you the defect-laden vehicle). Since the manufacturer has to buy the car back or replace it, the dealer has zero incentive to step up and do anything for you. Except do another warranty repair, which has already failed a handful of times, and that’s assuming the manufacturer will even authorize another bite at this apple.

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This odd set of facts and circumstances can lead to some interesting and comical results. More than once I’ve been told, “My service writer told me to file a Lemon Law lawsuit over this car.” I’ve even had a service writer ask me for a stack of my business cards and ask if I minded him handing them to customers who owned a particular make and model of car he was sick of trying to pretend to fix.

You really can’t blame the dealers who tell the customers to go ahead and pursue the Lemon Law. If the facts warrant it, the legal route is probably the quickest “fix” for that horribly defective new car and the service writers know it.


Steve Lehto is a writer and from Michigan. He specializes in Lemon Law and frequently writes about cars and the law. His most recent books include , and . He also has a where he talks about these things.

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