Lemon Cars in Wisconsin: Basic overview of Wisconsin's Lemon Law

We use the term “lemon car” generally to refer to a car that has significant defects. “Lemon laws” for these cars are state based consumer protection laws that typically apply only to new car purchases or leases that are still under a manufacturer’s warranty, and in certain circumstances require the manufacturer to repair the defects, replace the vehicle, or take the vehicle back and refund the purchase price. The particular protections vary quite a bit from state-to-state as do the qualifying conditions.

Wisconsin’s lemon law is found at Wis. Stat. 218.0171. The text of the 2015-16 version is here. To apply, you must have purchased or accepted transfer of the motor vehicle in Wisconsin. The law applies to cars, trucks, motorcycles, and motor homes, among other qualifying vehicles.

The law applies to “consumers,” which includes all of the following:

  • A person that purchases the car new or from another while the manufacturer’s express warranty is still in effect, 
  • a person that can enforce the warranty, and 
  • a person that leases the vehicle from a motor vehicle lessor under a written lease.

Heavy duty vehicles may not have the same rights as the typical consumer car buyer. This post refers to the typical car and light truck consumer purchase.

A qualifying lemon car in Wisconsin is a motor vehicle that meets one of the follow two criteria during either (a) the first year from the date the new car was purchased or put in service or (b) the expiration of the manufacturer’s warranty, whichever comes first:

  1. A motor vehicle that has a serious defect that the manufacturer or its warranty agent, like the dealer, did not fix in for or more attempts, or
  2. A motor vehicle that has one or more defects that make it out-of-service to you for 30 days or more, which need not be consecutive days.

A note about the “out of service” criteria to qualify as a lemon. As noted, the 30-days does not have to be continuous. Time the vehicle is in the possession of the manufacturer or dealer for repair of the defects counts. In some circumstances, time in your possession will count towards the out-of-service days. Count the days in your possession when the non-conformity (or defect) (a) substantially affects your use or safety of the vehicle and (b) the manufacturer or dealer has attempted at least 2 repairs of that defect.

A qualifying “defect” or nonconformity is a condition or defect that seriously affects the use, value, or safety of the the vehicle and is covered by the warranty. So minor defects that may be irritating may not be enough to invoke the lemon law, but may still be covered under your warranty repair rights. A defect caused by abuse, neglect, or unauthorized repair is not covered.

By definition, the criteria for qualifying as a lemon must be met within the first year or, if the manufacturer’s warranty is less than 1-year, during time the warranty is in effect. So a consumer should act promptly in reporting any defect or nonconformity to the dealer or other warranty agent of the manufacturer and make the vehicle available for repair. If the attempt to repair did not work, immediately go back to the dealer and report the continuing defect and demand they make another attempt. Remember you must give the manufacturer 4 attempts to repair or that the vehicle is out of service for 30 or more days within that first year/warranty period to qualify, so waiting until the last week to report a defect may jeopardize your remedies. Keep your service records, and make sure they accurately reflect the dates, mileage, and issues reported. Keep your own log, and don’t just rely on the dealer’s records.

While the period for determining whether the car falls within the lemon law is only the 1st year in service, a consumer can bring, and must bring a lemon law lawsuit within 36 months of the date of first delivery of the car to a consumer.

To file a Wisconsin lemon law claim with the manufacturer, you must use the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s Motor Vehicle Lemon Law Notice and Noncomformity Report form (MV2691). In the form, you indicate whether you want the manufacturer to replace the vehicle or provide you a refund. You must fill out the form completely and send it to the manufacturer at the address indicated in your owner’s manual. To document your request, you should consider sending the form to the manufacturer by certified delivery or other method where you can show the fact of delivery and the date.

To learn more about the remedies available to consumers under Wisconsin’s Lemon Law, visit my blog post Remedies under Wisconsin’s Lemon Law.

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