The invention of the automobile at the turn of the last century and its introduction as a mode of private transport has transformed our world. Travel has become way faster and safer than before but the automobile has also brought with it some of our greatest problems today: pollution and traffic congestion. Cars have also become a status symbol and some are also engaged in collecting vintage cars. For us ordinary mortals, our dream is just to have a functioning car to bring us where we want to go and while we would like to buy the newest car models, our finances can only afford second-hand units. But in case we are able to afford a new car, a specific law has been enacted to protect the buyer from defective units.
What is the “Lemon Law”?
The reason behind the term “lemon” to refer to cars with hidden defects is not quite clear. The bitter taste of the fruit might have been the reason it was picked over other fruits to be the moniker for this law. Our own Lemon Law which went into effect last year most probably traces its origin from the United States and its main purpose is to “promote full protection to the rights of consumers in the sale of motor vehicles against business and trade practices which are deceptive, unfair or otherwise inimical to consumers and the public interest” (Section 2, R.A. 10642, AN ACT STRENGTHENING CONSUMER PROTECTION IN THE PURCHASE OF BRAND NEW MOTOR VEHICLES).
The Lemon Law provisions amplify those of the Civil Code particularly Article 1547 (2) which states that there is “an implied warranty that the thing shall be free from any hidden faults or defects, or any charge or encumbrance not declared or known to the buyer…”. This is in relation to Article 1561 where it says: “The vendor shall be responsible for warranty against hidden defects which the thing sold may have, should they render it unfit for the use for which it is intended, or should they diminish its fitness for such use…” For really, a person buying a brand new vehicle expects it to be in pristine and excellent working condition. If, unbeknownst to him, the vehicle is defective then as if he was defrauded.
The law mandates the manufacturer of the vehicle to repair or remedy the non-conformity issues raised by the buyer. Nonconformity refers to any defect or condition that substantially impairs the use, value or safety of a brand new motor vehicle which prevents it from conforming to the manufacturer’s or distributor’s standards or specifications, which cannot be repaired (Sec. 3, k, R.A. 1062). In the event that the manufacturer or distributor is unable to repair the nonconformity issues after 4 separate attempts the buyer can either ask for a refund of what he has paid or have the vehicle replaced with a similar or comparable vehicle. The buyer should either be provided with a temporary vehicle or a daily transportation allowance during the time his vehicle is being repaired. The Department of Trade and Industry has jurisdiction over complaints in relation to this law.
In order to avail of the benefits of the law, the purchased vehicle must be brand new “excluding motorcycles, delivery trucks, dump trucks, buses, road rollers, trolley cars, street sweepers, sprinklers, lawn mowers and heavy equipment…” (Sec. 3, j, R.A. 1062). The nonconformity issues must also be reported within 12 months from delivery or up to 20,000 kms, whichever comes first. The buyer must also inform the manufacturer or dealer that he is availing of the benefits of the Lemon Law and a form to be filled out by him is attached to the warranty booklet.
This Lemon Law recognizes the rights of a buyer specially if he has no sufficient technical knowledge about automobiles. So when a car dealer sells you a “lemon” don’t make lemonade, consult your lawyer.