Lemon Laws – Quimby's Cruising Guide

Almost all of us have heard of someone who has bought a new vehicle that turned out to be a “lemon.” While not as frequent an occurrence with boats, it happens — whether the culprit is a major defect that can’t be fixed after a reasonable number of tries, or numerous minor defects that constantly need repair.

During the 1970s, when consumer advocacy hit its stride, many laws were enacted to protect buyers from a “sour” ownership experience. Prior to that time, the only recourse was the warranty and the responsibility of the manufacturer and dealer to exercise their “best efforts” to fix the problems covered under the warranty. After the warranty expired, that was basically the end of the manufacturer’s obligation and the owner paid for the repairs.

The new warranty laws, commonly known as “lemon laws,” were enacted to place limits on what the consumer must endure should his or her new vessel be a dud. Under the terms of these laws, which are contained in every state’s Uniform Commercial Code, if the new boat cannot be fixed, the consumer must be compensated either with a replacement or with a cash refund. States are split among those that leave the decision for a new boat or a refund up to the consumer or the seller.

Definition of Defect

So, how do you know if your boat is a lemon? Practically all states, including most of those in the Heartland, define “defect” as “nonconformity to applicable express warranties that substantially impairs the use, market value or safety of the boat.” The consumer often has a specified period of time from the date of purchase to make a claim under the lemon law. Thus, right from the beginning, you should not let a problem slide and keep records of all problems and dates of repair visits, along with copies of service orders, invoices, etc.

Time Limit for Repairs

Typically, a manufacturer must repair defects during the written warranty period or during a specified time following the date of original delivery to the buyer.

Again, note that these laws are additional protections that relate to manufacturer or product warranties. All new boats come with certain express (meaning written) limited warranties plus implied warranties (provided by law) for fitness for particular uses covering hulls, engines, electronic components, bilge pump, head, galley appliances and other onboard equipment.

Most dealers and the companies they represent are anxious to resolve problems in the interest of future business relations with the individual and referral of other customers. Only occasionally may legal action be necessary to nudge a recalcitrant manufacturer or dealership to work out a suitable remedy with a buyer.

Federal Lemon Law

In addition to state lemon laws, there also exists the longtime federal law known as the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act. This legislation covers practically all consumer products, including boats, which to be so covered must have been purchased new and covered by a written warranty (or if pre-owned the warranty was transferred and in effect), and the defect was substantial and was not or could not get properly repaired in a timely manner.

It doesn’t matter if the defects are related to the craft’s hull, for example, or equipment or another part of the boat. Magnuson-Moss covers the whole boat — even though the boat comes with warranties from other companies who made some of the installed equipment or parts.

Basically, the seller or the authorized repair facility is given the opportunity to diagnose and fix the problems within a “reasonable” number of attempts within a “reasonable” amount of time. If it doesn’t, the boat may qualify for federal lemon law remedies, though state law remedies are sufficient in the majority of cases.

Lost Your Mojo?

Some lemon laws provide that if a buyer’s faith has been shaken (a real safety consideration due to the nature of being out on the water), even if repairs have been done and appear satisfactory, the craft may still be covered. This means the buyer could get paid damages or possibly force the manufacturer to take back the boat and pay a full refund of the purchase price and incidental fees.

For more information, a couple of good resources are www.boatlemonlaw.com and www.ezinearticles.com/?boat-lemon-law. Or, contact your state consumer protection agency.

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