Auto Law

From MA Small Claims Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Automobile Law encompasses three main laws that apply when an individual purchases either a new or used car, and then discovers, soon after purchasing it, that it is defective in some way. The three laws are the Massachusetts Lemon Law[1], The Lemon Aid Law[2] (or Failed Inspection Lemon Law), and The Used Vehicle Warranty Law.

Massachusetts Lemon Law

This law is intended to protect persons who buy new motor vehicles with substantial defects. It requires the dealer to repair any such defects and demands a refund, if, after a reasonable number of repair attempts, the defect persists.

Any new car, motorcycle, van or truck bought in Massachusetts from a new-car dealer for personal or family purposes is covered by the Lemon Law for the "term of protection" of one year or 15,000 miles of use from the date of original delivery, whichever comes first. In the case of a replacement vehicle provided by a manufacturer to a consumer under this law, the "term of protection" is one year or 15,000 miles from the date of delivery to the consumer of said replacement vehicle, whichever comes first.

The law defines a "Lemon" as a new motor vehicle that has defect(s) that substantially impair the use, market value, or safety of the vehicle and has/have not been repaired after a reasonable number of attempts.

Reasonable Number of Attempts

The Lemon Law defines a reasonable number of repair attempts as:

Repair is attempted 3 or more times for the same substantial defect, and the problem persists or recurs within the term of protection.


Repair attempts for any substantial defect or combination of defects total 15 or more business days, not necessarily all at one time.

If a Defect Persists

If a defect still exists after a reasonable number of repair attempts, the consumer must do the following:

Grant the manufacturer (not the dealer) one final opportunity of an additional seven business days to fix any substantial defect. A notification of this final opportunity should be sent to the manufacturer/dealer by both certified mail and regular mail. Be sure to send it to the manufacturer's regional and/or corporate office (or both). You may get this address from the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation, (617) 727-7780.

After the 7 business days, if the defect has not been repaired (or has been repaired and the problem recurs), the consumer may return the vehicle to the manufacturer and demand either a refund or a replacement. A consumer has a right to reject the offer of a replacement vehicle and demand a refund, but does not have the right to demand a replacement vehicle if offered a refund.

Not Covered by the New Car Lemon Law

Vehicles NOT covered by the New Car Lemon Law include:

  • auto homes
  • vehicles used primarily for off-road use (e.g. dirt bikes)
  • vehicles used primarily for business purposes

Failure to comply with the Lemon Law is an unfair and deceptive act under the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act, c. 93A, which may entitle you to double or treble (triple) damages, plus court costs and reasonable attorney's fees. The buyer must begin by sending the manufacturer a 30-day demand letter.

The Lemon Aid Law

This law is intended to protect persons who have purchased vehicles that fail the state safety or emissions tests. This law allows for a cancellation for the sales contract and a refund. It applies to private party sellers, as well as dealers. The Lemon Aid Law covers all motor vehicles purchased for immediate personal or family use, new or used.

What is a Lemon under this Law?

In order for a car to be covered under the Lemon Aid Law, the car must meet two requirements:

  1. The vehicle must fail to pass the state safety and/or emissions test within 7 days of the date of sale. The failure cannot be caused by the consumer's negligence or abuse or by an accident that occurred after the date of sale.
  2. The estimated cost of repair of safety and/or emissions-related defects must exceed 10% of the purchase price of the vehicle.

Complying with the Lemon Aid Law

The Lemon Aid Law requires that several things be done very soon after purchasing the vehicle, so it is important that callers with automobile cases are immediately called back and assisted with their problems. If a case falls under the category of the Lemon Aid Law, the buyer must:

  1. Get a written statement signed by an authorized agent at an inspection station, stating the reasons why the vehicle failed to pass the safety (or combined safety and emissions) test. This safety test must have been conducted within 7 days of the sale.
  2. Obtain a written estimate from the inspector of the costs of the necessary emissions or safety-related repairs, showing that these costs exceed 10% of the purchase price.
  3. Notify the seller of their intention to void the contract under the terms of the Lemon Aid Law, and do so by both regular mail and certified mail (return receipt requested). The buyer should enclose a copy of the written statement and a copy of the written estimate that they collected in steps 1 & 2.
  4. Deliver the motor vehicle to the seller, even if it must be towed. Bring a witness, copies of (1) the notification letter, (2) the rejection statement, and (3) the estimate. If the seller refuses to accept the car, the consumer should sign a statement with a witness before a notary affirming that the consumer did deliver the car to the seller on that date, but the seller refused to accept the car.


If the above steps are taken within 14 days of the date of sale, then the consumer is entitled to:

  1. Cancel the contract that they signed for the car or motorcycle sale.
  2. Obtain a refund from the dealer/private party who sold the motor vehicle to them.

Additional Information

Inspection stickers from previous owners are not transferable to new owners. This means that consumers who purchase used cars should always have the car inspected within 7 days of its purchase, even if the inspection sticker on the windshield is still valid. If the car fails the inspection test and repairs are estimated at greater than 10% of the purchase price, then this law will cover them.

Cars that do not run are considered to have failed inspection automatically (no written statement necessary). However, the owner must still prove that damages related to safety or emission defects total more than 10% of the purchase price.

In order to qualify for any refund, the damages related to safety or emission defects must total more than 10% of the purchase price. Buyers are not eligible for partial refunds if the defects total less than 10% of the purchase price.

If the vehicle meets the qualifications for a refund, buyers can fill out a Rebate/Refund Application with the Massachusetts DOT and an Application for Abatement/Amended Return with the Massachusetts DOR to obtain a refund for their vehicle registration fee and sales tax, respectively.

The Used Vehicle Warranty Law

This law is intended to protect persons who have purchased used cars. It requires that such persons receive a written warranty from dealers for a guaranteed period of time, as determined by the mileage of the car. While this law is helpful for used cars, it is recommended to use the Lemon Aid Law when possible since it typically is quicker than the Used Vehicle Warranty Law. Private party sellers are also required to disclose any known defects under this law. The buyer is entitled to a refund in such a case.

The Used Vehicle Warranty Law covers only defects that impair a vehicle’s use or safety. Defects are not covered if they:

  • Affect appearance only;
  • Are covered by the manufacturer’s express warranty and the dealer assures that the repairs were made;
  • Are caused by negligence, abuse, vandalism, or accidents unrelated to the defect;
  • Are caused by repair attempts made by someone other than the dealer, its agent, or the manufacturer; or
  • Are caused by substantial changes made by the buyer to the vehicle

Automobile Dealers (defined as anyone who sells 4 or more cars in a 12-month period), are required to do the following when selling used cars:

(1) Provide a written warranty to consumers, stating that the automobile is under warranty for a certain number of days/miles (depending on the mileage of the car at the time of purchase). The warranty period begins when the car is picked up from the dealer by the consumer. These required warranty periods are:

Mileage at Purchase Warranty Period (whichever comes first)
Less than 40,000 miles 90 days or 3750 miles
40,000 to 79,999 miles 60 days or 2500 miles
80,000 to 124,999 miles 30 days or 1250 miles
125,000 miles or over No express warranty

(2) Repair defects that impair the use or safety of the vehicle for as long as the vehicle is under the required warranty.

(3) The dealer must incur any and all costs associated with repairing the vehicle during the warranty period, but may legally require the consumer to pay up to $100 toward the total cost of all repairs, but only if this amount is written on the consumer’s copy of the warranty (i.e. the consumer can be asked to pay, at most, $100 during the warranty period. The dealer must pay the rest.)

If the used motor vehicle's true mileage is not known, the warranty period will be determined by the age of the used vehicle:

Age (x) Warranty Period (Whichever comes first)
3 years or less 90 days or 3750 miles
3 years > x > 6 years 60 days or 2500 miles
6 years or more 30 days or 1250 miles

The vehicle's age will be determined by subtracting the model year from the year in which the warranty holder purchased the vehicle.

Car dealers cannot ask consumers to give up their rights under the Used Vehicle Warranty Law. Some may try to do so; however, this is illegal, and even consumers who believe that they have "signed away" their rights under this law are still covered by the law. If the dealer needs to order parts during a repair attempt, the days during which the car is out of service while the dealer waits for parts do not count toward the 11 business day requirement of the law. However, your warranty will extend by one day for each day you are waiting for the parts. A maximum of 21 calendar days during the warranty period will not be counted toward the 11 business day limit if parts are ordered. All business days after the 21st day will count.

Although a dealer must repair all defects for the duration of the warranty period, there may be instances where the necessary repairs are so extensive and time-consuming that the customer is not getting their money's worth. As long as the car is still under warranty, a customer has the right to a refund (deducting 15 cents per mile driven by the consumer since the purchase of the vehicle) if:

  1. The persisting defect(s) impair the vehicle's use and/or safety AND
  2. The vehicle was repaired 3 times for the same defect, and that defect persists or recurs within the warranty period OR if the vehicle was out of service by reason of repair for more than 10 business days (not necessarily all at one time) within the warranty period. The repairs for which the vehicle was out of service need not be for the same defect, for example, 5 days for repairing the brakes plus 6 for changing the transmission counts would equal 11 days and satisfy the 10-business day requirement for this law.

The dealer may repurchase the vehicle without making repairs.

Refund Calculations: If you have met the requirements for a refund, ask the dealer to repurchase your vehicle. To calculate the amount you are entitled to receive under the law:


  • the purchase price including the amount for your trade-in;
  • finance charges;
  • registration fees;
  • the pro-rata cost of payments toward motor vehicle damage, collision and comprehensive insurance;
  • the non-refundable portion of payments made for credit life, and credit accident insurance on your vehicle loan;
  • the non-refundable portion of payments made for any extended warranties and service contracts;
  • unreimbursed costs of towing up to 30 miles;
  • up to $15 a day for alternate forms of transportation, starting on the third day the car has been out of service for repair;
  • payments made toward the $100 repair deductible; and
  • any other costs directly related to the defect.


  • a use allowance of 15 cents per mile for every mile driven from the time of delivery to the date the refund is given; and
  • the amount of any overallowance on a trade-in vehicle

IMPORTANT: If the dealer offers you a full refund under the law, and you refuse to accept it, YOU WILL NOT BE ENTITLED TO FURTHER WARRANTY REPAIRS UNDER THE WRITTEN WARRANTY PROVIDED BY THE DEALER. If you do not agree with the dealer's calculation of the repurchase amount, you can ask the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation (OCABR) to help calculate it: 617-973-8787. If the OCABR determines that the full repurchase amount is higher than the amount offered by the dealer, the dealer may either offer you the amount determined by the OCABR or withdraw the offer to repurchase. If the dealer withdraws the offer, you will still be entitled to warranty repairs and can apply for arbitration, if you qualify.

If the requirements of the Used Vehicle Warranty Law are met and the dealer refuses to provide a refund, buyers can proceed in court, provided they are uninterested in or unsatisfied with arbitration (see section below). Failure to comply with the Used Vehicle Warranty Law is an unfair and deceptive practice under Chapter 93A of the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act, which may entitle plaintiffs to double or triple damages, plus court costs and reasonable attorney’s fees.

Private Sellers

The Used Vehicle Warranty Law requires private party sellers to tell buyers about all known defects before the buyer purchases the vehicle. Failure to do so will entitle the buyer, within 30 days after the sale, to rescind the sale and be entitled the return of all money paid (with a deduction of 15 cents per mile driven by the buyer since the purchase of the vehicle).

If the buyer discovers a defect(s) that impairs the safety of the vehicle or that substantially impairs its use and can show that the seller knew about it and did not disclose it, the consumer may cancel the sale within 30 days of the purchase. The seller must refund the amount paid, deducting 15 cents per mile of use.

Private purchases in violation of the UVWL are not eligible for triple the sale cost in small claims court.

Exempted Vehicles

It is important to note that not all used vehicles are covered by this law. There are some exceptions to the law. If a vehicle meets any of the following conditions:

  • Costs less than $700
  • Has more than 125,000 miles on the odometer when sold
  • Is a motorcycle, a moped, a dirt-bike, an auto home, or an off-road vehicle
  • Is a leased vehicle, or
  • Is a vehicle used primarily for business purposes,

then it will not be covered by the Used Vehicle Warranty Law. Such vehicles are, however, still covered by an implied warranty of merchantability (provided they were purchased from dealers, as only sales made by businesses fall under the aegis of the UCC), under which a product must do what it is designed to do with reasonable safety and ease for a reasonable amount of time. Reasonable time will take into account the age of the vehicle, mileage on the vehicle, price paid, and other factors.


Manufacturer Sponsored Arbitration

Many vehicle manufacturers offer their own in-house mediation, with manufacturers' representatives and independent consumer advocates on the reviewing panels. Manufacturers' "zone representatives" will investigate problems in an effort to resolve them. To access these programs, the client should contact the specific manufacturer's zone or regional office for details. Manufacturer-sponsored arbitration is not required to comply with the Lemon Law standards concerning repairs, timing, or refund or replacement. Therefore, in manufacturer-sponsored arbitration, the manufacturer may propose a resolution that is different from the resolution the Lemon Law would provide. For example the manufacturer may offer to make additional repairs, extend the manufacturer's warranty on the vehicle, or replace the vehicle with a different model.

Better Business Bureau

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) offers a "BBB Auto Line" arbitration program for most vehicles. Many manufacturers, such as Audi, BMW, Lincoln, Mercedes, and Toyota, use the BBB as their sponsored arbitration program. BBB arbitration is not required to comply with Lemon Law standards. As in manufacturer sponsored arbitration, BBB arbitration may propose a resolution that is different from the resolution the Lemon Law would provide. It is also free and binding only on the manufacturer if the consumer accepts the decision. To file with the Better Business Bureau's AUTO-LINE arbitration, the client can call 1-800-955-5100 or file an online request form at

State-certified Arbitration

State-certified arbitration is a very popular way of resolving disputes that arise under the above laws. The Office of Consumer Affairs[3] is the state agency that operates the state-certified Lemon Law Arbitration Program. If the buyer and seller of the car are having trouble agreeing on the terms on the car under the Lemon Law, the Lemon Aid Law, or the Used Vehicle Warranty Law, they may go to state- or court-sponsored arbitration instead of going to court. Lemon Law arbitration is designed to be a speedy means of resolving auto disputes, and since most cars cost more than the small claims monetary limit of $7,000, arbitration may be a better option for many people than bringing a lawsuit to District or Superior court. Lemon Law arbitration is governed by the same rules as all other types of arbitration.

To qualify for this arbitration program, the client must have done everything that is stated in the Lemon Laws, including, for new cars, giving the manufacturer a final opportunity to repair the defect. If the vehicle continues to have the same defect(s) following the final repair attempt, or the defect(s) recur(s) during the period that the Lemon Law applies, you may apply for Lemon Law arbitration.

New Car Lemon Law

To be accepted for new car arbitration, the request for arbitration must be submitted on the designated form and received by the arbitration firm or OCABR within 18 months of the date that the owner took possession of the car.

Used Vehicle Warranty Law

To be accepted for used car arbitration, requests for arbitration must be submitted within 6 months of the date that the consumer took possession of the motor vehicle (for used cars).

You must apply for arbitration on the official form provided by the Office of Consumer Affairs. You may go to state-certified arbitration even if you have previously gone to BBB or manufacturer arbitration, but not if you have previously gone to court. The arbitration hearing must generally be held within 44 days of the receipt of the request for arbitration, and the arbitrator must issue a decision within 45 days of the hearing. The manufacturer must either comply with the arbitrator's order or file an appeal within 21 days of the arbitrator's decision. There is no fee for this arbitration.

Auto Repair

You take your car to the repair shop for a yearly tune-up, and when you go to pick up your car, you're informed by the mechanic that you need new brakes, an alignment, and a paint job, none of which you expected and all of which will cost you about $1,500. Sounds familiar? Well, Massachusetts law protects individuals from unfair treatment at the hands of auto mechanics. Failure of auto mechanics to comply with these laws qualifies as unfair or deceptive practices or acts. In MA, these laws cover:

Untrue Statements

A repair shop may not make any statements which it knows to be untrue, such as calling for unnecessary repairs, claiming the consumer's car is in a dangerous condition when it is not, or telling the consumer repairs have been done when they have not.

Recording Information

Repair shops must record information about the customer and the car before beginning any work, including name, address, telephone number; the car's make, year, registration number, and odometer reading; and the specific repairs requested or a brief description of the problem to be fixed.

Written Estimates for All Repairs

A written estimate must be supplied by an auto repair shop and approved by the customer prior to repairs. If there is a charge for the estimate, the dealer must inform the customer of this charge prior to the verbal or written agreement authorizing repair, unless this charge is posted conspicuously. This law does not hold if the consumer brought their motor vehicle to the repair shop before or after its usual business hours, or, at the customer's request, repair services are done off the premises of the repair shop.

Old Parts

The customer is entitled to any old parts that are replaced (i.e. if a muffler is replaced, the mechanic must actually give the old muffler to the customer, after which the customer can do what they choose with it (including giving it back to the mechanic).

Improper or Shoddy Repair Work

The repair shop must correct any improper or shoddy repair work at no additional cost to the consumer.

Repair Duration

A repair shop must complete work on a car the same day it is delivered unless the customer is notified to the contrary and consents to this delay.

Storage Costs

A repair shop can only charge storage costs for a vehicle if the consumer is informed before the charges begin to accumulate or if there is a sign posted conspicuously stating the conditions under which storage costs will be charged.

Use of Customer's Car

A repair shop may not use a customer's car for any purpose other than a test drive or delivery unless the customer consents in advance.

Itemized Bill

The repair shop must provide an itemized bill upon completion of the work.

If any of the above laws regarding auto repair has been violated by a repair shop, and the consumer wishes to take legal action, they must first write a 30-day demand letter to the repair shop as the violation will fall under Chapter 93A of Consumer Law. A dissatisfied customer may also wish to file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau by calling (508) 652-4800.

Auto Accidents

There are two possible claims that can arise out of auto accidents:

  • Property Damage/Damage to Vehicle - as a result of an auto accident, an individual's vehicle was either "totaled" or sustained damages that needed repair OR other property was damaged as a result of the accident
  • Personal Injury - as a result of an auto accident, an individual sustained bodily injury that forced them to receive medical attention or miss at least a day of work, for example

In both cases, the registered owner of the vehicle driven by the driver causing the accident (i.e. the driver who was determined to be at fault either by the police officer who wrote the accident report or if no accident report was written, by the clerk magistrate after listening to both parties at the small claims hearing), can be sued in small claims court.

In car accident cases, the law requires drivers to be careful when encountering anyone they meet on the road -- passengers, persons in other vehicles, and pedestrians -- so this one is a given. This is called the "duty of reasonable care."

If the defendant was not careful, this is called "breaching" (or violating) the duty of care. In determining whether a driver was sufficiently careful, the law compares the driver's conduct with the conduct expected of a "reasonable person." The law asks: How would a reasonable, prudent person have behaved in the same or similar circumstances?

If the defendant's behavior falls short of how a reasonable person would have acted, the defendant has violated the duty of reasonable care. Examples of conduct expected of a reasonable driver include:

  • stopping at a red light
  • watching for crossing pedestrians, and
  • following the vehicle in front at a safe distance.

The plaintiff must show evidence of their injuries and other monetary losses to be compensated. If you are the plaintiff, it is important to keep complete and detailed records of all injuries, medical expenses, and property damage.

The monetary limit for these types of cases, however, differs:

  • Property Damage/Damage to Vehicle - there is no monetary limit for property damage caused by another vehicle. Plaintiffs may sue for as much as the damaged vehicle was worth at the time of the accident (i.e. its fair market value) or the cost of accident-related repairs. This is the only exception (other than double and treble damages) to the $7,000 monetary limit in MA Small Claims Court.
  • Personal Injury - the ordinary $7,000 limit applies to these cases. Oftentimes, the sum of all doctor's bills and lost wages will be greater than this $7,000 limit. If this is the case, and the plaintiff wishes to sue for the entire amount in addition to pain and suffering, they must file a civil suit, usually with the help of an attorney.