Vermont Lemon Law Chapter 115, Sections 4170 – 4181
Vermont Lemon Law 4170. LEGISLATIVE INTENT
Vermont Lemon Law 4171. DEFINITIONS
- “Board” means, unless otherwise indicated, the Vermont motor vehicle arbitration board.
- “Consumer” means the purchaser, other than for purposes of resale of a new motor vehicle or lessee of a new motor vehicle, other than for the purposes of sub-lease, which has not been previously leased by another person, any person to whom such motor vehicle is transferred during the duration of an express warranty applicable to the motor vehicle, and any other person entitled by the terms of the warranty to enforce the obligations of the warranty, but “consumer” shall not include any governmental entity or any business or commercial enterprise which registers or leases three or more motor vehicles.
- “Early termination costs” mean expenses and obligations incurred by a motor vehicle lessee as a result of an early termination of a written lease agreement and surrender of a motor vehicle to a manufacturer under the provisions of 9 V.S.A. § 4172(e), including penalties for prepayment of finance arrangements.
- “Lease or leased” means a written agreement with a lessee as defined in subdivision (5) of this section, which shall be for the use of a motor vehicle for consideration for a term of two or more years.
- “Lessee” means any consumer who leases a motor vehicle pursuant to a written lease agreement for a term of two or more years.
- “Motor vehicle” means a motor vehicle which is purchased or leased, or registered in the state of Vermont and is registered in Vermont within 15 days of the date of purchase or lease and shall not include tractors, motorized highway building equipment, road-making appliances, snowmobiles, motorcycles, mopeds, or the living portion of recreation vehicles, or trucks with a gross vehicle weight over 10,000 pounds.
- “Manufacturer” means any person, resident or nonresident, who manufactures or assembles new motor vehicles or imports for distribution through distributors of motor vehicles or any partnership, firm, association, joint venture, corporation or trust, resident or nonresident, which is controlled by a manufacturer. Additionally, the term “manufacturer” shall include:
- “Distributor,” meaning any person, resident or nonresident, who in whole or in part offers for sale , sells, or distributes any new motor vehicle to new motor vehicle dealers or new motor vehicle lessors or maintains factory representatives or who controls any person, firm, association, corporation, or trust, resident or nonresident, who in whole or in part offers for sale, sells or distributes any new motor vehicle to new motor vehicle dealers or new motor vehicle lessors; and
- “Factory branch” meaning any branch office maintained by a manufacturer for the purpose of selling, leasing, offering for sale or lease, vehicles to a distributor or new motor vehicle dealer or for directing or supervising, in whole or in part, factory distributor representatives.
- “Motor vehicle lessor” means a person who holds title to a motor vehicle leased to a lessee under a written lease agreement for a term of two or more years, or who holds the lessor’s rights under such an agreement.
- A “New motor vehicle” means a passenger motor vehicle which has been sold to a new motor vehicle dealer or motor vehicle lessor by a manufacturer and which has not been used for other than demonstration purposes and on which the original title has not been issued from the new motor vehicle dealer other than to a motor vehicle lessor.
- Warranty shall be defined as including the following:
” Express warranty” means express warranties as defined in the Uniform Commercial Code§ 2-313, plus any written warranty of the manufacturer.
Vermont Lemon Law 4172. ENFORCEMENT OF WARRANTIES
- Every new motor vehicle as defined in section 4171 of this title sold in this state must conform to all applicable warranties.
- It shall be the manufacturer’s obligation under this chapter to insure that all new motor vehicles sold or leased in this state conform with manufacturer’s express warranties. The manufacturer may delegate responsibility to its agents or authorized dealers provided, however, in the event the manufacturer delegates its responsibility under this chapter to its agents or authorized dealers, it shall compensate the dealer for all work performed by the dealer in satisfaction of the manufacturer’s responsibility under this chapter in the manner set forth in chapter 108 of this title known as the “Motor Vehicle Manufacturers, Distributors and Dealers’ Franchising Practices Act” as that act may be from time to time amended.
- If a new motor vehicle does not conform to all applicable express warranties and the consumer reports the nonconformity to the manufacturer, its agent or authorized dealer during the term of the warranty, the manufacturer shall cause whatever repairs are necessary to conform the vehicle to the warranties, notwithstanding the fact that the repairs are made after the expiration of a warranty term.
- A manufacturer, its agent or authorized dealer shall not refuse to provide a consumer with a written repair order and shall provide to the consumer each time the consumer’s vehicle is brought in for examination or repair of a defect, a written summary of the complaint and a fully itemized statement indicating all work performed on the vehicle including, but not limited to, examination of the vehicle, parts and labor.
- If, after a reasonable number of attempts, the manufacturer, its agent or authorized dealer or its delegate is unable to conform the motor vehicle to any express warranty by repairing or correcting any defect or condition covered by the warranty which substantially impairs the use, market value, or safety of the motor vehicle to the consumer, the manufacturer shall, at the option of the consumer within 30 days of the effective date of the board’s order, replace the motor vehicle with a new motor vehicle from the same manufacturer, if available, of comparable worth to the same make and model with all options and accessories with appropriate adjustments being allowed for any model year differences or shall accept return of the vehicle from the consumer and refund to the consumer the full purchase price or to the lessee in the case of leased vehicles, as provided in subsection (i) of this section. In those instances in which a refund is tendered, the manufacturer shall refund to the consumer the full purchase price as indicated in the purchase contract and all credits and allowances for any trade-in or downpayment, license fees, finance charges, credit charges, registration fees and any similar charges and incidental and consequential damages or in the case of leased vehicles, as provided in subsection (i) of this section. Refunds shall be made to the consumer and lienholder, if any, as their interests may appear or to the motor vehicle lessor and lessee as provided in subsection (i) of this section. A reasonable allowance for use shall be that amount directly attributable to use by the consumer prior to his or her first repair attempt and shall be calculated by multiplying the full purchase price of the vehicle by a fraction having as its denominator 100,000 and having as its numerator the number of miles that the vehicle traveled prior to the first attempt at repairing the vehicle. If the manufacturer refunds the purchase price or a portion of the price to the consumer, the purchase and use tax shall be refunded by the state to the consumer in the proportionate amount. To receive a refund, the consumer must file a claim with the commissioner of motor vehicles.
- It shall be an affirmative defense to any claim under this chapter that an allegednonconformity does not substantially impair the use, market value or safety or that the noncomformity is the result of abuse, neglect, or unauthorized modifications or alterations of a motor vehicle by a consumer.
- It shall be presumed that a reasonable number of attempts have been undertaken to conform a motor vehicle to the applicable warranties if:
- the same nonconformity as identified in any written examination or repair order has been subject to repair at least three times by the manufacturer, its agent or authorized dealer and at least the first repair attempt occurs within the express warranty term and the same nonconformity continues to exist, or
- the vehicle is out of service by reason of repair of one or more nonconformities, defects or conditions for a cumulative total of 30 or more calendar days during the term of the express warranty. The term of any warranty and the 30-day period shall be extended by any period of time during which repair services were not available to the consumer because of war, invasion, strike, fire, flood or other natural disaster. If an extension of time is necessitated due to these conditions, the manufacturer shall cause provision for the free use of a vehicle to the consumer whose vehicle is out of service. A vehicle shall not be deemed out of service if it is available to the consumer for a major part of the day.
- In order for an attempt at repair to qualify for the presumptions of this section, the attempt at repair must be evidenced by a written examination or repair order issued by the manufacturer, its agent or its authorized dealer. The presumptions of this section shall only apply to three attempts at repair evidenced by written examination or repair orders undertaken by the same agent or authorized dealer, unless the consumer shows good cause for taking the vehicle to a different agent or authorized dealer.
- In cases in which a refund is tendered by a manufacturer for a leased motor vehicle under subsection (e) of this section, the refund and rights of the motor vehicle lessor, lessee and manufacturer shall be in accordance with the following:
- The manufacturer shall provide to the lessee, the aggregate deposit and rental payments previously paid to the motor vehicle lessor by the lessee, and incidental and consequential damages, if applicable, minus a reasonable allowance for use and allocated payments for purchase and use tax. The aggregate deposit shall include, but not be limited to, all cash payments and trade-in allowances tendered by the lessee to the motor vehicle lessor under the lease agreement. The reasonable allowance for use shall be calculated by multiplying the aggregate deposit and rental payments made by the lessee on the motor vehicle by a fraction having as its denominator 100,000 and having as its numerator the number of miles that the vehicle traveled prior to the first attempt at repairing the vehicle.
- The manufacturer shall provide to the motor vehicle lessor the aggregate of the following:
- the lessor’s actual purchase cost, less payments made by the lessee;
- the freight cost, if applicable;
- the cost for dealer or manufacturer-installed accessories, if applicable;
- any fee paid to another to obtain the lease;
- an amount equal to five percent of the lessor’s actual purchase cost as prescribed in subdivision (2)(A) of this section. The amount in this subdivision shall be instead of any early termination costs as defined in § 4171(3) of this chapter or as described in the lease agreement.
- The purchase and use tax shall be refunded by the state to whomever paid the tax. The party must file a claim with the commissioner of the department of motor vehicles.
- The lessee’s lease agreement with the motor vehicle lessor and all contractual obligations shall be terminated upon a decision of the board in favor of the lessee. The lessee shall notbe liable for any further costs or charges to the manufacturer or motor vehicle lessor under the lease agreement.
- The motor vehicle lessor shall release the motor vehicle title to the manufacturer upon payment by the manufacturer under the provisions of this subsection.
- The board shall give notice to the motor vehicle lessor of the lessee’s filing of a request for arbitration under this chapter and shall notify the motor vehicle lessor of the date, time and place scheduled for a hearing before the board. The motor vehicle lessor shall provide testimony and evidence necessary to the arbitration proceedings. Any decision of the board shall be binding upon the motor vehicle lessor.
Vermont Lemon Law 4173. PROCEDURE TO OBTAIN REFUND OR REPLACEMENT
- After the third attempt at repair or correction of the nonconformity, defect or condition, or after the vehicle is out of service by reason of repair of one or more nonconformities, defects or conditions for a cumulative total of 30 or more calendar days as provided in this chapter, the consumer shall notify the manufacturer and lessor in writing, on forms to be provided by the manufacturer at the time the new motor vehicle is delivered, of the nonconformity, defect or condition and the consumer’s election to proceed under this chapter. The forms shall be made available by the manufacturer to the Vermont motor vehicle arbitration board, and any other public or nonprofit agencies that shall request them. Notice of consumer rights under this chapter shall be conspicuously displayed by all authorized dealers and agents of the manufacturer. The consumer shall in the notice, elect whether to use the dispute settlement mechanism and/or the arbitration provisions established by the manufacturer or to proceed under the Vermont motor vehicle arbitration board as established under this chapter. The consumer’s election of whether to proceed before the board or the manufacturer’s mechanism shall preclude his or her recourse to the method not selected.
- A consumer cannot pursue a remedy under this chapter if he or she has discontinued financing or lease payments if the payments have been discontinued due to the manufacturer’s breach of obligation under this chapter or of a breach of the manufacturer’s warranties.
- Arbitration of the consumer’s complaint, either through the manufacturer’s dispute settlement mechanism or the board, must be held within 45 days of receipt by the manufacturer or the board and the manufacturer of the consumer’s notice electing the remedy of arbitration unless the consumer or the manufacturer has good cause for an extension of time, not to exceed an additional 30-day period. If the extension of time is requested by the manufacturer, the manufacturer shall provide free use of a vehicle to the consumer if the consumer’s vehicle is out of service. In the event the consumer elects to proceed in accordance with the manufacturer’s dispute settlement mechanism and the arbitration of the dispute is not held within 45 days of the manufacturer’s receipt of the consumer’s notice and the manufacturer is not able to establish good cause for the delay, the consumer shall be entitled to receive the relief requested under this chapter.
- Within the 45-day period set forth in subsection (c) of this section, the manufacturer shall have one final opportunity to correct and repair the defect which the consumer claims entitles him or her to a refund or replacement vehicle. If the consumer is satisfied with the corrective work done by the manufacturer or his delegate, the arbitration proceedings shall be terminated without prejudice to the consumer’s right to request arbitration be recommenced if the repair proves unsatisfactory for the duration of the express warranty.
- The manufacturer shall refund the amounts provided for in section 4172(e) or (i) of this chapter within 30 days of a decision of the board or within 15 days of final adjudication.
Vermont Lemon Law 4174. VERMONT MOTOR VEHICLE ARBITRATION BOARD
- There is created a Vermont motor vehicle arbitration board consisting of five members and two alternate members to be appointed by the governor for terms of three years. Board members may be appointed for two additional three-year terms. One member of the board shall be a new car dealer in Vermont, one member and one alternate shall be persons knowledgeable in automobile mechanics, and three members and one alternate shall be persons having no direct involvement in the design, manufacture, distribution, sales or service of motor vehicles or their parts. Board members shall be compensated in accordance with the provisions of 32 V.S.A. § 1010. The board shall be attached to the transportation board and shall receive administrative services from the transportation board.
- The board shall promulgate rules under the provisions of 3 V.S.A. chapter 25 to implement the provisions of this chapter.
- The board may issue subpoenas to compel the attendance of witnesses to testify under oath and to produce documents.
- The board shall render a decision within 30 days of the conclusion of a hearing and has authority to issue any and all damages as are provided by this chapter.
Vermont Lemon Law 4175. FEES AND COSTS
Vermont Lemon Law 4176. APPEAL FROM BOARD
- The decision of the board shall be final and shall not be modified or vacated unless, on appeal to the superior court a party to the arbitration proceeding proves, by clear and convincing evidence, that:
- the award was procured by corruption, fraud or other undue means;
- there was evident partiality by the board or corruption or misconduct prejudicing the rights of any party by the board;
- the board exceeded its powers;
- the board refused to postpone a hearing after being shown sufficient cause to do so or refused to hear evidence material to the controversy or otherwise conducted the hearing contrary to the rules promulgated by the board so as to prejudice substantially the rights of a party.
An application to vacate or modify an award shall be made within 30 days after delivery of a copy of the award to the applicant except that if predicated upon corruption, fraud or other undue means, it may be made within 30 days after such grounds are known or should have been known. In the event an award is confirmed, the party who prevails shall be awarded the attorney’s fees incurred in obtaining confirmation of the award together with all costs.
- When a judgment of the superior court affirms an award of the board, permission of the presiding judge shall be required for review. Review may be conditioned upon the appellant paying appellee’s appellate attorney’s fees, giving security for costs, expenses and financial loss resulting from the passage of time for review.
Vermont Lemon Law 4177. UNFAIR AND DECEPTIVE ACTS AND PRACTICES
Vermont Lemon Law 4178. LIMITATIONS
Vermont Lemon Law 4179. EFFECTIVE DATE; LIMITATIONS
- This chapter shall apply to motor vehicles beginning with the model year following July 1, 1984. Any proceedings initiated under this chapter shall be commenced within one year following:
- the expiration of the express warranty term; or
- one year following the manufacturer’s last attempt at repair of the nonconformity which gives rise to the consumer’s request that the vehicle be replaced or the money refunded, whichever comes later.
- Nothing in this chapter shall in any way limit the rights or remedies which are otherwise available to a consumer under any other law.
Vermont Lemon Law 4180. NOTIFICATION TO CONSUMERS
Vermont Lemon Law 4181. SALE OF DEFECTIVE MOTOR VEHICLES
The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act
The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act is a Federal Law that protects the buyer of any product which costs more than $25 and comes with an express written warranty. This law applies to any product that you buy that does not perform as it should.
Your car is a major investment, rationalized by the peace of mind that flows from its expected dependability and safety. Accordingly, you are entitled to expect an automobile properly constructed and regulated to provide reasonably safe, trouble-free, and dependable transportation – regardless of the exact make and model you bought. Unfortunately, sometimes these principles do not hold true and defects arise in automobiles. Although one defect is not actionable, repeated defects are as there exists a generally accepted rule that unsuccessful repair efforts render the warrantor liable. Simply put, there comes a time when “enough is enough” – when after having to take your car into the shop for repairs an inordinate number of times and experiencing all of the attendant inconvenience, you are entitled to say, ‘That’s all,’ and revoke, notwithstanding the seller’s repeated good faith efforts to fix the car. The rationale behind these basic principles is clear: once your faith in the vehicle is shaken, the vehicle loses its real value to you and becomes an instrument whose integrity is impaired and whose operation is fraught with apprehension. The question thus becomes when is “enough”?
As you know, enough is never enough from your warrantor’s point of view and you should simply continue to have your defective vehicle repaired – time and time again. However, you are not required to allow a warrantor to tinker with your vehicle indefinitely in the hope that it may eventually be fixed. Rather, you are entitled to expect your vehicle to be repaired within a reasonable opportunity. To this end, both the federal Moss Warranty Act, and the various state “lemon laws,” require repairs to your vehicle be performed within a reasonable opportunity.
Under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, a warrantor should perform adequate repairs in at least two, and possibly three, attempts to correct a particular defect. Further, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act’s reasonableness requirement applies to your vehicle as a whole rather than to each individual defect that arises. Although most of the Lemon Laws vary from state to state, each individual law usually require a warrantor to cure a specific defect within four to five attempts or the automobile as a whole within thirty days. If the warrantor fails to meet this obligation, most of the lemon laws provide for a full refund or new replacement vehicle. Further, this reasonable number of attempts/reasonable opportunity standard, whether it be that of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act or that of the Lemon Laws, is akin to strict liability – once this threshold has been met, the continued existence of a defect is irrelevant and you are still entitled to relief.
One of the most important parts of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act is its fee shifting provision. This provision provides that you may recover the attorney fees incurred in the prosecution of your case if you are successful – independent of how much you actually win. That rational behind this fee shifting provision is to twofold: (1) to ensure you will be able to vindicate your rights without having to expend large sums on attorney’s fees and (2) because automobile manufacturers are able to write off all expenses of defense as a legitimate business expense, whereas you, the average consumer, obviously does not have that kind of economic staying power. Most of the Lemon Laws contain similar fee shifting provisions.
You may also derive additional warranty rights from the Uniform Commercial Code; however, the Code does not allow you in most states to recover your attorney fees and is also not as consumer friendly as the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act or the various state lemon laws.
The narrative information on Magnuson-Moss, UCC and Vermont lemon laws on these pages is provided by Marshall Meyers, attorney.
Uniform Commercial Code Summary
The Uniform Commercial Code or UCC has been enacted in all 50 states and some of the territories of the United States. It is the primary source of law in all contracts dealing with the sale of products. The TARR refers to Tender, Acceptance, Rejection, Revocation and applies to different aspects of the consumer’s “relationship” with the purchased goods.
TENDER – The tender provisions of the Uniform Commercial Code contained in Section2-601 provide that the buyer is entitled to reject any goods that fail in any respect to conform to the contract. Unfortunately, new cars are often technically complex and their innermost workings are beyond the understanding of the average new car buyer. The buyer, therefore, does not know whether the goods are then conforming.
ACCEPTANCE – The new car buyer accepts the goods believing and expecting that the manufacturer will repair any problem he has with the goods under the warranty.
REJECTION – The new car buyer may discover a problem with the vehicle within the first few miles of his purchase. This would allow the new car buyer to reject the goods. If the new car buyer discovers a defect in the car within a reasonable time to inspect the vehicle, he may reject the vehicle. This period is not defined. On the one hand, the buyer must be given a reasonable time to inspect and that reasonable time to inspect will be held as an acceptance of the vehicle. The Courts will decide this reasonable time to inspect based on the knowledge and experience of the buyer, the difficulty in discovering the defect, and the opportunity to discover the defect.
The following is an example of a case of rejection: Mr. Zabriskie purchase a new 1966 Chevrolet Biscayne. After picking up the car on Friday evening, while en route to his home 2.5 miles away, and within 7/10ths of a mile from the dealership, the car stalled and stalled again within 15 feet. Thereafter, the car would only drive in low gear. The buyer rejected the vehicle and stopped payment on his check. The dealer contended that the buyer could not reject the car because he had driven it around the block and that was his reasonable opportunity to inspect. The New Jersey Court said;
To the layman, the complicated mechanisms of today’s automobile are a complete mystery. To have the automobile inspected by someone with sufficient expertise to disassemble the vehicle in order the discover latent defects before the contract is signed, is assuredly impossible and highly impractical. Consequently, the first few miles of driving become even more significant to the excited new car buyer. This is the buyer’s first reasonable opportunity to enjoy his new vehicle to see if it conforms to what it was represented to be and whether he is getting what he bargained for. How long the buyer may drive the new car under the guise of inspection of new goods is not an issue in the present case because 7/10th of a mile is clearly within the ambit of a reasonable opportunity to inspect. Zabriskie Chevrolet, Inc. v. Smith, 240 A. 2d 195(1968)
It is suggested that Courts will tend to excuse use by consumers if possible.
REVOCATION – What happens when the consumer has used the new car for a lengthy period of time? This is the typical lemon car case. The UCC provides that a buyer may revoke his acceptance of goods whose non-conformity substantially impairs the value of the goods to him when he has accepted the goods without discovery of a non-conformity because it was difficult to discover or if he was assured that non-conformities would be repaired. Of course, the average new car buyer does not learn of the nonconformity until hundreds of thousands of miles later. And because quality is job one, and manufacturers are competing on the basis of their warranties, the consumer always is assured that any noncomformities he does discover will be remedied.
What is a noncomformity substantially impairing the value of the vehicle?
- A noncomformity may include a number of relatively minor defects whose cumulative total adds up to a substantial impairment. This is the “Shake Faith” Doctrine first stated in the Zabrisikie case. “For a majority of people the purchase of a new car is a major investment, rationalized by the peace of mind that flows from its dependability and safety. Once their faith is shaken, the vehicle loses not only its real value in their eyes, but becomes an instrument whose integrity is substantially impaired and whose operation is fraught with apprehension”.
- A substantial noncomformity may include a failure or refusal to repair the goods under the warranty. In Durfee V. Rod Baxter Imports, the Minnesota Court held that the Saab owner that was plagued by a series of of annoying minor defects and stalling, which were never repaired after a number of attempts, could revoke, “if repairs are not successfully undertaken within a reasonable time”, the consumer may elect to revoke.
- Substantial Non Conformity and Lemon Laws often define what may be considered a substantial impairment. These definitions have been successfully used to flesh out the substantial impairment in the UCC.
Additional narrative information on Magnusson-Moss, UCC and Vermont lemon laws on these pages is provided by T. Michael Flinn, attorney.