Frustrated With a Defective Vehicle Purchase?

Many Illinois car owners aren’t aware they may qualify for relief

By Doug Mentes, Esq. | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on January 25, 2024 Featuring practical insights from contributing attorney Scott M. Cohen

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Many new vehicle owners in Illinois simply grin and bear it when dealing with vehicle problems. Those car buyers may not understand that any breach of the manufacturer’s warranty by the defective vehicle can be remedied for no cost or risk to themselves. In fact, a vehicle owner’s first step should be to contact an experienced Illinois consumer law attorney like Scott M. Cohen.

“The biggest challenge we face is educating the public that we are out there,” he says. “We can help people in these situations because most people are unaware that there are laws that will protect them in a situation where they buy a car or truck that has problems and can’t be fixed.”

Requirements Under Illinois’ Lemon Law

If the vehicle is relatively new, the owner may have a claim under the state’s lemon law. However, the requirements for relief under the lemon law are stringent:

  • The vehicle must suffer substantial impairment;
  • That impairment is not repairable by the maker or car dealership;
  • A reasonable number of repair attempts have been made within the first 12 months or 12,000 miles of the vehicle.

For vehicle owners who don’t meet these requirements, the federal lemon law known as the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act may offer broader relief.

The biggest challenge we face is educating the public that we are out there. We can help people in these situations because most people are unaware that there are laws that will protect them in a situation where they buy a car or truck that has problems and can’t be fixed.

Scott M. Cohen

Breach of Warranty Claim for Defective Cars

Vehicle owners are unaware that breach of warranty claims are possible even with older vehicles. “Let’s say, seven years into a 10-year warranty, the owner begins to have problems with the vehicle’s engine, and the manufacturer can’t fix it,” says Cohen. “Those people do have recourse; they can find a lawyer to get them damages for the manufacturer’s failure to repair.”

If the vehicle is under warranty when a defect is discovered, the owner may be able to recover from the manufacturer. This may even be possible past the expiration of the warranty due to a four-year statute of limitations for these claims. “If there is a failure of the warrantor to comply with an obligation of their warranty,” says Cohen, “you can bring a claim for damages.”

Is It Easier to Prove a State or Federal Lemon Law Claim?

Cohen believes it’s easier to prove a claim under Magnuson-Moss than under the state lemon law. For example, while the vehicle defect need not be substantial as is necessary under the lemon law, the damages available under a breach of warranty may be less—as the measure of damages under a breach of warranty claim will be the difference in the value of the goods as warranted versus the value of the goods as accepted. “Basically, the amount the consumer overpaid for the vehicle,” states Cohen.

Other differences in breach of warranty claims include:

  • The owner may still have a claim after selling the used car;
  • Subsequent purchasers may have a claim if still under warranty;
  • Lessees of vehicles can bring a claim for breach of warranty; and
  • Owners have a much longer period of time to bring a breach of warranty claim.

What Is the Process of Filing a Breach of Warranty Claim?

Typically, any claims for breach of warranty must first be submitted to the manufacturer-funded informal dispute resolution process. This is a relatively pain-free arbitration program, as it’s free to consumers, and the results are not binding.

If the new or used vehicle owner is dissatisfied with the result, they can still file a lawsuit in court. Cohen suggests reaching out to an experienced consumer law attorney prior to the dispute resolution process.

Are There Risks in Bringing a Lemon Law Case?

There is almost no risk for new car buyers and owners to pursue lemon law claims, and many consumer protection law attorneys take on these claims free of charge. If the case is successful, the law allows the attorneys to recoup their fees from the manufacturer. That fee shift makes it possible for the vehicle owner to keep 100 percent of any damage award from the court, hopefully making them whole again.

For more information on this area of law, see our overview of consumer law.

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