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Getting Answers: legislation filed to close Mass. lemon law loopholes

One local lawmaker is working to pass new legislation to increase consumer rights in Massachusetts.
Published: May. 9, 2022 at 9:06 AM EDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WGGB/WSHM) - Now, more than ever, if you’re in the market for a car, you want to make sure you’re getting one that works and one that lasts. That’s why a local lawmaker is working to pass new legislation to increase consumer rights in Massachusetts.

“The consumers have been demanding this for a long time and now is the time, hopefully, that we can be here to pass legislation to protect them,” said State Representative Carlos Gonzalez.

When Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey’s office released its annual “Consumer Protection Advocacy Report” in 2021, auto issues remained the top consumer issue by a wide margin with more than 1,800 complaints and, more specifically, used car complaints. Now, Gonzalez is attempting to close what the A.G.’s office calls “loopholes” that exist within the Massachusetts lemon law.

However, what exactly is a lemon? According to the state’s website, it’s defined as:

“A vehicle is considered a lemon if it has a substantial defect that impairs your safety or your ability to drive it, or impacts its market value and the car has not been repaired after a reasonable number of attempts.”

We brought our questions to consumer rights attorney Sebastian Korth.

“If the defect is not fixed after either three attempts or being in the shop for 11 business days, then you’re entitled to a refund,” Korth explained.

Korth deals almost exclusively with lemon law cases. As it stands, Massachusetts currently has lemon laws in place for new, leased, and used cars. In fact, it’s only one of six states in the country with a used lemon law, but it has not been updated since 1987.

The A.G.’s annual report contains legislation filed in partnership with Gonzalez and State Senator Paul Feeney to increase consumer protections when purchasing used or leased cars. Gonzalez’s proposed bill would increase the mileage cap for used cars from 125,000 miles to 200,000 miles and raise the mileage for vehicles below the cap.

Current law:

  • Less than 40,000 miles: 90 days or 3,750 miles driven since purchase
  • 40,000 – 79,999 miles: 60 days or 2,500 miles driven since purchase
  • 80,000 – 124,999 miles: 30 days or 1,250 miles driven since purchase
  • More than 125,000 miles: No lemon law warranty

Proposed law:

  • Less than 50,000 miles: 90 days or 3,750 miles driven since purchase
  • 50,000 – 99,999 miles: 60 days or 2,500 miles driven since purchase
  • 100,000 – 199,999 miles: 30 days or 1,250 miles driven since purchase
  • More than 200,000 miles: No lemon law warranty

“Cars last a lot longer and cars are a lot more expensive now…especially out here in western Mass., you don’t have access to the ‘T’ or anything. People need a car and, again, all we’re saying is that the car has to last 30 days. I don’t feel like that’s too much to ask,” Korth noted.

Korth also weighed in on what customers would benefit most from the new proposal.

“Generally, lower income people, we’re talking about people that maybe don’t have access or can’t use reliable public transportation. You know, everyone needs a car,” Korth said.

Additional changes to the lemon law include doubling the annual surety bond from $25,000 to $50,000 which helps consumers if they buy a car from a dealer that goes belly up and altering the warranty timeframe from the date of purchase to the date people receive their vehicles.

While these changes may be beneficial to the consumer, some dealerships are holding their ground, including Michael Bleau, the owner and operator of Frontline Motors in Chicopee.

“A lot of car manufacturers still aren’t getting the parts and items that they need to build these cars, so there’s still a shortage. When there’s a shortage, prices go up. Prices went up 40 percent in 12 months, so to raise those prices even higher because we have to warranty them even longer, it doesn’t make sense,” Bleau said.

Dealers are already required to provide warranties on used cars through the implied warranty law, which states that your car should function properly for a reasonable period of time. For Bleau, this new proposal could result in higher sticker prices on his lot.

“They’re just making it tougher for the small guy,” Bleau added.

However, Gonzalez said that with the price tag cars carry, especially for working class families, now is the time to act.

“It’s time to get updated because cars are more expensive and they last longer and people are shelling out several thousand dollars and financing them, often at very, very high interest rates,” Korth said.

The bill currently sits in front of the Mass. House and Ways Committee. Gonzalez told us if all goes according to plan, it could be passed as early as late June.