Recalls & Defects

If the motor vehicle you buy or lease turns out to be a "lemon," the manufacturer has to replace it free or refund the price (minus a reasonable amount for mileage).

What is a "lemon"?
A new vehicle — no more than a year old and still under warranty — is a "lemon" if

  • It has a serious defect the dealer can't fix in four tries, or
  • It has one or many defects that prevent you from using it for 30 days or more (the 30 days need not be consecutive)

What is a defect?
A defect covered by the Lemon Law must seriously affect the use, value or safety of your vehicle and must be covered by the warranty. An irritating rattle may not be "serious" enough to make your car a lemon. Stalling probably is.

What vehicles are covered?
The law covers any new car, truck, motorcycle or motor home you buy or lease, even if you register the vehicle in another state. It also covers a demonstrator or executive vehicle.

How long are you covered?
The lemon law includes no deadline for filing a lemon law suit; a court would decide if your case were too old.

Is your vehicle a lemon?
Your vehicle is a lemon if all of the following statements are true:

  • You bought or leased a new vehicle.
  • The vehicle is a car, truck, motorcycle or motor home.
  • The vehicle developed a defect or defects during its first year and before the warranty expired.
  • The defect seriously harms the vehicle's use, value or safety.
  • One of the following happened during the vehicle's first year and before the warranty expired:
    • The dealer failed four times to fix the same defect; OR
    • The vehicle was out of service for 30 days or more due to defects

What should a lemon owner do?
Get a repair order for every repair visit, even if the shop doesn't diagnose the problem or attempt a repair. A repair order should show the problem you report, and the dates your car is in the shop.
Keep purchase contracts, warranties, and repair orders to prove you have a lemon. Don't keep repair orders in your car where they may get lost.

We strongly urge you to use the Wisconsin Department of Transportation's (WisDOT) Motor Vehicle Lemon Law Notice form to ask the manufacturer for a refund or replacement vehicle. The Lemon Law Notice includes important language required under the lemon law. Send the form to the manufacturer at the address in your owners manual. The manufacturer has 30 days to respond. Your refund should include the full purchase price, sales tax, any finance charge, and collateral costs (for example, repairs, towing, alternative transportation), minus the mileage deduction allowed by law. If you get a replacement vehicle, the manufacturer should refund your collateral costs and charge nothing for mileage.

If you return to the manufacturer a vehicle that has missing equipment or unrepaired damage beyond normal wear and tear, a manufacturer may want to negotiate a damage deduction. You should not be responsible for paying for normal wear and tear, such as minor dents, scratches, pitted glass, soiled carpets, minor stains or tears. Feel free to have the damage appraised at a location you choose, or to have it repaired rather than paying a deduction.

If you don't get a refund or replacement by writing the manufacturer, consider using your manufacturer's arbitration program. If your manufacturer has a program certified by WisDOT, you must use it before you can sue under the Lemon Law. If your manufacturer's program is not certified, you do not have to use it. However, if you do use it, you might get a decision you like. You can reject any decision you don't like. See the list of arbitration programs listed below.

Talk to an attorney if the manufacturer doesn't help you. A court may need to decide if your vehicle is a lemon and what settlement you deserve. If you sue the manufacturer and win, you could get double the vehicle purchase price, plus other costs and attorney fees. To find an attorney who handles Lemon Law cases, contact the State Bar of Wisconsin Attorney Referral Service toll-free at (800) 362-9082, or at (608) 257-4666 or WisBar Lawyer Referral and Information Service.

Who can you call for help?
WisDOT's Dealer Section licenses and regulates dealers and manufacturers and helps resolve disputes about vehicle sales and warranties. Contact the Dealer Section if you have a complaint against a dealer or manufacturer.

The Dealer Section won't resolve your Lemon Law complaint for you, but it will give you more information about exercising your rights under the Lemon Law.

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