Dear Mrs. Riches:
My pride and joy has become my nightmare. No, it's not my kid (I don't have any), nor is it my spouse (I'm still single). It's my car.

My excitement at purchasing a new vehicle lasted just six weeks from when I drove it off the lot. At that point, the engine light came on. I took it in and they said it was the transmission. They replaced it for free under the warranty, but in the meantime, I had no car for a week (and still had to pay my monthly payment). That was a lousy enough experience to leave a bad taste in my mouth, but nothing compared to what was to come. In all, my car has been in the shop six times in the 16 months since I purchased it. Each time, the mechanic says it is something different. I am tired of dealing with this lousy vehicle and simply don't want to own it anymore. I have tried to hold the dealer accountable to no avail. Have any advice for me?
--Driving a Dud

Dear Driving a Dud:
Generally, I'm all for looking at the bright side of things. But in this case, there's no lemonade to be made from your lemon. Apart from purchasing a house, buying a car is one of the biggest consumer transactions that most of us will conduct in our lifetimes. Accordingly, we should be offered a commensurate amount of consumer protection. Luckily, there are federal and state "lemon laws" that help folks who are driving a dud, but only if they meet specific criteria. You'll have to take a look at both the Magnuson-Moss law on the federal level and your state's statutes to determine if there's any recourse for you at this point, given your vehicle's history.

Were your six repairs for the same problem or six different problems? That makes a difference. Unfortunately, your state law isn't likely to force the manufacturer to replace your vehicle unless you have met its requisite number of repair attempts for the exact same problem without any resolution. If your complaint about the car is something new each time (or if the service technician conveniently writes it up as a different problem), the lemon laws may not apply.

Even if your state law indicates that you're within your rights to receive a comparable replacement, you may have to put some pressure on the manufacturer to comply. In that event, be sure to have a complete vehicle servicing history, including the number of days your vehicle has been out of commission, what problem the vehicle was experiencing, what happened with the attempted repairs, and if the problem is safety-related. (An issue of driving safety typically presents a more compelling argument for replacement.) However, note that you may not want a replacement vehicle from the same manufacturer after this experience anyway!

You'll likely have a host of headaches to confront before the law ever steps into help, but you can help your case significantly by doing a few things:

  1. Document thoroughly -- both the vehicle history as well as any correspondence you have with the dealership or service technicians regarding your vehicle.
  2. Approach the manufacturer (rather than the dealer) and put your complaints in writing.
  3. Ask your repair person if there are any Technical Service Bulletins (TSBs) from the manufacturer to the dealer regarding defects on your make and model.
  4. Get a second opinion from an alternative service station as to what's ailing your car (it can't hurt). There are attorneys who are experienced in the lemon law arena, should you need to secure representation.

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Fool contributor Elizabeth Brokamp, a.k.a. "Mrs. Riches," is a licensed professional counselor. She's married to Robert Brokamp, editor of The Motley Fool's Rule Your Retirement newsletter.