Autonomous vehicles raise questions about the scope of lemon laws

Vehicle owners in Pennsylvania have lemon laws in place to protect them from products with ongoing automotive defects that cannot be resolved. These consumer protection laws generally apply to hardware issues, such as a faulty transmission that defies repair efforts, but modern vehicles increasingly have software issues. Autonomous and partially autonomous vehicles rely on software to manage their autopilot features. These new technologies might require consumer protection laws to expand their scope.

Currently, lemon laws require manufacturers to replace a vehicle or reimburse the owner. To qualify as a lemon, a vehicle must undergo three or four unsuccessful repairs within a certain amount of time. The repairs must address the same issue. Separate issues cannot be grouped to pursue consumer protection. A lemon law might also relieve someone of a problem vehicle if the vehicle was unusable for over 30 days within a short time period.

Vehicles with autonomous features, however, sometimes become problematic because of their software. Their manufacturers frequently send out over-the-air software updates, which could trigger new problems when trying to solve old issues. The applicability of lemon laws with software problems seems uncertain. A recent situation involving Tesla produced a mixed response. The manufacturer repurchased a vehicle from one owner because of software bugs while fixing the issue with an update for other people.

A person who needs information about consumer protection laws could explain the situation to a lawyer. A legal review could reveal if the manufacturer must take responsibility for a problem or if a car dealership and salespeople misrepresented a product. After organizing the evidence, a lawyer could approach the responsible party and request a financial settlement. When necessary, a lawyer could file a lawsuit and represent the car buyer in court.

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