What are lemon laws?

And does America's famously fruity consumer protection legislation work in Australia?

Queensland remains the only state in Australia to have introduced a lemon law – a form of legislated consumer protection enacted by the federal government of the United States of America as long ago as 1975.

Named after the colloquial American term for any vehicle that is extremely unreliable, lemon laws ensure that consumers can demand a full refund an full exchange for a vehicle that has proved itself unfit for purpose... usually through repeated breakdowns.

Australia's national 'lemon law' is the Australian Consumer Law (ACL), which makes much the same accommodation, but often has to be enforced through the court system. Queensland is the only Australian state up to this point to have made enforcement of ACL possible through an administrative appeals tribunal, at considerably lower cost to the complainant than taking the matter to court.

And under new legislation passed by the state parliament back in April, QCAT – Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal – is empowered to hear claims up to $100,000 from owners of these repeatedly defective vehicles, known within the automotive retail industry as 'lemons'.

Previously QCAT was limited to hearing claims up to $25,000, so the new ceiling broadens the tribunal's jurisdiction to a great degree. The new legislation, which also applies to motorbikes, caravans and motorhomes, takes effect from September 1.

As well as codifying the owner's rights up to a value of $100,000, the new legislation also restores explicit warranty cover (30 days or 1000km) for any used car that is over 10 years old or has travelled more than 160,000km. This protection had been previously revoked by the Newman LNP government.

“These measures will build levels of trust in the industry and benefit the majority of motor dealers who are doing the right thing by offering best practice in terms of refunds, replacements and repairs at no cost, when a vehicle is faulty,” said Yvette D'Ath, Queensland's Attorney-General and Minister for Justice.

“After buying a home, a motor vehicle is often the next biggest purchase a person will make in their life,” the minister was quoted as saying in a press release.

“People use their motor vehicles for a wide variety of purposes – getting to and from work, running a business, taking their kids to school and sport, going to the supermarket and going on holidays are just some of them.

“When you invest in a car or a caravan, you don’t expect it to be off the road for a lengthy period with all the stress and inconvenience that can cause.”

Under Australian Consumer Law (ACL), the consumer may demand and receive a refund in full for the cost of purchasing a defective vehicle.

Queensland's lemon law shifts claims for redress under Australian Consumer Law statutes from a formal court of law to QCAT, as Yvette D'Ath explained.

“Consumers are entitled to a refund if a product has a major failure of the consumer guarantees.

“It is important that consumers are able to have their matter heard through a court or tribunal.

“QCAT provides an easier and less expensive avenue to resolve legal disputes, so this reform will enable more buyers to enforce their rights without the need to go to court.”

For a vehicle to be considered subject to the lemon law, it must be demonstrably unfit for purpose and of unacceptable quality as supplied.