June 4: America’s First “Lemon Law”


In this Grating the Nutmeg podcast, John J. Woodcock III talks about the challenges he faced when pushing for passage of the nation’s first Lemon Laws.

Today in 1982, in response to an increasing number of consumer complaints about seriously defective new automobiles (colloquially called “lemons”), the Connecticut legislature passed the nation’s first “Lemon Law.” Introduced by freshman representative John J. Woodcock III of South Windsor, the law was loosely modeled on a set of consumer protections for automobile buyers that had been introduced — but rejected by — the California state legislature two years earlier.

John J. Woodcock III was a freshman legislator when he managed passage of the country’s first lemon law in 1982

Connecticut’s “Lemon Law” — formally titled “An Act Concerning Automobile Warranties” — strengthened legal protections for consumers who were seeking repairs for faulty vehicles and established time limits for dealers and manufacturers to repair defects that were covered under warranty. Furthermore, if the vehicle’s issues could not be repaired within four attempts, the manufacturer was required to either replace the automobile or provide a full refund to the consumer. After the law’s successful passage on June 4, 1982, state representative Woodcock continued to make a name for himself as one of Connecticut’s leading consumer advocates, later focusing on the successful passage of a lemon law for used cars (the first lemon law addressed only new vehicles), and a law against odometer tampering.

Connecticut’s bold stand for automobile consumer protections made waves in both the national news and other state legislatures. Today, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have their own sets of lemon laws. Over 30 years after it became the first “Lemon Law” in the United States, Connecticut’s “Automobile Warranties” statute is still going strong: in 2017, the state Department of Consumer Protection processed 64 cases relating to the Lemon Law, resulting in over $2,300,000 returned to Connecticut car buyers.

Further Reading

Podcast, “The Lemon Law Turns 40,” Grating the Nutmeg 

John J. Woodcock III Lemon Law Records,” Central Connecticut State University Library

Joseph Malinconico, “Changes Are Planned For State’s Lemon Law,” New York Times