What is a Consumer Product?

May 17, 2010

The Federal Lemon Law (Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act) defines a consumer product as almost any item that “is normally used for personal, family, or household purposes.”

But it is the common, or normal, use of a product that determines whether it is a consumer product under the federal lemon law.  The actual use the product by the consumer may not necessarily be the same as the “normal” use of that product.

For example, automobiles are often used for both personal and business uses, but under the federal lemon law, they should nevertheless be considered a consumer product. Even if a manufacturer tries to label its product as “commercial,” that by no means guarantees that the majority of consumers actually use the product for a business purpose.

Determining how a product is normally used by consumers can be very difficult. Few manufacturers keep track of how its customers are using its products. Getting the names of all customers may be an invasion of privacy, and calling more than a small percentage of them is likely unfeasible.

With vehicles, it is somewhat easier. The federal government has created specific criteria for a vehicle to be commercial, based on its weight and cargo. Though it sounds strange, some large trucks might therefore be considered commercial products, even if they are only used for personal reasons.

In one important court case in Missouri, the Court of Appeals determined that a jury should decide whether a consumer good is a consumer product. In that case, the consumers has purchased a 1-ton Dodge truck with a dump-truck body. The trial judge found that the vehicle sounded too much like a commercial product and dismissed the case. But on appeal, the consumers got the case reinstated, because that factual decision should  be made by their peers.

Thus, even if it is unclear if your product is primarily used for personal or business reasons, as a consumer, you should be entitled to your day in court.

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