Why Do We Call Defective Cars “Lemons”?

Shopping for a new or used car can be a nerve-wracking experience. If you buy new, you risk sticker shock and dealer add-ons. If you buy a used car, you’re never quite sure what you’re getting. Most states refer to their consumer protection bills against bad cars as “lemon laws,” but why do we associate the fruit with a bad product? The lemon connection to automobiles came about in the 1960s, when a Volkswagen ad consisted of a photo of a car and the stark caption: “Lemon.” The ad goes on to say that Volkswagen’s quality inspectors had caught several flaws with this particular car, ensuring that it didn’t arrive to a dealership with those flaws intact. The ad concluded: “We pluck the lemons; you get the plums.” Lemon laws vary by state by vehicle condition, so it’s crucial to get an inspection and pull a motor vehicle history report when buying used.