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Why Bad Cars are Called Lemons

People usually associate lemons with healthy fruits rich in Vitamin C. However, in the world of cars, a lemon is synonymous with broken, flawed and defective vehicles. A lemon is in the used car industry is specifically a defective or poorly conditioned vehicle that is bought and sold by the purchaser without prior knowledge of the true state of the vehicle.

Why are Bad Cars Called Lemons?

Why the negative connotation at all? Perhaps it is because the lemon is quite sour tasting, despite its bright and cheery appearance. For centuries, the word lemon has been used to refer to gifts that leave a bitter taste in the mouth.


The word’s use to describe a highly flawed item predates its use in describing cars and can be traced back to the beginning of the 20th century as a British and American slang.

Its first attribution to mean a problematic car was in a Volkswagen advertisement created by Julian Koenig and Helmut Krone as part of an advertisement campaign. Concluding with a memorable tag line “We pluck the lemons; you get the plums,” it gives the reader a first impression that Volkswagen is calling their own car a lemon, while intriguing them to read further to see that it is really about the rigorous inspection process that Volkswagens go through.

If the term wasn’t ubiquitous by the end of the 1960s, the passage of “Lemon Laws” across the United States in the 1980s certainly did the trick. These were a set of laws, which vary state to state, giving car-buyers the power to hold dealers responsible for rotten cars that they sold. The cars that could be returned under these laws were the “lemons”.

Here at Carro, we weed out the lemons so that you obtain the best car deal for your money. Cutting out any need for a middleman, we narrow the dealership gap so that buyers pay less and sellers get more. So what are you waiting for? Look for your next car deal here!

Fun fact: Did you know Citroën means lemon in Dutch?

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