District residents who buy a new or used car that turns out to be a "lemon" would have a better chance of getting a replacement or a refund under a bill tentatively approved yesterday by the D.C. City Council.

The bill would require manufacturers to make amends for any car that develops irreparable defects during the first 18,000 miles of operation or the first two years after delivery to the original purchaser.

The bill would also require car dealers who are aware of mechanical defects or damage to used cars to tell consumers about the defects before the car is sold. The bill also would establish a consumer arbitration board to hear disputes regarding cars and other consumer goods.

City Council member John Ray (D-At Large), who introduced the bill, said it would apply to any car purchased and registered in the District, which has nine new-car dealerships and 55 used-car dealerships.

During public hearings on the bill, the council's consumer committee was told of a $14,000 Peugeot that developed irreparable defects in the electrical system within the first month after purchase, of a new Chevrolet Citation with a faulty steering system that nearly caused the driver to crash, and of a $28,000 Cadillac Seville with numerous interior lights that could not be turned off.

Ray's committee reported that the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs received 357 consumer complaints involving new cars in 1982 and more than 400 complaints in 1983.

During a lengthy debate on the bill, City Council member John Wilson (D-Ward 2) tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill to require all automobile manufacturers to establish a dispute-resolution procedure. Wilson argued that the arbitration board proposed in the bill would be costly.

The bill was amended to increase the arbitration board from five to seven members and in cases in which the dispute does not involve an automobile, to limit the board's jurisdiction to cases that have voluntary participants.

The City Council also adopted emergency legislation that would establish a task force to identify ways that the city could deal with asbestos found in city owned and leased buildings and to provide medical treatment for persons who are considered at high risk after being exposed to asbestos in city buildings.

The council also adopted temporary emergency legislation that would allow the mayor to suspend or restrict, prior to a hearing, the license of any health-care facility that has deficiencies that pose a danger to the public.

The legislation, introduced by City Council member Polly Shackleton (D-Ward 3), is designed to address the city's omission in not including surgical and ambulatory centers in a 1983 health facilities bill.

That omission was discovered when the city unsuccessfully tried to close the Laurel Clinic, a downtown abortion clinic that the city has cited for four years as having problems.