With millions of new vehicles sold in California each year, there are sure to be many vehicles which have some type of manufacturing defects. Fortunately, under California’s Lemon Law, consumers who purchase one of these so-called “lemons” have clear, legally protected rights and recourse.
The Lemon Law is a part of the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act. Under this act, if a manufacturer or its authorized repair facility is unable to successfully repair a vehicle within a reasonable number of repair attempts, the manufacturer or authorized repair facility must either replace the vehicle or buy it back from the consumer. In order to qualify under the act, the vehicle must be covered by a manufacturer’s or retail seller’s warranty. The Lemon Law is limited to vehicles weighing under 10,000 pounds and includes the chassis and engine components of motor homes.
Many people assume that the Lemon Law only applies to new vehicles. However, it applies to used vehicles as well that are purchased from retail sellers (not private) and which are still covered by their original factory warranties, including bumper to bumper warranties and powertrain warranties. The Lemon Law applies to leased vehicles as well.
Another misconception is that the Lemon Law only applies for one year. The fact is that the law covers problems with a vehicle that began within the warranty period, as long as the vehicle was taken in for repair during the warranty period for the specific complaint. The actual lawsuit can be filed after the warranty as expired. A consumer may bring a claim under this law within four years of the date he/she knew the vehicle was a “lemon”.
What Makes a Vehicle a “Lemon”
A vehicle can be considered a “lemon” if it has a material defect that remains unrepaired after a reasonable number of repair attempts. If the repair pertains to safety such as brakes or steering, two repair attempts are considered reasonable. A material defect is a defect that substantially impairs the use, value or safety of a product or in this case a vehicle. Non-safety related defects can also fall under the material defects umbrella such as those pertaining to the comfort or aesthetics of a vehicle. Even a vehicle that has numerous small problems that affect the use, value or safety of the vehicle can be considered a “lemon”.
Know Your Consumer Rights
If you’ve purchased a vehicle that is still under warranty, be it new or used, and one or several defects have surfaced that cannot be repaired despite numerous repair attempts, you may be eligible under law to:
- Receive a full purchase refund including registration fees, down payment, financing costs and more
- Receive a replacement vehicle from the manufacturer or retailer
- File a civil complaint against the manufacturer or retailer
- Have your full car loan balance paid off
In the case the manufacturer or retail seller repurchases the vehicle or replaces it, you have the right to recover:
- Any money you spent to have the car towed
- Any money spent to cover any repairs you paid in an attempt to fix the vehicle
- Any rental car fees you paid
In order to ensure that you receive all the compensation you are eligible for, it is wise to hire an experienced California lemon law attorney. Without legal assistance, you may find it difficult to deal with the manufacturer or dealer who sold you the “lemon”. Quite often, car dealers refuse to admit that vehicles they sell are “lemons” which means that it’s likely that a dealer will ignore your request for action and for any compensation you are legally entitled to.
However, with an experienced attorney at your side who understands California’s Lemon Law, the manufacturer or dealer will have to pay attention to your case. Also, when you hire an attorney, you won’t have to fill out all the paperwork involved nor appear in court on your own. Your attorney will deal with the manufacturer or dealership directly on your behalf to ensure that you receive all the compensation you deserve.
Most often, manufacturers and car dealers prefer to settle lemon law disputes out of court. This means that the chances are good that you will be able to settle your dispute without having to adjust your schedule to accommodate court dates. However, if a court appearance is required, you can rest assured that your attorney will be fully prepared to go to court on your behalf.
General Requirements of the Lemon Law
The general requirements of California’s Lemon Law are as follows:
I. You must possess a written warranty in order for the Lemon Law to apply. The written warranty can be from the manufacturer or a car dealer. Under the Lemon Law, you are provided with protection for the length of the warranty you have and beyond if the problems with your vehicle occurred while under warranty.
II. Normally, you must have purchased the vehicle for personal, family or household purposes. However, many commercial vehicles used by small businesses will also fall under the Lemon Law of California.
III. You must allow the manufacturer or dealer a “reasonable number” of attempts to fix the problem(s). Regarding what a reasonable number is, that is dependent upon what the problems or defects are. If the defect or problem is safety-related that puts the safety of the vehicle’s occupants at risk such as air bags or brakes, fewer repair attempts are required than if the problem is not related to safety. The amount of time your vehicle was in the shop for warranty repairs also has an impact on the reasonable number of repair attempts. For example, if your vehicle was out of service due to warranty repairs for a total of 30 days within the first 18 months or 18,000 miles (whichever comes first), your vehicle is presumed to be a “lemon”.
IV. The problem(s) you are having with your vehicle must impair its use, value or safety. If you do not know for sure if the problems you’re experiencing impair its use, value or safety, your attorney can determine if your vehicle is indeed a “lemon”.