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3 Things Drivers Need to Know About California Lemon Law

California is, without a doubt, one of the most intense states to drive in. In addition to the largest population in the United States, California has the most automobiles registered by more than 6 million (ahead of Texas).

Of all the states to have a faulty vehicle, California is by far the most dangerous. Fortunately, there are laws in place to protect consumers from certain defects. This refers to the Song Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, or the California lemon law. The purpose of this law is to protect consumers from defective vehicles and hold manufacturers accountable for warranty covered malfunctions. 

If you have recently purchased or leased a vehicle and believe it to be defective, there are several key bits of information you need to know before jumping to any conclusions.

1. The Criteria of a Lemon

What is a lemon car?

A lemon car is: 
(a) any vehicle covered by a warranty;
(b) that has a defect:
(c) which the warrantor has been unable to repair within a reasonable number of repair attempts. 

Under California lemon law, there are a set of requirements your vehicle must meet to be deemed a lemon. The vehicle types include:

  • Cars 
  • Trucks
  • Vans 
  • SUVs
  • Motorcycles
  • Motor homes
  • Recreational vehicles
  • Scooters

Most importantly, the malfunction(s) must qualify as a ‘substantial defect’ to a reasonable person in the specific consumer’s situation. In other words, the issue of what constitutes a “substantial” defect is both an objective and subjective test. This does not mean the defect must threat your safety. Examples of prior qualifying defects include (but are not limited to) the following warranty covered defects:

  • Transmission failure
  • Engine failure 
  • Steering or pulling issues
  • Faulty speedometer
  • Electrical issues
  • Brake failure
  • Stalling
  • Bluetooth issues
  • Check Engine Light
  • Failure of the air conditioning system

It is important to remember that for the California lemon law to apply, the defects cannot be a result of operator abuse. 

Now, when is a car considered a lemon?

In California, the substantial defect usually must first occur at any time within the express warranty. But, if your repair visits occur all within the first 18 months of the vehicle’s delivery, or if 18,000 miles have accrued on the odometer, whichever comes first, your vehicle may presumptively be considered a “lemon” vehicle.  

The manufacturer must be given a reasonable opportunity to fix the issues. This element comes with its own set of criteria that defines a lemon.

  • Under most circumstances, the manufacturer must be given no fewer than 2 or more attempts to repair a defect. 
  • The manufacturer has made 4 or more attempts to repair the same defect.
  • The vehicle has been out of service for 30 days or more to repair any number of warranty covered defects.

Additionally, the lemon law in California applies to used vehicles. If you have recently purchased a used car, you always need to make sure the dealership provides a buyer’s guide. This shows that the vehicle is covered under warranty. 

For more information, consult this DMV guide.

It is not necessary to be confident that your vehicle meets this criterion before you seek the help of a California lemon law attorney. Seek a consultation from a lemon law lawyer in California to confirm lemon law applicability.

2. The Outcomes

In the scenario that you prevail in a lemon law case, there are two major outcomes to consider. 

Lemon Buyback

Buybacks are the most common remedy for a lemon law case. A buyback is when the manufacturer is required to reimburse you for the cost of the vehicle with a minimal usage fee factored in. If you took a loan out to purchase the vehicle, the manufacturer must reimburse you for the down payment, the monthly payments you made, and cover the remaining balance. The manufacturer is NOT required to pay for any late fees incurred on the loan. 

Lemon Replacement

If you are firmly committed to a certain brand of vehicle, a replacement is another route you can take after prevailing in a lemon law case. A lemon replacement is when the manufacturer provides you with a new vehicle that is identical to the lemon, or one of similar value. However, unlike a lemon buyback, a replacement requires that both you (the consumer) and the manufacturer agree on a replacement. The manufacturer is not required to give you a replacement. 

In addition to a buyback or replacement, the manufacturer must cover ALL incidental costs that stemmed from the lemon vehicle. These include (but are not limited to):

  • All legal costs
  • Repair costs
  • Cab fares
  • Rental car costs
  • Registration Fees
  • Sales tax
  • All other official costs associated with the vehicle

3. The Importance of Hiring a Trustworthy Lemon Lawyer

Like most legal processes, the legal team you employ has a monumental impact on the end result. If you are confident your vehicle is a lemon, you need an attorney that is highly specialized and familiar with the legal landscape of the area. If a lawyer doesn’t advertise their aptitude in the lemon law, do not let them handle your case. 

A big mistake people make is choosing one of the big, nationwide lemon law firms. Many of these firms have a primary goal that is contrary to effective litigation, for example, to sign as many clients as possible. As a result, some are not fully committed to consumer justice and will encourage you to take a cash settlement from the manufacturer – which can be far less than what you originally paid for the vehicle. 

When hiring a lemon law lawyer, be wary of the firms that demand litigation or retainer fees. If a trustworthy lemon lawyer agrees to take your case, they know that a victory means that all these costs will be paid for by the manufacturer and won’t ask for any out of pocket costs. 

If your vehicle meets the requirements of being ruled a lemon, you need to find a reputable attorney as soon as possible. The last thing you want to do with a lemon vehicle is waiting. Assuming everything goes smoothly, the entire process shouldn’t require much involvement and shouldn’t take that long.

About the Author
Brian K. Cline
Posted - 07/23/2018 | California