What to Do if You Think Your Car is a Lemon?

Understanding Your Legal Rights

You save money to purchase a vehicle, only to find it is unreliable. Despite numerous attempts to repair the vehicle under the manufacturer or dealer warranty, your new or used vehicle remains unsafe for you and your family. Not having a vehicle you can trust is especially frustrating. Fortunately, California protects consumers from keeping vehicles with unfixable issues. The California Lemon Law helps consumers get back on the road and holds automakers responsible for vehicles that are defective, and therefore, lemons.

Lemon Law History

Today’s lemon law is the result of the 1970 Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act. The act requires all manufacturers to replace faulty products they failed to fix after a “reasonable number” of repair attempts. There is an enhancement for vehicles under California Lemon Law for protection against defective vehicles. The enhancement is called the Tanner Protection Act. It allows the consumer to request a repurchase or replacement and the consumer can elect which remedy to choose from. The act was amended in 2007 to allow members of the Armed Forces who are stationed in or who are residents of California to exercise their rights under the act. It does not matter where the service members bought their vehicle or where it is registered.

Using the term lemon as a metaphor for a defective vehicle is thought to have originated from American-English slang of 1900 to 1910. The metaphor derived from the British English expression “to hand someone a lemon,” which, at the time, meant to pass off a substandard item as a good one.

Ways to qualify your vehicle under California Law Lemon Law

The Presumption

The Tanner Act contains added protection by creating a “presumption” concerning whether or not the repair attempts on the vehicle are reasonable and therefore the car can be treated as a “lemon”. A presumption guideline also helps to identify if your car is a lemon. If the following criteria are met within the first 18,000 miles or 18 months of delivery to the buyer or the lessee, then under California law, the car is presumed to be a lemon:

  • The manufacturer or its agents have made two or more attempts to repair a warranty problem that results in a condition that is likely to cause serious injury or death if the vehicle is driven.
  • The manufacturer or its agents have made four or more attempts to fix the same warranty problem.
  • The vehicle has been out of service for more than 30 days for repair due to a variety of warranty problems. The thirty days is total and not necessarily concurrent.
  • The warranty covers the problems and the problems are not the result of abuse of the vehicle. The problems substantially reduce the vehicle’s use, safety, and value to the consumer.
  • If the warranty or owner’s manual requires the owner to notify the manufacturer of problems, the owner must do so, preferably in writing.

What if your vehicle falls outside of the 18,000 mile or 18-month window?

Lemon law issues occur when you have a substantial impairment to the use, value or safety of the vehicle. Even a “fit and finish” problem can constitute a defect and may qualify your vehicle for treatment as a lemon. So if your car has had problems during the warranty period (and even if your car is now out of warranty), your vehicle will most likely qualify as a lemon. Used cars can also qualify as lemon vehicles. All you need is a minimum of two repair attempts (unless two repair attempts are not possible since the vehicle is destroyed or the manufacturer cannot provide a potential fix for the vehicle.

Understanding Warranties

California lemon laws apply to manufacturer warranties. New cars come with manufacturer warranties that are transferred with ownership to another driver. These types of warranties typically cover a specific time frame and mileage, like three years, 36,000 miles. New vehicles usually come with either a basic (bumper-to-bumper) warranty, and a longer drivetrain warranty.

A drivetrain warranty covers just about everything that makes the vehicle move. This includes the engine, transmission, drive axles, and driveshaft.

Warranty coverage continues to evolve with the growing electric vehicle (EV) and hybrid market. A standard EV or hybrid battery costs an average of $5,000. While not covered under a basic warranty, federal emissions regulations require that the batteries have a warranty of at least eight years or 100,000 miles.

If you purchase a used vehicle that still has part of the manufacturer warranty remaining, or that comes with a dealer warranty—and the problems meet one or more of the criteria listed above—then the lemon law applies to your case.

Beware of Extended Warranties

You may think you that purchasing an extended warranty from a third party is a good idea. Be aware that California lemon laws only protect you from problems under the original manufacturer warranty. Third party extended warranties do not apply to the state’s lemon law. A manufacturer’s own extended warranty or a Certified Pre-owned Vehicle “CPO” extended warranty will most likely qualify to extend the original warranty for lemon law purposes.

In fact, many states regard extended warranties as service contracts and not actual warranties. Warranties only originate from the automaker (the manufacturer)—and in the case of CPO “Certified Pre Owned Vehicles” used cars, the dealership—something else worth noting.

Do your homework before you invest extra money into questionable warranties. Understand that the California lemon laws are in place to protect you from large auto manufacturers who fail to deliver a quality product, and not from substandard third-party warranty issuers.

Lemon Law Associates of California

Taking on car manufacturers and large automakers requires focus and dedication. That’s why at Lemon Law Associates of California, our practice is limited to lemon law cases and auto fraud.

A typical lemon law case takes approximately three to six months. Automakers will attempt to delay the process, but we do everthing we can at Lemon Law Associates to speed things up and get you back on the road in a different vehicle. It is very important that throughout the process, you continue to make your vehicle payments. However, it is not necessary for you to still possess the vehicle in order to make a lemon law claim.

California lemon laws protect consumers from becoming stuck with an unreliable and possibly unsafe vehicle. When a vehicle is simply not fixable despite at least 2 attempts at repair, then it’s time to call (877) 955-3666 or to contact us online.

Our highly experienced legal team understands the complex nature of lemon law cases and we’re not afraid to fight for your rights. You’ve worked too hard and invested your hard-earned money into purchasing a reliable vehicle. When the manufacturer warranty fails to fix the serious issues that have you concerned, call the Lemon Law Associates of California.

Located in San Diego, our firm handles lemon law cases throughout the state. Contact us today to set up a free evaluation of your case with a member of our team.

California Lemon Law FAQ

The California Lemon Law protects consumers who buy vehicles with defects or nonconformities and present the vehicle for two or more repair attempts during the warranty period. It doesn’t matter if the vehicle warranty has technically expired because the warranty never expires for defects that were not correctly repaired during the warranty period.

In other words, the manufacturer cannot instruct its dealer to perform “band-aid” repairs during the warranty and wait until the technical expiration of the warranty by time or mileage—so the warranty does not expire until the defect or problem is fixed.

Most cars do not fix themselves, so in about 98 percent of cases, despite several repairs, the vehicle will most likely never actually be fixed.

If you purchased or leased a car, motorcycle, truck, SUV, or RV from a California dealership fitting this description, you may have a lemon on your hands. If you think you may have a lemon, always contact Lemon Law Associates about your particular case. Each case is unique and different. Many variables constitute a “lemon” under California law. Below we provide answers to some of the questions that you may have about California’s Lemon Law.

How Many Repair Attempts Before My Vehicle Is Considered a Lemon?

Under California’s Lemon Law (a section in the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act), a lemon is any vehicle that is presented for repair to an authorized dealership at least two or more times for the issue (unless no more than one repair is possible). Even if the vehicle is presented to the dealer for regular maintenance, such as an oil change, and the dealer performs a recall in the form of a “computer reflash” on, let’s say, a transmission, this constitutes a “repair attempt.” So the only duty on the consumer is to present it to the dealer.

Also, the consumer does not have to tell the dealer what may be wrong with the vehicle. Words such as “my car is making a funny noise or it does not shift right” are sufficient.

If a vehicle has no more than 18,000 miles or is no more than 18 months old there may be a favorable legal presumption in your case. If these vehicles with 18 months and no more than 18,000 miles have been in the shop for an aggregate total of 30 days, then a presumption is applied under the law that the repair attempts so far are reasonable. Also, in this case, if you have brought the car in for two or more repair attempts for a safety issue and at least four attempts for something that affects use or value, the presumption that repair attempts are reasonable applies. Even if you don’t meet the presumption, the lemon law still applies. Vehicles with high mileage may qualify as lemons.

Does California’s Lemon Law Cover Used Vehicles?

Yes. The California Lemon Law applies to used and leased vehicles purchased while under manufacturer or dealer warranties. This can also include warranty extensions due to recalls or other safety issues.

Does the Lemon Law Apply to Business Vehicles?

Yes. The California Lemon Law covers vehicles used for business purposes, but there are several caveats. The business may not have more than five vehicles registered to it, and the vehicle cannot weigh more than 10,000 pounds gross vehicle weight.

What Other Products Are Covered Under the Lemon Law?

Although many consumers think of both new and used vehicles when they think of the Lemon Law, it actually covers Motorized Boats and RV’s as well. However, in the case of an RV, to be treated the same as a motorized vehicle the defect has to involve a part found on a motorized vehicle.

What if I Purchased My Vehicle Outside of California?

The Lemon Law only applies to vehicles bought or leased in California, with one exception. Military members who are stationed at a base in California, or who are California residents stationed elsewhere, are protected by the Lemon Law, even if they purchased their vehicles outside of California. Federal laws may apply to your case, and Lemon Law Associates also handles claims under the Magnuson-Moss Federal Warranty Act.

How Much Do Attorney Fees Generally Cost for a Lemon Law Claim?

There is absolutely no out of pocket cost or attorneys fees required to retain Lemon Law Associates. Our firm is paid by the manufacturer. California lemon law requires the manufacturer to pay all attorneys fees and costs upon settlement or a successful outcome. Even if you are not successful, you are not required to pay any money for attorneys fees or costs to Lemon Law Associates.

Does the California Lemon Law Cover Old Vehicles With High Miles?

Yes and no. Coverage under the Lemon Law hinges on whether a vehicle is under warranty. A car must have had issues during its warranty period. Oftentimes this will be the manufacturer’s original warranty, but cars sold by used car dealerships with the original manufacturer warranty remaining can also qualify under California law as a lemon. Ultimately, if a vehicle has undergone the necessary repair attempts, the age or mileage of the vehicle doesn’t prevent you from filing a Lemon Law claim. Vehicles with expired warranties might be eligible, as long as issues arose during the warranty period and the owner notified an authorized dealership.

Certified Pre Owned Vehicles can also qualify as lemons and even “as is” vehicles may qualify as lemons.

What Types of Damages Do I Get in a Lemon law Case?

The consumer may elect a repurchase or replacement of the vehicle. Generally speaking, the repurchase is most beneficial. In this instance, the California Lemon Law entitles you to a refund for your down payment, taxes, and fees, any monthly payments that you made towards the vehicle, and trade-in credit, if applicable. In some cases, you may also receive incidental or consequential losses that can include reimbursement for a rental car, towing, unreimbursed warranty repairs, tires, etc., that you purchased while you owned the vehicle. The process typically involves you returning the vehicle, the manufacturer paying the balance of the loan, and you receiving a Lemon Law refund check. .The manufacturer is allowed to take a deduction based on a legal formula for use of the vehicle before the defect was first reported or the dealer first took action to repair the defect that is the subject of the lemon law case.

You also have the option to choose a replacement vehicle instead of accepting a refund. The manufacturer must replace your vehicle with a like cost vehicle as close as the vehicle that is being surrendered or turned in to the manufacturer. If you choose options that weren’t part of the previous vehicle, you may have to pay for those extra features. Generally speaking, the repurchase option is the best financial option for the consumer because you can surrender the lemon and use your money to buy another vehicle at a better price.

Why You Need to Hire an Attorney

Some people may be fooled by the manufacturer to participate in a “certified” arbitration program. You are not required to arbitrate your claim or give the manufacturer notice of your claim before you file a lawsuit under California lemon law asking for repurchase or replacement damages. All of these arbitration programs are in fact controlled by the manufacturers and are biased against the consumer. These arbitrations do not need to follow the law and are something a consumer should NEVER do. There is no reason to go it alone, because the law requires the manufacturer to pay the consumer’s attorney fee. California’s Lemon Law is in place to protect consumers. That is because manufacturers and dealerships will not automatically agree to offer you a refund or replacement. In many cases, they will push back and claim the owner caused the issues in the vehicle, or that the issue is not covered under warranty.

Hiring an experienced attorney who understands the ins and outs of California’s Lemon Law can save you the time and stress of dealing with a manufacturer or dealership. In addition, the threat of a lawsuit entices manufacturers to settle Lemon Law claims. The owner of a lemon has the right to seek a civil penalty in court if the manufacturer knowingly violates the Lemon Law. Furthermore, a California court may order a civil penalty that equals two times the cost of your damages, making violation of the law a costly proposition for manufacturers. A skilled attorney can navigate all of the complexities involved with the Lemon Law and fight to make sure that you get the best outcome for your case.

Call Us if You Think You Purchased a Lemon

If you think that you own a lemon, we help consumers statewide. Call Lemon Law Associates of California at (877) 955-3666, or contact us online, to schedule a free consultation and to discuss your case.