Your Complete Guide to Understanding California Lemon Law

The California Lemon law protects consumers of new and certified pre-owned vehicles with significant problems. It covers vehicles purchased or leased for personal use or in a small business.

A reasonable lemon law attorney can help you determine whether your vehicle qualifies for protection under this statute and assist you throughout the process. Be wary of legal advice from dealerships or manufacturers.

What Is Lemon Law?

Both federal and state lemon laws help consumers who buy cars (and other consumer goods) that don’t meet quality and performance standards. In most states, these laws require manufacturers to either provide a replacement vehicle or give buyers a full refund of the original purchase price. It is in addition to any expenses incurred due to the defective vehicle or product.

Manufacturers of most consumer goods, such as cars, motorcycles, motor homes, and even household appliances, have warranties that guarantee the products they sell meet specific standards. These warranties may be express or implied. A manufacturer or distributor explicitly states an express warranty in writing. An implied warranty is based on common law and statute and is broader in scope.

A lemon law claim involves a dispute over an express or implied warranty. Generally, these disputes are resolved through arbitration. However, having a knowledgeable —CA lemon law lawyer is essential to ensure the best outcome possible.

Many manufacturers require that you participate in their arbitration program before bringing your lemon law claim to court. It is usually done to meet the requirement of paying your lawyer’s fees upfront. An experienced lemon law attorney can negotiate for you to have these fees covered by the manufacturer as part of any settlement agreement.

How Does Lemon Law Operate in California?

As you can imagine, the law that ensures consumer protections against faulty vehicles is complex. Manufacturers have teams of lawyers who build long careers out of deflecting lemon law claims and utilizing every nuanced tactic in the book to keep consumers away from their legal rights.

The most important thing to know is that specific elements must be met to qualify for a lemon law claim. For example, under the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, your new vehicle must have substantial defects that impair its use, value, and safety. It must also be taken to the manufacturer’s authorized dealer for a reasonable number of attempts to repair these issues.

Maintaining thorough documentation of your interactions with the dealership and manufacturer is essential, including all repairs, communications, and expenses related to the issue. The manufacturer may attempt to get you to sign a release in exchange for a warranty extension or reimbursement, but this can be a red flag that they are trying to cover up their negligence.

If you have a successful Lemon Law claim, the manufacturer is obligated to buy back your defective vehicle or provide a replacement of a similar make and model. The money owed to you can include your down payment, trade-in value, sales tax, financing costs, leasing fees, and other associated expenses.

What is California’s Statute of Limitations for Lemon Law Claims?

Certain thresholds must be met before qualifying for a lemon law claim. Those thresholds have to do with the nature of the problem and whether or not you made “reasonable attempts” to have a dealership fix the issue. Suppose you need clarification on whether you have a lemon.

In California, you have four years from the date you should have known or found out you had a lemon to file a lemon law claim. If your defect was not discovered until after the statute of limitations had expired, you may still be able to recover damages under state and federal consumer protection laws.

While some may tell you that the California lemon law only protects you for the first 18 months or 18,000 miles of your vehicle’s life, this is untrue. The Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, as found in the California Civil Code at Section 1790, and other state lemon laws instituted across the country provide extra protection for consumers who purchase or lease vehicles with significant defects that are difficult to repair.

The vehicle’s use also can be a material problem that significantly impairs your ability to use the vehicle. The problems must not result from regular wear or abuse but must occur during the express warranty period.

How Do I File a Lemon Law Claim in California?

Consumers expect to drive a reliable and safe vehicle when buying or leasing one. Sadly, this is not always the case. In some cases, automobile manufacturers or dealerships cannot resolve issues with the vehicles they sell. When this occurs, lemon law may provide protections and remedies to consumers. Those protections include getting a new or comparable vehicle, refunding the original purchase price, or terminating the lease early. However, to qualify for these options, consumers must follow a few key steps and create a paper trail demonstrating the problems and the failures to fix them.

The most important aspect of filing a lemon law claim is demonstrating that you have given the dealer or manufacturer a reasonable number of repair attempts to fix your vehicle or consumer goods. It is a subjective standard and depends on the severity of the problem, whether it has been fixed, and how long there was between each repair attempt.

You must keep records of any repairs, including receipts, repair orders, and any correspondence between the dealer or manufacturer and yourself. This documentation can help strengthen your case. Additionally, you have racked up expenses related to transportation or accommodation while the car has been in for repair. In that case, these records can also be helpful in your lemon law case.