A Primer on Defects and Repairs Under California’s Lemon Law

When you put your heart, soul, and hard-earned money into buying a car, and then find out it’s a lemon, the disappointment can seem overwhelming.

Your first question might be: What is a lemon vehicle?

A lemon is a vehicle (new or used), which the manufacturer, dealer, or distributor cannot repair within a reasonable number of repair attempts.

The best way to tackle this issue is to make yourself aware of all the possible scenarios that you might face as the owner of a lemon car. To put things in perspective, we have a primer on the defects and repairs under lemon law California, which should make things much clearer.

What are some of the most common defects of lemon law lawsuits in California?

Cars that qualify for coverage under California’s Lemon Law, usually suffer from a defect or defects which substantially impair the vehicle’s use, value, or safety to a reasonable person in your situation. This element takes into consideration many factors, including nature of the defect, and whether past repair attempts have been successful.

Some of the defects featured in successful lemon law claims for cars, trucks, and SUVs include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Steering or pulling issues
  • Transmission problems
  • Defective speedometers and fuel gauges
  • Activation of the check engine light (CEL)
  • Defective braking systems, symptomatic of loud or squeaking brakes
  • Electrical malfunction
  • Defective door locks
  • Failure to start/No start
  • Stalling
  • Loss of acceleration or hesitation on acceleration
  • Warm or hot air from the air conditioning system
  • Dead batteries from an underlying electrical concern
  • Malfunctioning airbag system

What happens when the manufacturer or dealer can’t fix my vehicle?

When the manufacturer or dealer can’t repair a problem in your vehicle within a “reasonable number of repair attempts,” the manufacturer or dealer shall promptly:

  • Buy-back the vehicle; or
  • Replace the vehicle with one that isn’t defective.

How can you decide that a “reasonable number of repair attempts” have been made on your car?

Whether the repair opportunities element has been met depends on a number of different factors. The nature of the defect can affect whether the number of repair attempts is unreasonable. Typically, 3 or 4 visits, but no less than 2 visits, for the same defect may qualify for the California lemon law. Another benchmark is the days the vehicle has been out of service for repair. For example, should your vehicle spend a cumulative total of 30 or more days in the repair facility undergoing repairs, it is likely that the repair opportunity element has been met.

Despite the general roadmap outlined above, the repair opportunities element is a “case by case” factually specific determination. Experienced California lemon law attorneys are best equipped to provide a professional legal opinion as to the reasonableness of the repair attempts.

When must the manufacturer offer lemon law buybacks for new or used cars purchased during the manufacturer’s warranty period?

According to the California lemon law, the manufacturer or dealership must promptly offer lemon buybacks for new and used cars purchased during the warranty period if the manufacturer is not able to repair any defect that “substantially impairs” the vehicle’s “use, value, or safety” within a reasonable number of attempts.

What if I have a used car? What are the cars covered under the used car lemon law?

It is common for consumers to wonder whether they are stuck with a lemon car after purchasing a car and facing ongoing vehicle problems. California’s lemon law covers both used and new cars. The used cars can include the following:

  • Used cars sold with the balance of the manufacturer’s new car express written warranty.
  • Used cars sold with a warranty issued by the selling dealership.
  • Business use vehicles that have a gross weight below 10,000 pounds, wherein the business has up to 5 vehicles are registered to the business.
  • Lemon cars or vehicles, which are bought-back pursuant to the California lemon law and then resold to consumers with a new warranty that covers the lemon car defects.

When is the right time to call the lemon law attorney?

It is never too early to consult a lemon law attorney. When you have lemon problems, the first step is to contact a California lemon law attorney. The lemon law requires the manufacturer or dealer to pay for any incurred attorneys’ fees and costs. Therefore, there is no reason not to get a professional opinion as to the validity of your claim.

How do you file a claim for a defective vehicle?

It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to identify a lemon prior to “signing on the dotted line.” And, the selling dealer is not going to tell you it is selling a lemon. Some of the defects can take days or weeks to appear. Therefore, you must properly document EVERYTHING before you even file your claim. This includes keeping track of every single repair order, manufacturer’s warranty documents, original purchase documents, and various invoices. Repair orders, in particular, are essential for making a claim.

This was our primer on the various defects and repairs covered under California lemon law. Do share your thoughts with us in the comments.

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