Buying a new or used vehicle and finding out it’s a lemon is one of the most frustrating experiences you can face as a consumer. In the old days, when a customer bought a defective vehicle, it was a more or less “tough luck” situation. In California, this all changed in the 1970’s when the Song Beverly Consumer Warranty Act (known as lemon law) was introduced to protect customers from faulty vehicles.
If you’ve got a feeling that something isn’t right with the new or used vehicle you recently purchased in California, it could very well be a lemon. However, before jumping to conclusions, you should have an understanding of what exactly qualifies a vehicle as a lemon.
Kinds of Vehicle Defects in California Lemon Law Cases
In California, there are a number of common warranty covered defects that qualify your vehicle as a lemon. These include (but are not limited to):
- Steering problems
- Issues with braking (need to press down further, vibrations in the steering wheel, pulsating pedals)
- Repeated check engine light warnings
- Headlight malfunctions
- Engine overheating
- Faulty ignition
- Fluid Leaks
- Transmission problems (burning smell, lack of response, grinding gears)
- Leaky exhaust
- Defective door latches, locks, windows
- Water seepage
- Broken speedometer
- Faulty seat belts
- Electrical issues
- Airbag defects
- Anti-lock braking system failure
The problems above are sometimes classified under lemon law as substantial defects. These are covered by the warranty and compromise the vehicles functionality, value, or safety. Most importantly, none of these are usually caused by user abuse of the vehicle.
In California, it is not necessary for these defects to be reported within 18 months of purchasing the vehicle, or 18,000 miles have accrued on the odometer. As long as the vehicle is covered by an express warranty, no matter the mileage, or age, you have rights under the California lemon law.
Types of Vehicles Covered
Lemon law in California is set up to cover new, used, and leased vehicles, as well as protect consumers against faulty products. A California lemon law attorney can help you with the following defective vehicle types:
- Motorhome and recreational vehicles
Reasonable number of repair attempts
If you have a defective vehicle, the manufacturer should get a reasonable number of opportunities to fix it. This is known as a “reasonable number of attempts” to fix a substantial defect. There are several rules that apply here:
- The manufacturer has made two or more attempts to repair a substantial defect.
- The manufacturer has made four or more attempts to resolve the same issue.
- The defective vehicle has spent more than 30 days in the repair shop for any number of defects.
If your vehicle meets any of the criteria above, there are four major ways a California lemon law attorney can help you stand up to the auto manufacturers.
1. Manufacturer Buybacks
When a vehicle has been proven to be a lemon, buybacks are a very common objective for consumers in California. A buyback is when the manufacturer repurchases your defective vehicle for the price you paid with a “mileage offset” calculated in.
This includes the total amount payable for the vehicle. If you took out a loan, this would entail the down payment and all the monthly payments you have made. Moreover, the manufacturer would need to pay off the remainder of the loan. However, they may not be responsible for late fees you may have incurred in the loan.
In addition to the payment for the vehicle, the manufacturer must reimburse you for any charges related to manufacturer-installed items or items installed by an authorized dealership.
A replacement under California lemon law is when the manufacturer gives the consumer an identical vehicle or one of similar value in place of the defective one. The replacement vehicle must be delivered with all the warranties that typically come with a new vehicle. Essentially, the warranty period starts over.
However, under California lemon law, the replacement remedy is completely optional for both parties. The consumer and manufacturer must come to an agreement for this to work – contrary to a buyback.
3. Defective Used Cars from Dealership
In California, buyers of used vehicles can also reap similar benefits as new ones. When you buy a used vehicle from a dealership, there is always a degree of risk involved. If the vehicle is defective, a California lemon law firm can help to hold dealerships accountable.
However, the law is not quite as black and white with used vehicles. There are several things you need to do when buying one. First, make sure there is a buyer’s guide. Dealerships are required by law to show this with used vehicles they have for sale. Within the guide, you should be able to determine whether or not the used vehicle is under the dealer warranty. If so, it’s possible the vehicle has a warranty period similar to the manufacturer’s. In other words, it would be covered under lemon law like it’s brand new.
The used vehicle may also be covered under an implied warranty. Essentially, this guarantees the vehicle meets the requirements to provide safe and reliable transportation for the time specified. If the vehicle has a substantial defect during this timeframe, the dealership would be held accountable.
4. Coverage of ALL Incidental Costs
In the case your car is proven to be a lemon, the manufacturer must cover all costs associated with the defective vehicle. In addition to the primary costs outlined earlier, this includes ALL legal expenses throughout the entire process of filing and resolving a legal claim, repair costs, sales tax, registration fees, towing, rental car payments, cab fares, any costs associated with an injury resulting from the defective vehicle, lost wages, and anything else directly caused by the lemon.
How Hard is it to Win a Lemon Law Case?
There are a few ways to look at the difficulty of winning a lemon case. If you represent yourself, it can be very hard to win. The auto industry in California is backed by some of the best legal teams in the country. Going up against them without the help of a specialized attorney is never a good idea.
If you go with one of the big nationwide lemon law firms, it’s very likely you won’t get the best results. Many of these firms make their money on the sheer volume of clients they get. If you go with one of these, a big red flag is that your case is mostly handled by paralegals or assistants. Moreover, they will urge you to take a cash settlement from the manufacturer, of which can be significantly less than what you paid.
Without question, going with a specialized lemon law attorney is the easiest way to prevail. The firm you choose to work with should prioritize consumer justice over anything else and work to provide speedy results. As a rule of thumb, be wary of any lemon law lawyer who asks for any retainer or contingent fees to be taken from your buyback recovery. Being as how a qualified lemon vehicle is the result of manufacturer negligence or wilful violation, a trustworthy lawyer will not ask for any out-of-pocket costs to represent you.
Think your new or used vehicle is a lemon? Get in contact with us today and schedule your FREE consultation.