Dealing with the lemon law process first-hand is no picnic. As this is more than likely your first experience with a lemon vehicle, it’s very important to be as prepared as possible before going into your first meeting with an attorney.
If you go into it blind without doing your due diligence, you could miss out on potential benefits, or get burned altogether. If you have determined that your defective vehicle meets the criteria of lemon, here are five key ways to prep for your meeting with a lemon law lawyer.
Let’s dive in.
Tip 1. Gather All Documentation
As you enter the lemon law process, you’ll quickly learn that there are many, many unexpected costs and details. Your number one goal is to get reimbursed for everything related to the defective vehicle. To do this, you need to provide your lemon law attorney with all the receipts, invoices, and documentation.
Let’s start with the lemon law basics:
You’ll need all financial records tied to the vehicle. This would include:
- The total cost of the vehicle
- Down payment
- All monthly payments made
- The remaining balance of the loan
- All other official costs
Next, you’ll need to factor in the incidental costs. These typically include (but are not limited to):
- Uber/Lyft/cab fares
- Towing expenses
- Hotel stays (if you got stranded)
- Meals (if you got stranded)
- Lost wages
If you win the case, the manufacturer is required to reimburse you for all of these expenses. That said, it’s in your best interests to have all of this tracked down to the penny for your lemon law attorney.
Tip 2. Have an End Goal in Mind
If your vehicle meets the state’s qualifications of a lemon, you have a couple of options:
- Buyback of the vehicle (refund minus a mileage offset)
- Replacement of the vehicle
An attorney for lemon law should ask about your preference in the consultation. Under California lemon law, a manufacturer is only required to provide a buyback if the vehicle is proven to be a lemon. For a replacement – which must be an identical vehicle or one of equal value – both parties must agree to it.
Most people prefer a buyback, but others are loyal to car brands and prefer to stick to them. You can ask your lemon law attorney their opinion, but it’s always helpful to have an idea of your end goal before the consultation.
Tip 3. Ask the Right Questions
When you are working with an attorney for lemon law, there are several key questions to gauge how well they can handle your case. These questions will help you determine their level of expertise, track record, devotion to consumer justice, problem-solving ability, and the likelihood of coming out on top.
Some of the major questions include:
Q1. Are you specialized in lemon law?
Some lawyers may tell you they can handle your lemon law case. You need to be 100% sure they have the knowledge and experience to go up against the auto giants. Auto manufacturers are very well equipped with legal defense teams. An inexperienced lemon law lawyer has very slim chances of success.
As a general rule, do not hire a lemon law attorney who does not explicitly advertise lemon law services.
Q2. What would you like to see to properly evaluate this case?
Your lemon law lawyer needs to see that your vehicle meets the criteria of a lemon. They’ll need the paperwork from when you bought the vehicle, repair orders/invoices, receipts, your odometer readings, a record of how long your vehicle was in the shop, and the warranty terms.
Q3. How many similar lemon law cases have you dealt with?
Hopefully, your lemon law attorney has handled a decent amount and can tell you a bit about the legal landscape of the area. More importantly, they should have experience working with the manufacturer that sold you a lemon.
Q4. What are your top concerns when dealing with a lemon law case?
A trustworthy lemon law lawyer should have a few main priorities in every case. They may tell you several different things, but there should be a mention of speedy buybacks, consumer justice, and getting the highest settlement out of the manufacturer.
Q5. Can you provide any references from previous clients?
The best lemon law attorneys will be more than happy to provide you with some references from previous clients. You can also look into the lawyer’s reviews online.
These are just a handful of questions to ask in the first meeting. As most consumers have little to no experience in lemon law, it’s surprisingly common for legal firms to take advantage of this to make some extra money. The key to avoiding this is to ask the right questions – and know what responses to look for.
Tip 4. Be Wary of “Trade-Ins” or “Cash Settlements”
Lemon law is all about holding manufacturers accountable for selling faulty products. As a consumer who was sold a lemon (through no fault of your own), you deserve to get as much from the manufacturer as possible.
The manufacturer’s legal representatives will often try to convince you and your lemon law lawyer that you don’t have a valid case. They might try to get you to take a trade-in, which may result in a loss of equity or a higher payment on the vehicle.
More commonly, the manufacturer’s representation will tell you that the best option is to take a cash settlement, which can be much less than what you originally paid for the vehicle. To be clear, you ALWAYS want a full buyback with incidental costs included.
Tip 5. – Don’t Pay Any Upfront Costs (Bonus Tip)
Some untrustworthy lemon law lawyers demand out-of-pocket costs in consultations. They may claim these are retainer or arbitration fees. Don’t fall for this. Lemon attorneys operate on a contingency fee agreement. In other words, they make a percentage of the total settlement paid out by the manufacturer AFTER they win the case.
Manufacturers are required to pay for all attorney fees and court costs – according to California lemon law.
You didn’t choose to be sold a lemon. You should NEVER have to pay any upfront costs for a lemon law lawyer. The consultation is about gauging the strength of your case. A good attorney won’t take it unless they’re confident they’ll win.
Over to You
Lemon law can be a tricky topic. While the criteria of what defines a lemon vehicle might sound fairly straightforward on the surface, some numerous little details and factors can quickly muddle the proceedings. This is why having a specialized attorney for lemon law on your side makes all the difference.
Much of what happens in the first meeting serves as an indicator of how the rest of the lemon law case will play out. Before you even begin shopping around for attorneys, make note of these five things to ensure you go into the consultation fully prepared.