Purchasing a vehicle and having it get recalled can be very stressful, frustrating, and depending on the issue, extremely dangerous. As you likely heard, back in 2009, one of the widest reported product recalls in history involved Toyota’s faulty gas pedals. The issue was that the gas pedals in certain models would stick, leaving drivers unable to stop. Overall, there were more than 60 cases of runaway vehicles, 30 of which resulted in fatalities. In many of these cases Toyota remained steadfast blaming their customers, instead of the faulty product.
While this was certainly one of the most extreme cases of a product recall, this example makes it clearly obvious that issues impacting the safety and functionality of a vehicle should not be taken lightly. In larger cities, recall issues and defects are especially dangerous. As when we deal with the California lemon law in Los Angeles, where there is some of the worst traffic congestion in the country, we strongly advise ALL drivers to straighten out issues with recalls immediately to ensure our streets and roadways are safe for everyone.
Before we dive into product recalls and lemon law, let’s first define the term “recall.”
In the context of a vehicle, a recall is an initiative to remedy an anticipated issue before it causes additional damage (ideally), or in some cases after the injury or death has already happened. Most of the time, these issues are safety-related. Recall orders are regulated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Recalls can either be ordered by the NHTSA, or they can be done voluntarily by the auto manufacturer. The urgency of the recall varies. As was the case with the infamous Toyota recall, the urgency was code red. Now, the major difference between a recall and a lemon law claim is a recall is when the manufacturer reaches out to the consumer informing them about the issue; a lemon law claim may be the opposite.
So, what happens if you buy a vehicle that ends up getting recalled?
Does it qualify as a lemon?
Well, the answer is not black and white.
As you could imagine, this all depends on the facts and details of the case.
1. Lemon Law and Single Recalls
For the most part, lemon law requires that the consumer notices a substantial defect and allows the manufacturer at least two opportunities to repair the defect. In California, this does not have to be within the first 18 months of delivery, or before 18,000 miles accrue on the odometer, but if it does, this may be evidence of a very strong lemon law claim. As previously stated, a product recall is when the manufacturer or dealer reaches out to the consumer regarding the issue. In this scenario, similar to the lemon law, the manufacturer has three options: repair the vehicle at no cost to the consumer, replace it, or provide a refund – per car recall laws in the United States. In most cases, recall issues are adequately fixed on the first repair attempt, therefore the majority of singular recalls may not qualify a vehicle as a lemon.
However, if the manufacturer is unable to fix the issue (that is covered under the manufacturer warranty) after a reasonable number of repair attempts (usually, at least two), you might have a legitimate claim to remedy the situation. Or, another factor might be how long the vehicle was in the repair shop. As California Lemon Law states, a vehicle qualifies as a lemon if it has spent “more than 30 cumulative days in the repair shop.” However, this can be tricky. For instance, if the manufacturer can prove that there were complications out of there the control that led to a delay, the manufacturer may get the benefit of the doubt in court.
You could potentially make the legal argument that recalls decrease the value of the vehicle. Per California Lemon Law, the vehicle must have a substantial defect that impairs its “safety, value, or functionality.” You only have to prove an impairment to one of the three. A recall affecting the value would qualify.
For the most part, receiving a legitimate lemon law claim with a single recall can be tough.
2. Lemon Law and Multiple Recalls
If your vehicle is subjected to multiple recalls, your chances of having a legitimate lemon law claim will likely increase. However, there are no guarantees.
Again, it all depends on the scenario. If there are four or more repair attempts made on the same warranty-covered issue related to the recall, you could be eligible for benefits. If there are two or more recalls for different warranty-covered issues, you might also qualify.
The congruency of the recalls can also play into whether or not the vehicle is a lemon. For example, multiple issues might affect the transmission, which in turn, severely compromises the use, or the safety, or the even the value of the vehicle. In this scenario, it’s possible that a multitude of recalls can result in a lemon law claim.
3. Does This Apply to Used Vehicles?
The topic of product recalls and used vehicles is an ongoing issue. In July of 2017, the Used Car Safety Recall Repair Act was introduced in the Senate. If this bill became a law, it would make it illegal for used car dealerships to sell vehicles that are subject to open recalls. As of now, it has not been passed in the Senate.
So how does this apply to lemon law?
Well, if the recall is in relation to a part covered under the dealer warranty or Implied Warranty of Merchantability, the vehicle would likely be eligible for a lemon law claim. This would primarily be attributed to the dealer not disclosing this information and the defect being noticed by the consumer. To save yourself the headache (and a potential injury), look up the vehicle on CarFax to see if it is subject to an open recall. But be careful, CarFax doesn’t necessarily catch all problems.
But what happens if you buy a used vehicle and it gets recalled later?
In this scenario, similar to the process discussed earlier with a new car, you might have a legitimate claim if there is an express warranty in effect and the vehicle/defect meets the criteria of a lemon. However, if you bought a used car properly labeled “as is,” you may not be eligible for benefits under California Lemon Law, unless the manufacturer extends the warranty.
So, when it comes to lemon law and product recalls, there are very few solid answers and a lot of gray areas. Ultimately, it all depends on the situation, the vehicle, severity of the recall, etc.
If you have been notified that your vehicle has been recalled and are wondering what the next steps are, there is a chance that you are eligible for benefits under California lemon law. The best plan of action is to reach out to a local lemon law lawyer immediately to assess the situation.
Get in contact with us today and schedule a FREE consultation!