If done wrong, dealing with a lemon vehicle can be a hassle – no matter where you are.
Fortunately, the state of California is considered to be one that offers some of the strongest lemon laws for consumers. Lemon laws can vary widely across the country. While some states – like Illinois and Colorado – offer little protection for buyers, California does a lot to hold manufacturers accountable.
However, there are still many legal loops that you will need to jump through in order to be successful with a lemon law case in the state of California. Manufacturers are not always willing to refund the purchase price of a defective vehicle, sometimes thousands of dollars. Unless you have a good California lemon law attorney on your side, you could lose out on some (if not all) of the money that you are rightfully owed.
So, if you think that you have a lemon on your hands and you are interested in filing a claim, there are a few basic things you should know to be prepared for the lemon law process.
Let’s dive in.
1. Bring it to the Manufacturer or Dealership for Repairs First
The California Lemon Law requires that a vehicle be taken to repair a “reasonable number” of attempts before it can be ruled a lemon.
So, it is crucial that your vehicle be taken to a manufacturer-certified mechanic for repairs while it’s under warranty. Otherwise, your case will not hold up.
For instance, if you took your vehicle to a local mechanic and then to the dealership’s mechanic for the same issue, the manufacturer could argue that the local mechanic was at fault. This could mean that you lose your case and get stuck not just with your lemon vehicle, but all of the legal fees spent going to court.
Always take your defective vehicle (covered under the warranty) to the manufacturer’s authorized repair facilities for any and all repairs.
2. Make Sure There Have Been a Reasonable Number of Attempts
As mentioned before, California requires a “reasonable number” of repair attempts to qualify a vehicle as a lemon. So, what is that number exactly?
That’s a very good question.
The law is a little bit vague here. However, the number that a judge may consider to be “reasonable” can sometimes depend on the severity of the problem.
For example, if the defect poses a serious safety threat to the driver or passenger, then two repair attempts might be considered reasonable. This could be related to issues with the brakes, engine overheating, or the transmission.
If the problems are recurring but not necessarily life or death, then no less than two repair attempts are required. The nature, and severity, of the defect will dictate what the “reasonable number” of attempts means. One exception to the general rule is whether the manufacturer refuses repair. If the manufacturer refuses repair, the consumer has generally met the repair requirement.
Further, the California lemon law also states that if a vehicle is out of service for more than thirty days due to any number of repair attempts, it can be deemed a lemon. These days do not need to be consecutive – but they must begin during the manufacturer’s warranty.
3. Collect Your Paperwork Before Filing or Hiring a Lawyer
If you suspect that your vehicle is exhibiting ongoing issues that could qualify it as a lemon, you need ALL pertinent documentation from the authorized repair facility.
One of the most crucial pieces of evidence you will need to file a claim is your repair invoice. This is a document from the authorized dealership regarding all of the “nonconforming conditions” that your vehicle is presenting. It may also include details on the “symptoms” that the vehicle is presenting, such as squeaky brakes, check engine light flashing, or vibrations at high speeds.
The repair invoice must include crucial information on all repair attempts, including:
- Why the vehicle was brought in for repairs
- How the issues were attempted to be repaired
- Dates and times of all repairs
- Outcome of repair attempts
- Important details about the vehicle, such as mileage
Manufacturers may try to argue that the vehicle’s problems were a result of driver abuse. The repair invoice can help to prove that the problems were the manufacturer’s fault, not yours.
Additionally, if there are any incidental costs resulting from your vehicle’s issues, be sure to include the receipts and details in your claim as well. For instance, if your vehicle had to be towed to the dealership for repairs, the manufacturer would be responsible for this cost.
Some other documents you will want to include to support your case would be:
- Any personal notes, images, or other documentation from conversations with the dealership, mechanic, or manufacturer regarding the vehicle’s issues
- Your vehicle’s history
- Timeline of all repairs
In short, be sure to cross your T’s and dot your I’s before filing your lemon claim – otherwise, it could be a big waste of time. You will need to have full documentation to prove all repair attempts and create a timeline to prevail in your case.
4. Don’t Fall for Unfair Settlements
Once your California lemon law attorney has submitted your claim, you will need to wait for a response from the manufacturer. The manufacturer will most likely attempt to negotiate with you for a smaller cash payout.
In some cases, this may be as little as one month’s finance or lease payment. However, you are within your rights to demand the manufacturer reimburse you completely for the defective car.
You may also see other ways to seek a resolution, but these are not lemon law claims, and in many cases may not be a good option. For instance, if numerous consumers are having similar issues with a vehicle, there may be an open class action lawsuit. This requires consumers to simply submit paperwork to prove they meet the requirements and hopefully receive a cash payout.
This might seem like a good option on paper. But it is generally not the best choice – particularly if your vehicle is significantly impaired. In some cases, consumers may only receive a few hundred dollars or even just a voucher towards repair costs. If you qualify under California’s lemon law, you ALWAYS want to pursue the full refund or replacement amount that you are rightfully owed.
Another option that is best to avoid is arbitration. Many manufacturers will suggest this solution to avoid going to a court hearing in front of a judge. They will instead request to bring the case to a group of arbitrators. These arbitrators are often sponsored or provided by the manufacturer. Therefore, the chances are pretty slim that you will receive a full payout from their decision.
Ultimately, it is best to leave the negotiations to your lawyer. Be sure you have a good California lemon law attorney on your side to navigate these topics and fight for your rights – and your payout.
Over to You
Having a vehicle with constant mechanical problems is an issue no one wants to have. But if these problems are continuously occurring while your vehicle is under warranty, you could receive a replacement or a full refund.
The key to winning your claim and receiving the maximum payout is to hire a California lemon law attorney that specializes in the state’s laws. A good lawyer will be able to tell you exactly what you need to win your case and will fight to get every dollar you are owed.
If you think you may have a lemon on your hands, do not hesitate to contact us. Our California lemon law lawyers will answer any questions you may have. We’re happy to provide a free case evaluation to get started.