The purpose of lemon law in the United States is to protect consumers who have purchased a vehicle that has defect and to force manufacturers to live up to their warranty promises. If a vehicle meets the state’s specific criteria, it qualifies for a manufacturer buyback or replacement. Just like returning a defective product to your local big box retailer, think returning a defective TV to Best Buy.
Sounds pretty simple, right?
Well, many automakers believe our laws should not apply equally to them and will do everything in their power to avoid buying back (refunding) consumers for a defective vehicle or offering a replacement. Lemon law buyback cases often get dragged out by automakers if an attorney is not involved. This leaves customers with no vehicle and no replacement or refund for long periods while they fight their claim.
The best way to ensure that you receive your rightful manufacturer buyback is by hiring a lawyer for help. Your lemon law lawyer can spott these tactics early on. You need to be aware of these common tricks that automakers use to avoid payouts if you are considering filing a California lemon law claim.
Here are just a few that you need to keep an eye out for.
1. Downplaying the Significance of the Defect
According to California lemon law, a lemon will usually have a defect which substantially impairs the vehicle’s use, value, or safety to a reasonable consumer in your specific situtation. Moreover, the manufacturer – through its local authorized repair facility – must be given a reasonable opportunity repair the vehicle, usually no less than two repair attempts.
Now, the qualifying variables of a “substantial” defect can be open to interpretation. One of the first arguments that automakers will try to stop your lemon law claim is stating the defect is not substantial enough for a manufacturer buyback.
The key is to understand what qualifies a vehicle defect for the claim. To reiterate, in a California lemon law claim, the nonconformity or defect usually must “substantially impair the use, value, or safety” of the vehicle. This includes (but is not limited to) issues with:
- Transmission system
- Heating and cooling system
- Steering column
- Electrical systems
However, there are additional nonconforming defects that can potentially qualify a vehicle as a lemon. For instance, if the check engine light warning repeatedly lights up (even though there are no apparent issues), this could substantiate a claim. This is because the vehicle would not likely be able to pass inspection. Additionally, this impairs the safety of the vehicle since the driver is unable to tell the difference between a real warning or a defective one.
Other issues that may be considered substantial enough for a lemon law claim include malfunctioning mirrors, windshield wipers, or fuel gauges. Even issues with paint on the exterior of the vehicle, such as bubbling or discoloration, can potentially qualify a lemon claim.
2. Blaming the Driver
Another tactic that automakers will try is to point the blame at the driver, particularly if you file a claim towards the tail-end of your warranty period. If the manufacturer can prove that the defect was caused by driver abuse or an accident, they will not be responsible for the buyback.
This can get tricky to prove, so you will need a good lemon law lawyer on your side to navigate this argument. You will also need to provide sufficient evidence from the vehicle’s service reports to prove that the issue was the result of a defect, not you. If your vehicle was involved in an accident, be sure that you submit a full report of the damage with your claim to prove that it did not cause the defect.
3. Forcing Arbitration or Low-Ball Settlement
Automaker’s lawyers may try to talk you into waiving your right to your court system, your constitutional rights. If successful, your claim would be heard by an arbitrator. They may say this route keeps your out of court and is less expensive, and easier. That is because arbitration is less expensive and easier for the manufacturer to defeat your lemon law claim. Arbitration will more than likely lower your chances of winning.
Lately, automakers have been pushing for arbitration to get out of manufacturer buybacks. If the manufacturer truly wanted to honor your lemon law claim, why would they want to strip you of your constitutional rights and force you to arbitration? The answer-they wouldn’t.
In fact, Tesla includes an arbitration clause in its purchasing agreement. This states that a buyer cannot file a lemon law case with the courts if the defect is not resolved within sixty days of ownership. This sneaky arbitration agreement also prevents drivers from being able to sue Tesla for additional issues – as they are unable to present the claim to a judge. The good news is owners have an opportunity to opt-out of this clause within 30 days after purchase. If you buy a Tesla, you MUST do this.
Typically, arbitration almost always ends poorly for the consumer.
Manufacturers are not the only entities that use forced arbitration, dealerships have been known to include these sneaky clauses in used car purchases, like this one here:
In some situations, the arbitrators may be sponsored by the manufacturer. This means getting compensation is like playing a game of football where all the referees are on the opposing team’s side. The bottom line is arbitrators are not on your side, no matter what. In essence, going this route is only “easy” and “cheap” for the manufacturer or warrantor, not you.
The chances of receiving a reduced payout amount is greater in arbitration – as opposed to your lemon law attorney presenting the facts before a judge. Moreover, you lose your right to appeal in arbitration, and the arbitrator doesn’t necessarily need to follow the black letter law. Always, ALWAYS avoid arbitration if an automaker suggests it.
Avoid any low-ball offers they try to give you to “avoid expensive legal costs.” If you have sufficient evidence that aligns with the state’s lemon law, the manufacturer will be responsible for covering your legal fees.
4. Arguing with the Validity of Your Evidence
Finally, the last sneaky tactic automakers may try is to discredit your facts. Every state has its own requirements for lemon law. For instance, to file a California lemon law claim, you must prove that the vehicle was:
- Serviced by a manufacturer-certified mechanic to repair the defect covered under the warranty, and
- Brought in for a “reasonable” number of attempts (two), or
- Out of service for more than 30 days for repairs (does not need to be consecutive)
- Showed signs of the defect while the vehicle was covered under the manufacturer’s warranty period, which can be as soon as 36 months or before 36,000 miles accrue on the odometer, or as late as 5 years or 100,000 miles of use. Warranty periods can vary based on the automaker.
Be sure that you meet all of your state’s requirements including the number of repair attempts, days the vehicle was out of service, warranty period, and the repair invoices. If you make any mistakes here, automakers will pounce on it, arguing that you have no legitimate claim.
As always, the best solution is to hire a qualified lemon law attorney to review your claim and compile all of the necessary evidence before filing for a lemon law buyback.
Filing a lemon law claim against an automaker can be intimidating without an experienced lemon law lawyer on your side. Auto manufacturers have endless resources and experienced legal teams who will do all they can to get out of a manufacturer buyback – leaving you with a defective vehicle and no money.
But remember: lemon law is on your side.
Even though automakers may try to trick you or get out of the claim through vehicle arbitration or other sneaky tactics, you have the right to follow through with your case.
If you have any further questions regarding your California lemon law claim or you are considering filing, please reach out to Cline APC. You will receive a free consultation from one of our expert lemon law lawyers to review the details of your case and determine the next steps.