Lemon law is a field that’s chock-full of misinformation. Given that the details of the law vary from state to state, it’s easy to get confused and read contrasting information online. All too often, consumers assume they are out of luck or they need to take a step that goes against their own interests.
Unfortunately, we’re seeing a lot of content on the web produced by car manufacturers trying to spread false information about lemon attorneys – and the court system in general. Trust us, when you have a lemon, the attorney you hire is the only person who is truly on your side.
As a California lemon law lawyer with many years of experience, I want to set the record straight. Here are some of the biggest misconceptions we come across time and time again.
Fiction: A Vehicle is a Lemon at the First Sign of a Defect
Purchasing a vehicle and experiencing problems is a huge letdown. You’re inconvenienced, annoyed, and you just spent a bunch of money – we get it. However, the first indicator of an issue with your newly acquired vehicle does not make it a lemon.
Say you hear a weird sound coming from under the hood – may be the engine is making a knocking sound. The next move is to get in touch with the manufacturer, distributor, or dealer (wherever you bought/leased the vehicle) as soon as possible to begin the repair process.
Chances are, they will get it fixed under the terms of the warranty and you’ll be back on your way. Don’t stress yourself out about a lemon prematurely.
Fact: A Vehicle Must Have At least Two Unsuccessful Repair Attempts
We’ve gotten many calls over the years from consumers thinking they have a lemon at the first indication of a defect. One of the first questions we ask is: how many times have you brought it back to the manufacturer or dealership for repairs?
If this is your first time reading one of my articles, let’s get you up to speed quickly. Under California lemon law, a vehicle can be deemed a lemon if it meets the following requirements:
- The vehicle has a substantial defect that impairs its use, value, or safety.
- The defect has had at least two unsuccessful repair attempts made by the manufacturer.
- The vehicle has been out of service for more than 30 total days due to repairs.
- The defect was not a result of driver abuse.
There you have it. Before your vehicle can be ruled a lemon, it generally must have at least two repair attempts made by a manufacturer-certified repair facility.
Fiction: Must be Under 18K Miles or 18 Months from Purchase Date
This is perhaps the biggest misconception about lemon law in California – and it’s easy to understand why. A lot of the content you see online about California lemon law talks about this limit of 18,000 miles or 18 months after the purchase date.
We want to clear this up.
Meeting the qualifications of a California lemon within the first 18 months after purchase or before 18,000 miles accrue on the odometer defines lemon law presumption. This essentially means your claim is going to be much stronger. But you are most certainly not out of luck if the defect occurs after these limits.
Fact: A Car Can Be a Lemon if it’s Covered by the Warranty
To put the 18 months and 18,000 miles criteria to rest, your vehicle can be deemed a lemon as long as the defect occurred (and is reported to the manufacturer) while it’s covered under warranty.
Most bumper-to-bumper car warranties are good for at least 3 years and 36,000 miles. But this can vary based on the automaker you buy from. And, drivetrain warranties are usually much longer in both mileage and time.
As long as the vehicle is under warranty when you first notify the manufacturer of the defect, they are required to repair it free of charge. DO NOT wait. Even if the car started showing signs of faultiness before the warranty ended, it won’t matter unless there are official records of it with the manufacturer.
Additionally, the longer you wait, the more chances there are of getting into an accident. If this happens, the manufacturer will almost certainly try to attribute the defect to driver abuse.
Fiction: You Can Take Your Vehicle to Any Mechanic
When you’re experiencing car troubles, taking it to your trusted mechanic might seem like the obvious choice. This is one of the quickest ways to ruin a potential lemon law claim.
If there is any evidence that a non-manufacturer-certified mechanic has worked on the vehicle, it could invalidate the claim. If the case goes to court, the manufacturer will almost certainly argue that your mechanic is responsible for the defect.
Fact: The Vehicle Must be Taken to a Manufacturer-Certified Facility
As long as your vehicle is under warranty, the manufacturer or dealership is your mechanic.
Given the terms of the warranty, the manufacturer is required to repair the defect free of charge. So, if your vehicle is exhibiting a problem(s), your first order of business is to contact the manufacturer or dealership you purchased or leased it from. They will advise you on where to take it for repairs.
Fiction: Arbitration is Better than Court
Arbitration is something the manufacturer will likely suggest if your vehicle appears to be a lemon. Ask yourself why?
Arbitration involves taking your claim in front of an arbitrator or panel of arbitrators – as opposed to a judge and jury. Manufacturers will try to tell you that arbitration is a cheap and easy alternative than going to court – and it will get you back on the road quicker. Additionally, the manufacturer will pay for the entire arbitration process. Sounds like a sweet deal, right?
It’s not, trust us. In reality, going to arbitration requires you to waive all rights you receive in the judicial system, with limited or no rights of appeal.
Fact: Arbitration Almost Always Rules Against the Consumer
Arbitration has long been a loophole helping big businesses avoid being held accountable by the court system. In my experience, arbitration results are biased in favor of the business and against the average consumer – no matter how strong your lemon claim is.
Think of it like this. A judge and jury are part of the court system, which is funded by everyone (the taxpayer). And, it is your Constitutional right for a reason. The arbitrator(s), on the other hand, are paid by the manufacturer/defendant.
When your defective vehicle meets the qualifications of California lemon law, you deserve a full buyback or replacement – as well as coverage for all incidental costs. With arbitration, your chances of getting full compensation can be slim-to-none. You may be offered a small cash settlement or another attempt for the manufacturer to fix the defect.
Now, even if you fall into the arbitration trap, you may still be able to take your claim before a judge. But keep in mind that the arbitrator’s potential biased ruling will be brought up – adding another obstacle to receiving full compensation.
Some manufacturers – like Tesla – include forced arbitration clauses in their purchase orders. These state that if the manufacturer cannot fix the defect within a certain timeframe, the consumer cannot take their claim before a judge and jury. Their only option is to take the claim before a panel of arbitrators paid for by the manufacturer. Moreover, that the arbitrator’s decision is final and unappealable–the consumer must give up his/her Constitutional rights for the privilege of buying a Tesla product.
As you buy a car, be sure to look very closely at the terms of the purchase order – as these clauses are usually buried in the fine print. Most have an option to opt out of forced arbitration within 30 days, but in my experience, the salesperson never tells the consumer about the opt-out provision.
The bottom line here is that you need to avoid lemon law arbitration. It’s specifically designed to give consumers the short end of the stick. Get a California lemon law lawyer instead.
Over to You
The lemon law in California may seem straightforward on the outside. I believe it is the finer details that can get a bit murky. This list barely scratches the surface of all the misinformation out there, but hopefully, it will steer you away from making some of the biggest mistakes we see unsuspecting consumers make.
If you have any questions about a claim, your lemon buyback value, or anything related to California lemon law, we’re always happy to help.