Lemon or Driver Abuse: What Are Your Rights?

In a lemon law case, your mission is to get a refund of your hard earned money from an automaker for selling you a defective vehicle. The automaker has no interest in giving it to you.

As a consumer, you and your lemon law attorney are fighting to prove that your vehicle’s defect was a result of manufacturing or workmanship. On the other side, the manufacturer is generally fighting to prove the defect was a result of driver negligence – known as “driver abuse”.

Our team of California lemon law lawyers has seen just about every tactic manufacturers use to put the blame on the consumer – and get out of taking responsibility for their mistakes. In this post, we want to cover the basics of California lemon law. We also want to explain how driver abuse can void your claim, and how you can earn justice for your predicament.

Let’s get into it.

What Are the Qualifications of California Lemon Law?

If this is your first time reading about California lemon law, I want to go over the basics of how a vehicle may qualify as a “lemon”.

Most commonly associated with vehicles, a lemon is a product that exhibits recurring defects – covered under warranty – that impair the vehicle’s use, value, or safety. Under California lemon law, a vehicle usually must meet the following qualifications to be deemed a lemon.

  • The vehicle has one or more warranty-covered defects that compromise its use, value, or safety.
  • The manufacturer has been given a reasonable number of attempts to repair the warranty-covered defect.
  • The vehicle has been out of service for 30 or more days due to any number of warranty-covered repairs.
  • The defect(s) was not a result of driver abuse.

If your vehicle has met the first three qualifications listed – and you file a claim with local California lemon law lawyers, the manufacturer’s first move will likely be to blame its own customer, you, for example, the defect was caused by driver abuse. If they can do this, your claim may be dismissed.

What Exactly is “Driver Abuse”?

Driver abuse is an umbrella term used to describe any action taken by the consumer to cause the vehicle’s defect. In order to show your vehicle is a lemon, you must be able to prove that the defect was not a result of driver abuse. This is where matters can get complicated.

Being that the term is very ambiguous, the possibilities for manufacturers to claim driver abuse are practically endless. Moreover, manufacturer warranties typically last for years and tens of thousands of miles. That is a huge window of time in which the manufacturer can claim driver abuse can occur.

  • Do you drive recklessly?
  • Do you have a habit of braking hard?
  • Do you accelerate harshly?
  • Have you not been keeping up with routine maintenance?
  • Did you take the car off-road?
  • Did you get in an accident?

Regardless of the circumstances, the manufacturer will do just about everything to argue that the defect was due to the driver’s irresponsibility, not their manufacturing process. This isn’t just to protect their pocketbook; it’s to preserve their reputation.

Automakers have a global brand name to protect, and they have the most expensive legal defense and technical teams for this.

What Are Your Rights?

Under California lemon law, you are legally entitled to benefits if your defective vehicle was a result of manufacturer negligence. When this is proven – in or outside of court – your rights include:

  • A full buyback (refund) or replacement of your vehicle – minus a mileage offset. The buyback includes:
    • The down payment you made on the vehicle.
    • All monthly payments made.
    • The pay-off of the remaining loan balance.
    • Reimbursement of all official charges – registration, sales tax, financing charges, etc.
  • Manufacturer coverage for all incidental costs stemming from the lemon–towing expenses, rental cars, hotel stays, cab/Uber/Lyft charges, lost wages, etc.
  • Manufacturer coverage of all legal expenses – court costs, attorney fees, filing charges, etc.

Point number 3 listed above is THE most important thing to remember as you search for California lemon law lawyers.

Consumers seeking justice for buying a defective vehicle should not have to pay anything upfront. After all, the goal is to prove the predicament is due to the manufacturer’s mistakes. A good attorney knows they will be paid by the corporation once they win – and they won’t take your claim if they think they might lose.

The Best Way to Win Your Claim

To reiterate, lemon law is a battle in which you’re trying to prove a defective vehicle was caused by faulty manufacturing. The manufacturer is trying to prove that driver abuse was the cause of the defect, or that the defect just doesn’t exist.

So, what’s the best way to set yourself – and your California lemon law lawyer – up for success?


The second you feel something is off, get in touch with the manufacturer IMMEDIATELY to begin the warranty repairs. Once the defect is recorded with the manufacturer – and your vehicle is still under warranty – the lemon process has started.

Think about it like this. The longer you wait to address the defect, the more opportunity there is to do something that may fall under the umbrella of “driver abuse”.

Another factor to keep in mind here is lemon law presumption.

In California, your defective vehicle will be presumed a lemon if it meets the qualifications within 18 months of the purchase date or before 18,000 miles accrue on the odometer. Now, you are eligible for compensation as long as the defect occurred while under warranty – whether it’s three years, five years, 36K miles, 50K miles, etc. It will just be easier under the 18month/18K miles limit – which is a huge reason why you should act quickly.

The bottom line is you need to act fast. Any extra days you don’t report this issue is a gift to the manufacturer and their legal teams.

Over to You

Understanding the ins and outs of California lemon law can quickly get complicated with the small details. Fortunately, that’s why we’re here. If your vehicle is covered under warranty and is experiencing recurring issues, you need to begin the process of seeking justice immediately.

No matter what the circumstances are, you need a specialized lemon law lawyer to steer you in the right direction. At Cline APC, our California lemon law lawyers are here to answer any questions you might have. Even if your vehicle doesn’t qualify, we are happy to help explain the state’s lemon law and how it may help you in the future.

Give us a call at 888-982-6915, send an email to info@clineapc.com, or fill out a FREE case evaluation.

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