The lemon law process sounds pretty straightforward on the surface. But once you get into the nuts and bolts, every case is unique and has its own set of challenges. As a lemon law lawyer in California, I can tell you without any doubt that there may be plenty of obstacles put in your way by the auto manufacturers – no matter how clear cut your case may seem.
With a skilled attorney on your side, navigating the lemon law process is easy. However, you play a vital role in earning the maximum buyback. When looking at the big picture, ending up with a lemon is very rare – and nearly all consumers in this predicament are dealing with it for the first time.
There are several key mistakes in the early stages that can potentially compromise your buyback amount. In this post, I want to go over three of the big ones to watch out for.
Let’s get into it.
Selecting the Right Lemon Law Attorney
The lemon law attorney you choose to represent you is the single biggest difference maker throughout the process. To reiterate, this is probably your first brush with lemon law, or for that matter any civil case. As much as we’d love to tell you that ALL attorneys, let alone lemon law attorneys are straight shooters, this simply may not be the case.
When searching for a lemon law lawyer in California, there are a handful of red flags that should leave you searching for another option. Here are some of the big ones:
They aren’t specialized in California lemon law.
Lemon law exists across the entire country, but the details differ from state-to-state. California’s lemon laws are unique, and you need a seasoned attorney who knows them backward and forwards. Moreover, big automakers spare no expense in their legal teams. A general practice lawyer will more than likely get chewed up by the manufacturer’s defense efforts.
Generally speaking, if the attorney doesn’t specifically advertise California lemon law services, they probably won’t be able to earn you a fast, comprehensive buyback.
They are a big, nationwide firm.
Big nationwide firms – while they may advertise specific CA lemon law services – are not usually the best choice. Most offer cut sub par services with business models typically based on client volume.
This means they will sign a new client, then pass the case off to an assistant or paralegal. In most cases, this ends with the consumer getting a low-ball cash settlement from the manufacturer, rather than a full buyback. When you shop for a lemon law lawyer in California, always go with a California based lemon law firm.
They don’t have much experience with the manufacturer of your vehicle.
This is a big one. Like I mentioned, automakers have access to the most expensive legal defense teams money can buy. Each manufacturer has its own set of hurdles and challenges in the lemon law process. You need an attorney who has dealt with them before and knows how to navigate around the obstacles.
Ask them if they’ve handled cases with your particular vehicle manufacturer. Ask them what the unique challenges are with their legal teams in the lemon law process. If they can’t provide any solid answers or show you any case studies/past examples, it’s probably time to find the door.
They make bold guarantees in the consultation.
There are very, very few guarantees in the lemon law process – this goes for pretty much any area of law. A trustworthy lemon law lawyer won’t make any promises of a buyback or replacement in the initial consultation – because they can’t.
Generally speaking, a good lawyer will be cautiously optimistic in your consultation. If they are making promises that seem too good to be true, keep looking.
They demand fees from you upfront.
Much like personal injury cases, clients are in this predicament through no fault of their own. A lemon is the result of a manufacturer’s mistakes in the production process. Consumers affected by this should NEVER have to pay out-of-pocket costs to seek justice.
When you win your case, the manufacturer is legally required to pay for ALL legal costs and attorney fees. A good lemon law lawyer in California knows this and won’t ask you for anything out of pocket. Additionally, this puts the pressure on them to earn a speedy buyback. They will not take your case unless they think they can win.
Totaling Up Incidental Costs
Incidental costs are all the collateral damages that stemmed from the lemon – of which the manufacturer is legally obligated to reimburse you for as part of the buyback. This is in addition to the cost of the vehicle, down payment, loan payments, attorney fees, court costs, etc.
The ripple effect of a lemon can be pretty significant. These incidental costs would include everything like towing costs, cab fares, hotel stays, meals, repair expenses, lost wages, and so on.
Tallying up all the costs can get confusing. This is why it’s so vitally important that you keep records of every single expenditure tied to the lemon. You will need to give all of this to your attorney so they can negotiate the buyback amount. Losing a receipt or not keeping records is essentially like flushing money down the toilet.
Filing a Claim for a Used Vehicle
Used vehicles and lemon law can get tricky. Most states only have lemon laws for new vehicles. Fortunately, California is not one of them.
Owners of used vehicles may file a lemon law claim as long as the vehicle was sold with the balance of the manufacturer’s new car warranty. This is most common in vehicles sold certified pre-owned. Additionally, the lemon law will apply if the car is sold with a dealer warranty – which may be good for as little as 30 days after the purchase date or before 1,000 miles accrue on the odometer.
The dealer warranty should have been displayed on the buyer’s guide when you purchased the used vehicle. If the vehicle was NOT sold with a warranty, it should be clearly labeled that it was sold “as is”.
If you bought the vehicle “as is”, it means you may be assuming full responsibility for anything wrong with the vehicle. As a result, you could lose your legal right to a lemon claim.
Now, in some instances, the buyer’s guide might not specify whether the vehicle is covered under warranty OR if it’s being sold “as is”. If there is no specification, the vehicle is automatically sold with an implied warranty of merchantability. Under CA law, this warranty may be good for at least 60 days after the purchase date.
The window to file a claim for a used vehicle can be very small. The biggest challenge is simply taking action quickly. An experienced lemon law lawyer in California deals with used lemons every day. If you even have the slightest hunch your newly-acquired pre-owned vehicle is defective, don’t waste any time in starting the process!
Over to You
The lemon law process is unique to every consumer affected – but some challenges are more or less universal. There is a lot that goes on before an attorney comes into the picture. Hopefully, this post cleared up some confusion and helped set you up for success.
If you have any questions or concerns about your defective vehicle, our lawyers at Cline APC are standing by with answers. Regardless of whether you have a valid claim or not, we’re always happy to offer advice and point you in the right direction.