What Are Your Rights After a Defective Vehicle Purchase?

No one wants to face the fallout of defective vehicle purchases.

In the old days, consumers who bought faulty products were simply out of luck. Fortunately, there are now laws that protect consumers and hold manufacturers accountable for producing/selling defective products.

More than 31 million vehicles were recalled in 2020 – per the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (reported by Motor Trend). This just goes to show how many defective vehicles leave the factory and are sold to consumers.

Lemon law technically covers all consumer products sold with a manufacturer warranty. But nearly all claims are tied to vehicles.

The Magnuson-Moss Consumer Warranty Act – or lemon law – was enacted in 1975. Lemon law exists across the country, but the finer details of the law vary based on the state the vehicle is sold/registered in. Most people have never dealt with a defective vehicle purchase before, and understanding lemon law rights isn’t always crystal clear.

In this post, we want to explain the legal concepts and point you in the right direction. Let’s get started. 

Examine the Warranty

 Warranties are the basis for your lemon law rights after a defective vehicle purchase.

Any defect with the vehicle MUST be reported to the manufacturer while the warranty is still in effect. Most manufacturer warranties are good for three years or before 36,000 miles accrue on the odometer. But these limitations can vary based on the brand.

Here are the warranty terms for the major auto brands:

If you’ve read about lemon law in California, you may have seen information claiming the defect must be reported within 18 months of the purchase date or before 18,000 miles accrue on the odometer. These figures represent lemon law presumption. Reporting a defect within these limitations will make your case stronger, but you may file a claim as long as the warranty is still in effect.

Now, defects are only covered under lemon law if they were due to an error in the manufacturing process. If the defect was caused by driver abuse, the claim will not be valid.

New Defective Vehicle Purchase & Used

In most states, lemon law rights only extend to new vehicles. Consumers can seek a lemon claim as long as the defect was reported within the terms of the original manufacturer warranty.

But what if the original manufacturer warranty is expired?

In some states – like California – consumers who made a defective vehicle purchase of a used car have rights. But it’s not apples-to-apples, unfortunately.

Lemon law rights in California apply if the used vehicle is sold with a dealer warranty or implied warranty of merchantability. Dealer warranties are usually good for 30 days after purchase or before 1,000 miles accrue on the odometer.

If no dealer warranty is specified, the vehicle comes with an implied warranty of merchantability. As the name states, this warranty implies the vehicle will work for its intended purpose. Under California Civil Code, implied warranties are good for no less than 60 days after the purchase date.

In some dealer sales, and most private sales, used vehicles are sold “as is”. This means there is no warranty in place and the buyer is responsible for all issues with the vehicle. At a dealership, this clause must be clearly stated in the buyer’s guide.

Seeking justice for a faulty used vehicle can be tricky. Plain and simple, you need a specialized lemon lawyer in California to manage your claim and earn full compensation.

Begin the Repair Process

 Your lemon law rights come into play after the dealer or manufacturer has been given a “reasonable number of repair attempts”. In the state of California, this generally means at least two unsuccessful attempts. However, if the defect is severe enough, just one unsuccessful repair attempt could result in a lemon claim.

As soon as you notice something is off with your vehicle, do not waste any time in starting the repair process. Every day you delay repairs is another chance to get in an accident or do something that might be deemed “driver abuse”. Get in touch with the manufacturer ASAP – they will instruct you to the nearest certified repair facility.

IMPORTANT: Do not, under any circumstance, take your vehicle to your trusted family mechanic for repairs. The repairs MUST be carried out by a certified facility while under warranty. Otherwise, this could void your claim.

The next step is to gather documentation for the repairs. If the time comes when you need to exercise your lemon law rights, the repair invoices are essential pieces of information to build your case.

These invoices need to include:

  • The make, model, and year of the vehicle
  • Description of the problem
  • Date + time the vehicle was brought in
  • Date + time the vehicle was picked up
  •  Reading of the mileage
  • Name and ID number of the employee you worked with

Most importantly, the repair invoice needs to be closed. This indicates the repair attempt was completed. If you file the claim and the invoice wasn’t officially closed, the manufacturer can make another repair attempt.

Seek a Professional Lemon Lawyer in California

 Understanding your lemon law rights after a defective vehicle purchase may seem confusing on the surface. But when push comes to shove, they are pretty straightforward – building your case is where the details can get murky.

Manufacturers shouldn’t get away with selling you a defective vehicle. With lemon law on your side, they won’t. If they are unable to repair your faulty car, your next step is to partner with an attorney right away.

Manufacturers will tell you all sorts of lies to discourage you from seeking professional legal assistance. This is simply because they know a good attorney will make sure they provide a full buyback to the consumer. Always remember, automakers have no interest in taking responsibility for ripping off customers – and will go to great lengths to avoid it.

As a lemon attorney, we are happy to answer any questions you might have about your lemon law rights in California. 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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