When you buy a new car, you expect it to run without any issues – at the minimum. You just spent thousands of dollars – and dealing with ongoing issues when a car keeps breaking down is extremely infuriating.
When we think of products being made in a factory, we expect flawlessness. Big-name manufacturers have optimized workflows and quality assurance protocols in place to guarantee this. But unfortunately, everyone makes mistakes – even globally-recognized automakers.
So, what happens if your new car keeps breaking down?
The good news is you’ve got the law on your side.
Prior to 1975, this was not the case. The Magnuson-Moss Consumer Warranty Act – federal lemon law – was enacted to protect car owners in the scenario they purchased a defective vehicle. Additionally, there are state lemon laws with added provisions that hold automakers responsible if they cannot repair the defect(s).
As a lemon law attorney in Los Angeles, I want to explain how lemon law can protect you against recurring issues with a new vehicle. Let’s get going.
When is Your Car a Lemon?
First off, what is a lemon?
Now, before we explain, I want to make it clear that when a new car breaks down, it’s not automatically a lemon.
Lemon is a defective vehicle or product that is covered under a warranty. To be ruled a lemon, the manufacturer must have been given a reasonable number of attempts to repair it – of which were unsuccessful.
The qualifications of lemon are not always crystal clear. Moreover, the criteria differ from state to state. California lemon law – known as the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act – has a list of criteria that must be met, including:
- The vehicle has one or more “substantial” defects (covered under the warranty) that impair the safety, value, or functionality of the vehicle.
- The manufacturer has made a “reasonable” number of unsuccessful attempts to repair the warranty-covered defect.
- The vehicle has been out of service for repairs for 30 or more days for any number of warranty-covered defects.
- The defect was not a result of driver abuse.
As you can see, there is certainly some gray area in the California vehicle lemon law, especially when a new car keeps having problems.
What exactly is a “substantial” defect?
“Substantial” is a subjective term – and some defects are more substantial than others. For instance, when a new car keeps having problems due to a faulty engine, transmission, steering, braking, electrical system, etc, it can lead to serious injury or death. These types of defects make a solid lemon law claim.
The manufacturer might try to argue that some defects are not substantial enough to warrant a claim. Problems with the CD player or radio knob may be a long shot. A good lemon law attorney will argue these problems compromise the vehicle’s value and/or functionality.
How many repair attempts are “reasonable”?
The number of “reasonable” repair attempts is another big gray area when a car keeps breaking down. Generally speaking, the manufacturer gets two tries to fix the defect. But in some scenarios – when the defect poses serious danger – one failed attempt might be enough.
An important thing to keep in mind when a new car breaks down: the repair order MUST be closed by the manufacturer-certified facility to count toward a lemon law claim. If it comes out that the repair order is still open, the manufacturer can have another try to fix the defect.
What about the warranty?
Warranties are the foundation of lemon law claims. In California, you can file a lemon law claim if the defect was reported within the terms of the original manufacturer warranty, dealer warranty, or implied warranty of merchantability.
Most original manufacturer warranties are good for three years or before 36,000 miles accrue on the odometer. Warranty terms can differ based on the brand.
Dealer warranties – usually sold with used vehicles – are good for 30 days or before 1,000 miles accrue on the odometer. In CA, an implied warranty of merchantability is typically in place if there is no warranty specified on the buyer’s guide of a used car. These can be good for 60 days to a year.
The only scenario where there is no warranty is if the vehicle is sold “as is”. This is common in private sales – and must be clearly specified in the vehicle’s buyer’s guide at a dealership.
But what if the warranty is expired?
If the warranty is expired when you first report the defect to the manufacturer or dealer – you may be out of luck. This is why it’s so important to report any issues immediately after the new car breaks down. As long as the warranty is in effect when the defect is first reported, the claim can be valid – even if it expires shortly after.
Don’t Waste Time in Finding an Attorney
If your car keeps breaking down – and checks all the boxes of lemon law in California, you cannot waste any time turning to a specialized lawyer. This is especially true after a vehicle breakdown.
If you take any one tidbit from this article, it should be this: earning the full buyback (refund) will be nearly impossible without an attorney on your side.
Manufacturers have no problem leading you astray by encouraging you to steer clear of lemon law attorneys. This is because they know their chances of having to pay for a faulty vehicle go way up when the consumer has a lawyer.
As soon as your vehicle meets the qualifications of lemon law, stop talking to the manufacturer altogether. The attorney you hire is the only party truly on your side.
Another important tidbit: do not shy away from a skilled attorney due to fears of high fees. Quality legal help does not come cheap. However, lemon law lawyers – like personal injury lawyers – work on a contingency fee agreement. This means they do not get paid until they win the case, and they won’t charge you a penny upfront. In other words, ANYONE can afford a good lemon attorney.
If the lawyer demands out-of-pocket costs from you, this is a red flag to head for the door.
Buckle Up: There’s a Long Road Ahead
Unfortunately, returning a lemon to the manufacturer or dealer isn’t like returning something to Walmart. There are a bunch of legal hoops to jump through and the manufacturer has no intention of making it easy – even if your new car keeps having problems.
Automakers have all kinds of tricks up their sleeve to delay the process – in hopes you’ll give up and take a low-ball cash settlement. This is why it’s so important to have a lawyer specializing in vehicle lemon law on your side.
The good news is most lemon law claims are settled out of court. Around 30 days is quick for a buyback. If the case goes to trial – the timeline will likely be longer. The best thing you can do to speed up the lemon process is to help your attorney out as much as possible. This involves being responsive and providing all documentation to the firm quickly.
The documentation you’ll need for a vehicle lemon law claim includes (but is not limited to):
- The warranty terms
- Repair invoices
- Proof of all payments made on the vehicle
- Documentation of all official costs – sales tax, registration, etc.
- Receipts for all incidental costs – towing fees, cab fares, hotel stays, meals, etc.
Documentation is everything in a lemon law claim. The better you can equip your attorney, the quicker the process will move.
If you’re dealing with the fallout of a lemon after your new car breaks down, we understand you’re upset. Not only have you been ripped off, but the faulty product also put you in danger.
It’s important to keep a level head. You’re not doing yourself any favors by calling the manufacturer and screaming at them. Even if your vehicle doesn’t meet the qualifications of lemon law (yet), it never hurts to ask an attorney for advice. Most will happily point you in the right direction.
If you’ve got any questions or concerns about California lemon law and your situation, don’t hesitate to reach out to a lemon law attorney in Los Angeles at Cline APC. Give us a call at 888-982-6915, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or fill out a free case evaluation.