California Lemon Law FAQs
If you bought or leased a defective vehicle, you may be entitled to legal remedies under California’s lemon law. Find out more in these FAQ answers from the attorneys at The Bickel Law Firm, Inc.
What are your legal rights if you purchased or leased a lemon? What can you do if the dealership is unable to repair, and refuses to replace, your vehicle? Does California’s lemon law apply to vehicles other than cars, trucks and SUVs? While California’s lemon law provides important protections for California residents, taking advantage of the law’s protections can be challenging. It helps to have a clear understanding of the law, and most people will benefit greatly from hiring an experienced lemon law attorney to represent them.
At The Bickel Law Firm, Inc., our practice is devoted to representing individuals in California lemon law claims. Here, our attorneys answer some of the questions we most frequently receive about seeking protection under California’s lemon law:
Answers to Frequently-Asked Questions (FAQs) about California’s Lemon Law
Q: What Is California’s Lemon Law?
California’s lemon law is a state statute that protects consumers who purchase and lease defective vehicles. It is part of the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, which is California’s general consumer protection statute.
While the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act contains various provisions that apply to product purchases generally, it includes special provisions regarding vehicles that qualify as “lemons.” These include provisions relating to:
- The number of repair attempts required before a vehicle can be classified as a “lemon,”
- The amount of time vehicle owners and lessees have to file lemon law claims,
- The remedies that are available to lemon owners and lessees, and
- The express and implied warranties that apply to replacement vehicles.
Q: What Is Considered a "Lemon Car" in California?
Under California law, a car is considered a “lemon” if it suffers from a defect that cannot be repaired. In this context, there are two primary types of defects:
- Design Defects – A design defect is one which creates an inherent flaw in the vehicle. Perhaps one of the most well-known examples of a design defect comes from the early days of the sport utility vehicle (SUV), when certain manufacturers sold SUVs that had a high center of gravity and, as a result, were particularly prone to rolling over in the event of an accident.
- Manufacturing Defects – A manufacturing defect is one which arises from an issue on the assembly line. This could be a systemic issue that affects multiple vehicles, or an isolated incident that only affects one particular vehicle.
Defects can affect all components of a vehicle, from electronics and infotainment systems to engines and transmissions. While many types of defects can cause safety issues, a vehicle does not have to be dangerous in order to qualify as a lemon.
Q: How Does a Car Qualify Under California's Lemon Law?
In order to qualify under California’s lemon law, a car must meet the standard established in Section 1793.2(d)(2) of the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act. This section of the law states:
“If [a vehicle] manufacturer or its representative in [California] is unable to service or repair a new motor vehicle . . . to conform to the applicable express warranties after a reasonable number of attempts, the manufacturer shall either promptly replace the new motor vehicle . . . or promptly make restitution to the buyer. . . . However, the buyer shall be free to elect restitution in lieu of replacement, and in no event shall the buyer be required by the manufacturer to accept a replacement vehicle.”
As a result, there are four key requirements for a car to qualify as a lemon:
- The car must be a “new motor vehicle.” California’s lemon law only applies to “new motor vehicle[s].” The law defines a “new motor vehicle” as one which, “is bought or used primarily for personal, family, or household purposes,” or which has, “a gross vehicle weight under 10,000 pounds [and] is bought or used primarily for business purposes by a person [or company] to which not more than five motor vehicles are registered in this state.” The law does not apply to motorcycles, but it applies to virtually all other types of motorized vehicles purchased or leased in California.
- The car must be taken to the manufacturer or dealership for repair. In order to seek protection under California’s lemon law, you must take your vehicle to the manufacturer or an authorized dealership for repair. If you have had work performed by an independent repair shop, this may affect your rights, and you should speak with a California lemon lawyer promptly.
- The manufacturer or dealer must be unable to repair the car “after a reasonable number of attempts.” Before filing a California lemon law claim, you must give the manufacturer or dealer “a reasonable number of attempts” to fix the defect. What constitutes a “reasonable number” will vary from case to case. However, the law presumes that a reasonable number of attempts has been provided if, within the first 18 months or 18,000 miles of ownership, either (i) “[t]he same [defect] results in a condition that is likely to cause death or serious bodily injury . . . and the [defect] has been subject to repair two or more times;” (ii) “[t]he same [defect] has been subject to repair four or more times;” or, (iii) “[t]he vehicle is out of service by reason of repair . . . for a cumulative total of more than 30 calendar days [after] delivery of the vehicle to the buyer.” However, there are other circumstances in which a vehicle can qualify as a lemon as well—including circumstances in which repairs are sought after 18 months or 18,000 miles.
- The inability to repair the car must result in a violation of the manufacturer’s express warranties. Finally, the defect must be covered by the manufacturer’s express warranties. If the issue is not covered under warranty, then the lemon law does not apply.
Q: How Long Can You File a Lemon Law Claim in California?
You can file a lemon law claim in California as long as your vehicle is under the original manufacturer’s warranty. If your warranty is 36 months or 36,000 miles, the lemon law protects you until you reach three years of ownership (or use, in the case of a leased vehicle) or you surpass 36,000 miles on the odometer. The 18-month/18,000-mile statutory presumption we discussed above confuses many people. Contrary to popular belief, it does not limit the amount of time you have to file a claim under the lemon law. In fact, rather than being restrictive, this provision is actually intended to help protect vehicle owners and lessees by establishing clear instances in which the “reasonable number of attempts” threshold will be deemed satisfied.
Q: What Should You Do If You Have a Lemon Car?
If you believe that you may have a lemon, there are both steps you need to take and mistakes you need to avoid in order to protect your legal rights under California’s lemon law. At The Bickel Law Firm, Inc., we recommend:
- DO: Take your vehicle to the dealership for repair. If you are concerned that your vehicle may be a lemon, you should take it to the dealership for repair. Try to explain the issue to the best of your ability, and be sure to keep copies of any service records and receipts you receive.
- DO: Make sure you have a copy of your vehicle warranty. Now is a good time to dig out your vehicle warranty. If you bought your car new or leased it, a copy of the warranty should be included with your purchase agreement.
- DO: Go back to the dealership if you continue to have problems. We know it can be extremely frustrating; but, if you continue to have issues, you need to keep going back to the dealership. You will need to be able to show that you have the dealership a “reasonable number of attempts” to repair your vehicle, and you do not want the dealership or manufacturer to be able to claim that you made the problem worse by failing to take your car in for service.
- DO: Decide whether you want to receive a replacement vehicle or financial restitution. Under California’s lemon law, you have the right to decide whether to accept a replacement vehicle or demand financial restitution when you turn in your car. If you choose to accept a replacement, the law states, “the manufacturer shall replace the buyer’s vehicle with a new motor vehicle substantially identical to the vehicle replaced. The replacement vehicle shall be accompanied by all express and implied warranties that normally accompany new motor vehicles of that specific kind.”
- DON’T: Go to an independent repair shop. Once again, if you believe that you may have a lemon, you should go to the dealership, not an independent repair shop. Having an independent shop perform work can void your warranty, and it can potentially give the manufacturer grounds to deny your lemon law claim.
- DON’T: Listen to the dealership if they tell you that you must keep your car. Dealerships will often fight to avoid replacing or repurchasing lemons. They will tell owners and lessees that they need to keep coming back for service, and in some cases they may incorrectly state that the law’s 18-month/18,000-mile provision excludes eligible vehicles from coverage.
For these and other reasons, if you think you might have a lemon law claim, it will also be important for you to discuss your case with an attorney. This list of steps and mistakes is not exhaustive, and you will need to work with an attorney to make sure your rights are fully protected.
Q: Should You Consider Arbitration?
Maybe. Unlike other states, California does not require vehicle purchasers and lessees to file for arbitration before filing a lawsuit in court. While arbitration can be less time-consuming in some cases, there are other factors to consider before deciding not to take your case directly to court. As your case progresses, our attorneys can help you weigh your options with regard to pursuing arbitration, going to court and deciding to settle your lemon law claim.
Q: Why Hire an Experienced California Lemon Law Attorney?
Under California’s lemon law, you have every right to try to handle your case on your own. You can deal with the dealership and manufacturer directly, and you can even represent yourself in court.
But, the fact that you can does not mean that you should. The benefits of hiring an experienced California lemon law attorney to represent you include:
- Leveling the Playing Field – Auto dealerships and manufacturers hire big law firms to represent them in lemon law claims. If you try to handle your claim on your own, you will be putting yourself at a significant disadvantage.
- Smart and Strategic Decision-making – Should you file for arbitration? What constitutes fair compensation in your case? How do you know if your claim has been wrongfully denied? These are questions that require informed decisions based upon advice from an experienced attorney.
- Limited Burden for You and Your Family – Dealing with a lemon law claim takes significant time and energy. Hiring an attorney takes the burden off of your shoulders while allowing you to move forward with confidence.
- Preparing for Arbitration or Trial – If the manufacturer and dealership are not willing to resolve your claim informally, you will need to take your case to arbitration or trial. Hiring an attorney at the outset will give you the best chance to avoid these steps, and it will ensure that you are prepared if this is what it takes to protect your lemon law rights.
- Experienced Representation at No Out-of-Pocket Cost – Finally, under California’s lemon law, hiring an experienced attorney can come at no out-of-pocket cost to you. The law requires manufacturers and dealerships to pay successful claimants’ legal fees and court costs; and, with us, any applicable contingency fees would not be due until you received a financial award.
Contact Us for a Free Initial Consultation
For more information about your legal rights under California’s lemon law, please contact us to schedule a free initial consultation. To speak with one of our experienced California lemon law attorneys in confidence, please call 888-800-1983 or request an appointment online today.