How to File a Lemon Law Case
Learn How to Assert Your Rights Under California’s Lemon Law
If you purchased or leased a defective vehicle that is still under the original manufacturer’s warranty, you may be entitled to have your vehicle repurchased or replaced under California’s lemon law. But, in order to assert your rights effectively, you need to have a clear understanding of the steps involved in filing a lemon law claim. These steps include the following:
1. Take Your Vehicle to the Dealership for Repair.
In order to protect your rights under California’s lemon law, you must take your vehicle to a “representative” of the manufacturer to get it repaired. This means taking it to the dealership. You must give the dealership a “reasonable number of attempts” to repair your vehicle, and you must return to the dealership each time the issue resurfaces. If you go to an independent repair shop, any “unauthorized” work performed on your vehicle could void your warranty and prevent you from filing a successful lemon law claim.
2. Notify the Dealership of the Specific Issue of Concern.
Each time you go to the dealership, be sure to reiterate the specific issue of concern. Don’t be afraid to let your service representative know that you are there to have the same issue fixed again. This should help to establish a paper trail in support of your claim; and, in order to receive certain protections under California’s lemon law, you must, “at least once directly notif[y] the manufacturer of the need for the repair of the [defect].”
3. Determine Whether You Have Given a “Reasonable Number of Attempts” to Resolve the Issue.
What constitutes a “reasonable number of attempts” will be different under different circumstances. California’s lemon law establishes a presumption that you have provided a reasonable number of attempts under three scenarios:
- “If, within 18 months from delivery to the buyer or 18,000 miles on the odometer of the vehicle, whichever occurs first . . . (1) The same nonconformity results in a condition that is likely to cause death or serious bodily injury if the vehicle is driven and the nonconformity has been subject to repair two or more times by the manufacturer or its agents . . . .”
- “If, within 18 months from delivery to the buyer or 18,000 miles on the odometer of the vehicle, whichever occurs first . . . (2) The same nonconformity has been subject to repair four or more times by the manufacturer or its agents . . . .”
- “If, within 18 months from delivery to the buyer or 18,000 miles on the odometer of the vehicle, whichever occurs first . . . (3) The vehicle is out of service by reason of repair of nonconformities by the manufacturer or its agents for a cumulative total of more than 30 calendar days since delivery of the vehicle to the buyer.”
In other cases (i.e. if the issue arises after 18 months or 18,000 miles but while your vehicle is still under warranty), you will need to be able to demonstrate that any further attempts to have your vehicle repaired would have been futile.
4. Gather All Relevant Documentation.
Before filing your claim, you will want to gather all relevant documentation. This includes a copy of your purchase or lease agreement, a copy of your new vehicle warranty, and any service orders and receipts related to service you received at the dealership.
5. Figure Out if Your Vehicle is Still Under Warranty.
California’s lemon law applies to vehicles that are still covered by the original manufacturer’s warranty. It applies for the full duration of the warranty, and it applies only to defects covered by the express warranty language. As with ordinary warranty claims, lemon law claims are limited to the duration of the warranty or the number of miles specified in the warranty, whichever comes up first. So, if your warranty is 36 months or 36,000 miles, you must file a claim under California’s lemon law within your first 36 months of ownership or use and before your odometer gets to 36,000 miles.
6. Hire an Experienced Lemon Law Attorney.
At this point, if not sooner, you will want to discuss your case with an experienced California lemon law attorney. Filing a claim is complicated, and all of the major manufacturers hire big defense firms to represent them in lemon law claims. Your attorney will be able to handle the legal aspects of your claim for you while protecting you against the manufacturer’s aggressive defense tactics, and will be there to help you make informed decisions at every step along the way.
7. Send a Demand Letter.
At this point, if it appears that you have a claim, your attorney will send a demand letter to your vehicle’s manufacturer. The demand letter will detail the nature of the defect and the repair attempts completed to date, and it will state whether you are seeking a replacement vehicle or restitution.
8. Attempt to Negotiate a Settlement.
Upon receiving the manufacturer’s initial response, your attorney will work to negotiate a settlement. If these efforts are successful and you are satisfied with the manufacturer’s settlement offer, your case will be over. If the manufacturer refuses to settle your claim, you will need to decide whether to file for arbitration or take your California lemon law claim to court.
9. File an Arbitration Claim or a Lawsuit in Court.
In California, vehicle owners and lessees have the right to choose between going to arbitration or filing a lawsuit against their vehicle’s manufacturer. Your attorney can help you choose the best option in your case and represent you in the ensuing legal proceedings. However, it is still possible to settle once you initiate formal proceedings, and many lemon law claims settle between the time the claimant files an arbitration claim or civil complaint and the date that the case is scheduled for a hearing or trial.
10. Proceed to Arbitration or Trial.
If the manufacturer still refuses to settle, then you will need to proceed to arbitration or trial. Both of these are complex legal proceedings; and, in order to fully protect your legal rights, you will need to be represented by an experienced California lemon law attorney.
Get Started With a Free Initial Consultation
If you have questions about filing a claim under California’s lemon law, you can contact our offices for a free, no-obligation consultation. To discuss your rights with one of our experienced lemon law attorneys, please call 888-800-1983 or inquire online today.