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What is California Lemon Law?

Lemon laws are a set of laws in the United States that provide protections to consumers who have purchased a defective good. Lemon laws most frequently apply to vehicles — personal use cars, boats, planes, RVs, motorcycles, etc., that experience persistent mechanical issues while still under warranty. The details of lemon laws vary from state to state, but the overall purpose of these laws are the same: to fairly compensate consumers who have spent time and money on a defective vehicle.

Define California Lemon Law

Associated with the California lemon law definition, you often hear the phrase “reasonable number of repair attempts” when describing the lemon law process. In California, a manufacturer is only allowed a certain number of repair attempts before your car can be deemed a lemon. After a certain amount of repair attempts without success, you as a consumer are eligible to file a claim against the manufacturer. In California, these are the criteria that define a “reasonable number” of repair attempts:

  • Your vehicle’s issues are such that they could cause death or bodily harm, the car has been in for repair two or more times, and the manufacturer has been notified of need for the repairs.
  • The car been in for repairs four or more times and the manufacturer has been notified of the need for repairs.
  • The issue has caused your car to be out of service for more than 30 days since your car was purchased.

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What Qualifies for California Lemon Law?

For many, a new car is not only an exciting purchase, but is the second largest expense they will face beyond a home mortgage, and with that should come some level of consumer protection which insulates buyers from defective vehicles. The California Lemon Law is designed to do just that, but in order to be protected under Lemon Law, you must first meet a few qualifications.

The California Lemon Law requires that a vehicle manufacturer be given a reasonable opportunity to repair the vehicle.  However if they are unable to fully repair a new vehicle or leased vehicle in accordance with the manufacturer’s express warranty after a certain number of attempts, and these problems pose a substantial impairment to the safety, use or value of the vehicle, that could trigger relief under the California lemon law and the manufacturer should replace or repurchase the vehicle from the consumer or provide some type of cash compensation for the diminution in value of the vehicle.

To qualify for California Lemon Law in Los Angeles, you must have a new or used vehicle that has been sold or leased in the state of California with a manufacturer’s warranty. This includes cars, pickup trucks, vans and SUVs.  The California lemon law even applies to dealer-owned vehicles and demonstrators. Further, vehicles purchased or leased for either business or personal can qualify for relief under the guidelines of Lemon Law.

To qualify for California Lemon Law, you must be familiar with the vehicle manufacturer’s warranty on the vehicle, as the law applies only to repairs made during the duration of the original warranty period. The law is guided by a 1970 protection bill, known as the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act.

Within the Song-Beverly Act, there are guidelines used to qualify a “lemon” vehicle. It is presumed that if the following criteria are attained within 18 months of delivery of the vehicle to the buyer or lessee, or 18,000 miles on the odometer (whichever comes first), the vehicle is a “lemon” and the consumer is entitled to a refund or replacement vehicle:

  • The manufacturer or dealership has made two or more attempts to repair the warranty problem that could potentially lead to injury or death when the vehicle is operated;
  • The manufacturer or dealership have made four or more attempts to repair the same warranty problem;
  • The problem in question is covered by the warranty and could radically reduce the vehicle’s use, value or safety;
  • If stated in the warranty, the consumer must directly notify the manufacturer about the issue in writing, sent to the address shown in the warranty.

Should your vehicle fall under these parameters in Los Angeles, you may be entitled under the Song-Beverly Act or California Lemon Law to pursue legal recourse and receive a refund or vehicle replacement or some type of cash compensation.

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How Does California Lemon Law Work?

It only takes one unexpected trip to the dealership’s service center to make a person think they’ve been sold a lemon. While California Lemon Law does protect consumers from such unfortunate circumstances, there is a set of guidelines that govern how California Lemon Law works.

If the qualifications are met that define what a lemon vehicle is in California, then the customer may be permitted to request a refund for the purchase amount of the vehicle, or alternatively given a similar replacement vehicle or be provided some type of cash compensation. This only transpires when all of the requirements of a California lemon law claim are met, which places the utmost importance on a consumer to keep track of paperwork.  A California lemon law claim relies almost entirely on the repair orders during visits to the authorized dealerships.

One way to trigger relief under the lemon law is through the California state-certified arbitration process.  This is only recommended after speaking with a qualified lemon law lawyer.  If a consumer decides to pursue this process in Los Angeles, a neutral third party arbitrator will hear the case and make a determination as to whether or not a reasonable number of repair attempts have been made, as well as what form of compensation a consumer should receive. If the consumer accepts the arbitrator’s decision, the manufacturers have agreed to comply with their decision.  If the consumer does not accept the arbitrator’s lemon law ruling, the consumer is still free to file a lemon law lawsuit in either state or federal court.

California Lemon Law attempts to encourage consumers to seek arbitration as a first option given the courts are so backed up.  They do this by using the law to state that before consumers can use what is known as the “Lemon Law Presumption” in a California court of law, they have to first attempt to reach a decision via a manufacturer’s State-certified arbitration program. Because of this, many vehicle manufacturers have decided to seek out a certification from the California Department of Consumer Affairs’ Arbitration Certification Program in an effort to find conclusions to problems earlier in the process, avoid expensive court fees and reduce their overall liability risk.

The arbitration process is a free way for consumers to settle warranty disputes, but it can be a challenging process for someone to undertake on their own. Though the manufacturers fund the programs, under California codes and ACP law the arbitration rules and monitoring are distinct from the manufacturer to avoid irregular or inappropriate influence in determinations. Still, manufacturers have dedicated teams ready to present their case in arbitration and understand the in’s and out’s of California Lemon Law, giving them a distinct advantage over consumers that have to set aside time to attempt to resolve their case.

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What Types of Problems Are Covered By The California Lemon Law?

When you purchase or lease a new vehicle, the last thing you expect is to be sitting in the service center of the dealership one month later while your car gets towed into the shop for work to be done on it. When this is the case, and once you’ve attempted to resolve the issue with the manufacturer under the proper guidelines, your vehicle may be deemed a lemon under California Lemon Law.

Exactly what problems are covered by California Lemon Law? Your vehicle has faced issue after issue and you’re ready to start the Lemon Law legal process, so let’s look at what types of problems are under the purview of Lemon Law.

The California Lemon Law covers problems occurring in motor vehicles for personal or commercial purchase or lease that come with a manufacturer’s warranty, including cars, trucks, SUVs, vans and the chassis and drivetrain in a motorhome. The types of problems covered under the California lemon law includes issues the substantially impair the safety, use or value of the vehicle. This would include issues to components such as the cooling system, airbag system, braking system, suspension, driveline, engine defects, rear differential, axle system, and turbocharger.

The law also makes room for issues related to safety lights, such as the check engine light, SRS warning lights or brake warning lights. It can also cover electrical issues affecting the vehicle, as well as navigation system problems, power windows, door locks, power seats and other add-ons. The law can protect from vapor issues as well, including tailpipe smoke, air conditioning problems and fuel injection issues.

It’s important to note that the law is specific in terms of what the warranty covers and the range of the warranty. It’s highly recommended that you familiarize yourself with a new vehicle’s warranty prior to purchase, and retain access to warranty information during your ownership.

Just as well, there is a range of defects that are not covered by California lemon law. This includes issues that result from driver negligence, demonstrated through improper driving, accidents or improper maintenance. Accident history is a major factor as well, and should you get in an accident, it is highly recommended that you have your vehicle inspected front to back to insulate yourself from problems that the manufacturer’s will void responsibility for. Finally, unauthorized repairs or vehicle alterations can result in a voiding of the warranty and lead to your California Lemon Law case being compromised.

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How Do I File A California Lemon Law Claim?

You’ve purchased a new vehicle in Los Angeles. You love it. Then, out of nowhere, problems start happening. The check engine light is turning on. The engine is stalling. There’s a problem with the fuel injection. Whatever the case may be, you must understand that as a consumer in the state of California, you’re entitled to protection from being sold a faulty vehicle from a manufacturer.

So you have a lemon on your hands. How do you file a claim and seek recourse in California?

First thing’s first, you need to take your vehicle in for repairs. The underpinning of any worthy California lemon law claim is that the manufacturer must be given multiple repair attempts for the same issue. Often times for issues that don’t impede the ability to keep the vehicle on the road, this falls on the driver; there simply isn’t time in the day to set aside and take your vehicle in for a repair. However, consumers should understand that manufacturers cannot be held accountable for problems with a vehicle that they’re not already aware of (such as recalls). California Lemon Law states that you must give the manufacturer as few as two opportunities, and in some cases four, to fix the issue with the vehicle.

The next thing to consider is accurately having the vehicle repaired and maintaining documentation of the process. When you go to sign a repair order, ensure that the work detailed reflects the issue present in the vehicle and speak with a service advisor to have any changes made. Furthermore, don’t rely on the dealership or manufacturer to accurately maintain a history of repairs on the vehicle. The first sign of a problem should raise a red flag, and you should immediately go into document acquisition mode. Keep a folder if necessary; it can be critical when filing your claim.

Once the dealer has made attempts to repair and you have documentation of the attempts, you should begin to reach out to the manufacturer about the Lemon Law case. These cases may seem straightforward; you purchased a new car and it’s not operating as it should. However, the minutiae of Lemon Law places manufacturers at an advantage going into arbitration. This places a premium on hiring adequate legal counsel to assist with your case. An experienced Lemon Law attorney can help ensure you’ve put together the proper documents and arguments for your case, helping you receive the best possible outcome and getting back on the road.

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Do I Need An Attorney for My California Lemon Law Claim?

On the surface, the California Lemon Law may seem like a simple and straightforward process: your new car is under warranty and it’s having issues, the manufacturer has tried and failed to remedy the problem after a reasonable number of repair attempts, and you would like a refund or replacement for your lemon vehicle. The reality of the situation is that manufacturers are not so keen to give up that easily. Replacing a vehicle eats into their profit, and manufacturers have extensive legal teams in place that are ready to protect their financial interests, as well as the state of their brand.

So should you go it alone and take on the major manufacturers yourself, or would an experienced legal counsel’s advice be the better route? That’s the question you’ll have to approach strategically as you navigate the process, but we’re here to list the reasons why turning to legal assistance may prove the most cost-effective measure.

The first — and most important– element that you should understand about the California Lemon Law buyback program is that California Civil Code Section 1794(d) requires a manufacturer to pay a prevailing car buyer’s attorney fees. The result of this civil code is that, should you feel that have an ironclad or even very strong case against the manufacturer, the manufacturer will end of covering your legal fees in the end. Because of this, many Lemon Law attorneys are willing to work with clients on payment methods that best reflect this result, assisting clients in making a minimal investment in the process.  But by no means should you pay a lemon law attorney a retainer fee or any monies up front to work on your California lemon law claim.

Another benefit to hiring a Lemon Law attorney is that you’ll have stronger negotiating leverage than otherwise. Remember that lemon law civil code we just mentioned? When you enter negotiations with an attorney, a clock is started on potential pending attorney fees that manufacturers will be faced with should they lose. This places greater incentive in expediting the process, giving you a stronger position to leverage from than if you entered negotiations without representation. Companies see no incentive in speeding up a settlement and increasing their debt, so they’ll find every trick in the book to slow the process to a halt when you’re without representation.

Additionally, an experienced Los Angeles lemon law attorney brings legal expertise that helps insulate you from legal errors that could compromise your case, costing you far more in the long run than hiring an attorney. Thus, it’s highly recommended that should you believe you have a legitimate Lemon Law case, you reach out to an experienced lemon law attorney immediately for legal assistance.  Do not reach out to a general practice attorney as the California lemon law is a unique area of the law with its own nuances, which is why when you do reach out to an attorney make sure it is an attorney who specializes in lemon law.

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What California Lemon Law Can Do for You

California has a certain set of criteria and standards when defining lemon law. In order for your vehicle to be deemed a lemon, it must meet those standards set by California lemon law. The term “lemon law presumption” describes the scenario in which your car can be presumed as a lemon. The following must occur within 10 months or 18,000 miles of purchasing your vehicle to fall under presumption:

  • It is repaired at least two times for a substantial safety defect that can cause bodily injury or death
  • It is repaired at least four times for a persistent non-substantial safety defect
  • It is out of service for more than 30 days total due to any combination of problems or defects.

A consumer must be able to prove at least one of the above criteria in a court of law for a judge to presume your vehicle a lemon. However, even if your vehicle does seemingly meet these requirements, manufacturers have the opportunity to fight against this, which is why it’s important to have an experienced lawyer on your side. Even if you don’t think your car qualifies under California lemon law presumption, reach out to us today. You may still be eligible for compensation.

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California Lemon Law Resources

Navigating the waters of California Lemon Law can be a challenging venture, particularly when faced with the stress of what very well may be a lemon vehicle on your own hands. Ensuring the best outcome for your lemon law claim is a must, especially with a new vehicle that you may be paying for well into the future. That’s why we’re going to look at some resources that can be vital in putting together your case.

First and foremost, a resource you’ll need to get used to off the bat is your manufacturer’s warranty. You should keep yours in your glove department, but if you’re unable to find it, you can easily reach out to the manufacturer with your VIN number and get another copy; it may even be available online.

The next place to check would be the California Department of Consumer Affairs. The department is responsible for many of the affairs surrounding the California Lemon Law, and as such have put together information packets and trusty guides to get you started on informing yourself and determining whether or not you have a case. The even have a twenty-eight page “Lemon-Aid for Consumers” online brochure that explains the essential points on what qualifies as a lemon and how the arbitration process works for consumers.

Just as well, the Office of the Attorney General of the state of California will put out information on their website that provides an overview on Lemon Law, including items like the Car Buyer’s Bill of Rights. This is a great resource for understanding where you stand as a consumer and what you’re entitled to.

The Better Business Bureau also assembles literature on consumer rights as they relate to vehicle ownership. This includes storing documents on their site that outline the crucial Song-Beverly Act of 1970, ideal for a legal overview.

Of course, the greatest resource of all is that of sound legal advice from representation that has experience in the field of California Lemon Law. Our offices in Los Angeles at Shainfeld Law have been working for years on Lemon Law cases, securing excellent outcomes for our clients. We’re happy to provide the legal expertise and comprehensive case management that positions you for the best possible recourse. We take pride in serving our clients as a Lemon Law resource, providing explanations of the process, what you’re eligible to file for in terms of compensation, and walking you through step-by-step.

Don’t forget to check out our “Lemon Law Tips” page!

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