By: Brett Shainfeld

So you bought a new car and it’s not turning out to be the exciting new purchase you hoped it would be.

You’re having problems with it — major ones — that don’t respond to repairs, and you’re in and out of the shop so much that you know the names of your mechanic’s kids, which sports they play, and where they want to go to college.

Now that your new car is turning out to be a nightmare, a major source of frustration, and a huge financial drain for your family, you start thinking you might have a lemon on your hands. And if this sounds familiar, there’s a good chance you may be right.

This article will cover what a lemon is, the car lemon law in California, and what you can do if you have a lemon car.

Remind Me — What’s the Lemon Law?

The lemon law on a federal level is technically called the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act. The Act doesn’t require all products to come with a warranty, but it does provide certain regulations to those that do. When a product falls under a full warranty, if it suffers from a defect or malfunction, the manufacturer issuing the warranty has to either fix the product within a reasonable amount of time and at no charge to the consumer, or they have to offer a replacement or refund.

The lemon law can apply to any number of household items, from kitchen appliances and electric toothbrushes to lawnmowers and gas grills. But the lemon law also applies to vehicles, which is why when we think of a lemon, we tend to think of a car.

Though the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act is a federal law, many individual states have their own lemon laws that detail some of the specific requirements products have to meet in order to be considered lemons and receive protection under the laws. Knowing the California lemon law requirements will help you understand if you have a lemon law case and how to file one.

How Does This Apply in California?

The car lemon law in California states that your car must have a “substantial defect” that persists after a “reasonable number of repair attempts” have been made. Each state has different requirements for what is considered a substantial defect and a reasonable number of repair attempts. Each state will also impose a time or mileage limit within which the defects have to occur in order for the lemon law to provide protection.

The California lemon law presumption states that issues with your car must occur within the first 18 months or 18,000 miles of ownership (whichever comes first). You don’t have to file your lemon law claim in California within that time frame, you just have to be able to show that the problems started then. So even if you’ve had your car for 30,000 miles, but you’re still trying to fix defects that started around mile 15,000, you can be covered.

Aside from the time frame, the car lemon law presumption in California sets these requirements:

  • The manufacturer has made two or more attempts to fix a warranty issue that could cause death or serious injury
  • The manufacturer has made at least four attempts to fix the same warranty issue, and the defect still persists
  • The car has been in the shop for at least 30 days because of warranty repair problems
  • None of the issues with the car are a result of abuse by the owner

If your car meets any of the above criteria, you may be eligible for compensation from the car’s manufacturer. An expert lemon lawyer will be able to help you determine if you have a lemon on your hands.

If I Have a Lemon, What Can I Do?

If your car meets the California lemon law requirements, you may be entitled to compensation from the manufacturer. They could have to pay you back, either by buying back the car from you, replacing it with one that doesn’t have any defects, or they can offer you a cash settlement. But they aren’t likely to do this without a fight.

When you realize your car is a lemon, the first thing you want to do is contact the manufacturer you bought the car from. Explain the situation, present them with any documentation that shows you’ve been trying to fix the issue — make sure to keep all your receipts and repair bills — and give them a chance to make it right. They may want you to bring the car in and have it looked at by their mechanics before agreeing to anything. And you may get lucky. They might offer to buy back or fix the car. But chances are, you’ll have to pursue an lemon law arbitration or file a lemon law claim to get what you deserve.

According to the car lemon law in California, you can take the car manufacturer to court if they aren’t willing to replace the car or buy it back from you. You have two options when filing a case: you can pursue arbitration, or pursue a lemon law claim, which could involve filing a lemon lawsuit.

How To Start A Lemon Law Claim In California?

If you pursue arbitration, you’ll have to present your case on your own, without help of a lemon law lawyer. The car company will be able to appoint a representative for their side who is likely familiar with your state’s lemon law, and who likely has experience winning arbitration cases for the car company. You’ll both present your side to an appointed arbiter, who will then make a decision regarding any compensation that may be due. Because you won’t have the help of an expert lawyer, you aren’t as likely to win an arbitration case.

If you decide to file a lemon law claim in California, you’ll could take the car manufacturer to court like a normal court case. You’d hire a qualified lemon lawyer who is familiar with all the particulars of your state’s lemon law, and they’d be the ones to present your case in front of a judge or jury. They’ll know which witnesses to call, and which evidence to present to give you the best chance of winning. You’re much more likely to win a lemon law case if you take the file a lemon law claim in California with an attorney rather than attempt arbitration alone.

Whether you opt for arbitration or a filing a lemon law claim in California, the best thing you can do before you file is gather all the information that might be relevant to your case. Be sure to get the names and titles of every mechanic that works on your car, because you may need them later to act as witnesses and testify about the issues you’ve had with your car, and what they tried to do to fix them. Keep all service records as proof of any and all repair attempts, and so you can show the court how much money you’ve spent trying to fix the problems. This is important because, if you win your case, the manufacturer will have to pay for the car, as well as any rental car, tow truck, or repair costs you’ve racked up because of your lemon.

If you do take the case to court, and you win in front of a judge or jury, the car manufacturer will also have to cover all of your legal fees. They typically don’t want car lemon law cases to go to court, so if a lawyer approaches them with sufficient evidence of a lemon, they may be willing to settle the case outside of court.

Shainfeld Law is Here to Help

At Shainfeld, our lemon law experts have over a decade of experience presenting and winning lemon law cases in California. We’re familiar with all the California lemon law requirements and how they’ll affect your chances of winning a case. Once we understand your particular needs — including the type of car you’re driving, who the manufacturer is, and what issues you’ve been dealing with — we’ll be able to put together a strong case against the manufacturer to help you get your money back.

The first step in presenting a lemon law case is to know whether or not you really do have a lemon car. We offer a free consultation where we’ll learn more about your car and concerns, and determine if you have a lemon on your hands. If you do have a lemon, then we’ll move forward with filing a claim, and presenting your case.

In the meantime, our site is full of helpful videos and FAQs to help you better understand the lemon law and how you could be protected in California. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us for a free consultation or to talk through any questions you have about your case.

Contact us today to talk about your lemon law claim in California.