By: Brett Shainfeld
The scope of lemon law in the state of California can seem truly nebulous, particularly to the unacquainted. For many, lemon law itself isn’t a known set of regulations; a “lemon” is just a term used for a car that is cursed with needing repair after repair to stay on the road.In reality, many are surprised to discover that lemon is actually a legal term, and a defined set of laws and regulations throughout the country and in the state of California dictate what qualifies as a lemon and what responsibilities a manufacturer and vehicle owner carry when trying to discern such. It also lays out what a seller must do to insulate buyers from faulty, lemon vehicles and what their responsibilities are in these cases. Furthermore, lemon law in California addresses how lemon determination works in regards to both corporate and manufacturer sales, as well as used car sales in California at the hands of private sellers. Used car buying can be a strenuous task, full of anxiety and worries as you try to navigate the private marketplace and make a major financial decision that seemingly has fewer guarantees and provisions on the seller’s end.
Knowing your rights as a consumer in the midst of a financial transaction for a used vehicle will go a long way to quelling your concerns. Knowledge is power, and this is tenfold when it comes to lemon law. Let’s take a moment to look at how lemon law applies to private sales in California.
Understanding the Foundations of Lemon Law in California
As we have stated, a lemon isn’t just a word to toss at a frustrating vehicle; it’s a term grounded in legal reference. In the state of California, two specific sections of civil legal code provide the general backbone of which lemon law is based upon. These two sections of legal code are generally referred to when building a lemon lawsuit to file. The sections are designed to protect consumer rights by assuring they can purchasing of the best quality possible, and that consumers are entitled to manufacturers repairing vehicles within a fair limit of time.
The first consumer protection act that applies to lemon law is the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act. The Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act applies strictly to consumer goods that are sold within the state of California. The purpose of the act is to create an implied warranty for items on top of their express written warranty. This warranty states that sellers retain a certain obligation to buy back or replace items when repairs are unable to be made on defective components of the item. Of course, this would apply to motor vehicles as well as other consumer goods.
After a reasonable number of repair attempts are made by a manufacturer to correct what would be considered as an “inherent” problem, meaning a problem resulting from faulty equipment or installation and not from improper maintenance or abuse of a vehicle, a vehicle manufacturer. needs to replace or buy back the vehicle. For specifics on how this law works in practice, feel free to consult with a lemon law attorney at Shainfeld Law for further information.
The second civil code section that applies to lemon law in California is the Tanner Consumer Protect Act. This act simply holds a manufacturer of a product to a determined standard in the production process. If a product fails an unreasonable number of times, the parts of the entire piece of merchandise should be replaced.
These two codes work in conjunction with one another, and are the typical basis through which a lemon law case is constructed. How do these consumer rights apply to dealership versus private sales though?
Are Private Sales Protected Under Lemon Law?
The short answer to this question is, unfortunately, no: lemon law does not apply to private sales. A private seller that is listing and transferring a used vehicle on the market does not retain the same responsibilities that a dealership and manufacturer would. They are not responsible for the production of the vehicle, and are assumed to not have a responsibility over the installation of parts or the procurement.
Does this mean that when you buy a vehicle on the used market that you are left completely unprotected from incident? Not exactly. There are still legal protections in place to keep you from being scammed by an untrustworthy seller. Even though California does not have laws in place that recognize lemon law in application of private sales, there are three actions to consider to protect yourself as a consumer when buying used.
Transactions that take place absolutely must include a transfer of a manufacturer’s warranty. Product and warrant acts currently require that manufacturers, as well as sellers, are responsible for providing a warranty with the sale of a product. When shopping for a used vehicle, inquire about warranty transfer at the point of sale. This will go a long way in aiding should something go wrong with the vehicle.
The second item to think about when buying used is that only authorized personnel are allowed to make repairs on a vehicle, according to the vast majority of warranties. Language is written in specifically by legal teams of manufacturers to protect from faulty mechanical work from a 3rd party. When your vehicle is still under warranty, consider only going to a dealership or other specified party as declared in the warranty for your major repairs. This holds especially true when warranties cover specific parts of the vehicle. When a repair is unable to restore a product, most warranties are very specific about a manufacturer’s promise to purchase the vehicle back or provide a replacement of equal or greater value should they not be able to adequately repair.
Lastly, consider that not all vehicle issues will qualify under product warranties. When you install aftermarket components, those also affect the warranty on the vehicle. Furthermore, when a purchase does not come with a written warranty, the implied warranty of the Song-Beverly Act is assumed. This isn’t always true though, specifically when an agreement is reached between the buyer and seller that the transaction is taking place under an ‘as is’ provision.
Contact an Expert
Understanding the details of lemon law can tread in some murky waters. Here at Shainfeld Law, our California lemon law attorneys have years of experience navigating the in’s and out’s of lemon law and assisting our clients in achieving outcomes for their cases. If you believe your vehicle may be a lemon, contact our offices to discuss your options and obtain the advice you need to receive the compensation you deserve.