By: Brett Shainfeld

In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t that long ago that consumers had no protection from purchasing faulty goods from manufacturers. If you bought an item that didn’t work, or that broke too soon after purchase, there wasn’t much you could do about it.

In this article, we’re exploring lemon law history in the U.S. and in California, and what you can do if you’ve bought a lemon.

What is the U.S. Lemon Law?

If you’re unfamiliar with what the lemon law actually is, here’s a quick refresher:

Lemon laws exist on both the federal and state levels to protect consumers from purchasing faulty goods, and to enforce any warranties (both written and implied) that come with those items. Through the lemon act, consumers are entitled to compensation if an item (anything from a hairdryer to a blender to a car) doesn’t perform as it should due to a violation of the warranty.

Where Did the U.S. Lemon Law Come From

Having a lemon law that protects consumers is a fairly recent thing for the U.S., but regulations on companies really began in the first of the 20th century. Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” shed light on the horrible conditions found in the meatpacking industry, which led Theodore Roosevelt to create the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906.

This was the first-time government regulations were imposed on U.S. businesses, but it was soon followed up with the Uniform Sales Act and the Uniform Commercial Code. And, eventually, these regulations led to the U.S. lemon law, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, and the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act (the California lemon law). These were the first laws to protect consumer with faulty vehicles.

The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act

On a federal level, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act was enacted in 1975 to force companies to comply with their warranties and to prevent those warranties from being misleading in a way that could harm the consumer.

The federal lemon act doesn’t require all companies to provide warranties for their products, but if they do, the warranty has to comply with this law. With the enactment of this law, warranties on consumer products began to be more readily understood and much more enforceable, particularly by the Federal Trade Commission.

Depending on the type of warranty a manufacturer provides (whether written or implied), the U.S. lemon law requires manufacturers to, in the event of a defect or malfunction:

  • Fix the problem in a reasonable amount of time
  • Give the consumer a replacement or refund after a reasonable number of repair attempts

Also, the manufacturer can’t force the consumer to do anything in order to qualify for compensation, aside from returning the faulty item or part.

State vs. Federal Lemon Laws

Though the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act serves as the U.S. lemon law on a federal level, most states also have their own versions of a lemon law these days. If you have a claim under state lemon law, you would defer to the criteria and standards set forth on the state level, rather than the federal level.

Under most states’ lemon laws, the same protections are guaranteed. However, states have the ability to create their own limitations and criteria for faulty items to be deemed lemons. In most cases, this happens with the time limit to enforce a lemon act claim, and what exactly is considered a “reasonable number of repair attempts.”

Most states allow anywhere from one year to 18 months from the date of purchase for an item to be considered a lemon. This doesn’t mean you have to file your claim within that time frame, though. You can file a lemon law claim well beyond the 12 or 18 months, you just have to be able to prove the defects began causing issues in that earlier time frame.

The California Lemon Law

The California state lemon law is formally known as the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act. Established in 1970, California’s lemon act covers not just faulty vehicles, but all consumer goods with express or implied warranties.

To qualify as a lemon car in the state of California, your vehicle has to meet at least one of the following criteria within 18 months or 18,000 miles of ownership:

  • There have been at least two attempts to repair a defect that could result in death or serious injury, and the problem still persists.
  • There have been at least four attempts to repair the same warranty problem, and the problem still persists. .
  • The car has been undrivable for 30 days (does not have to be 30 consecutive days) because of the defects. .
  • The issues with the vehicle are not your fault or caused by misuse. .

If your car is continuing to have problems after several repair attempts, you might have a lemon on your hands.

If You Have a Lemon

If you’ve assessed the criteria above and think your faulty car might be a lemon, you’re protected under the lemon act. The first thing you need to do before you begin the lemon law process is to gather all documentation related to your claim — this includes any repair bills, any test run by a mechanic, and any correspondence you’ve had with the dealership or manufacturer about the issue.

By having thorough records, you increase your chances of proving that you have a proper lemon act claim. Once you’ve gathered everything, you can attempt to inform the manufacturer of the problems you’re having. They may offer to resolve your problems, but, chances are, you may need the help of a lemon lawyer to receive full compensation.

A lawyer who’s well-versed in the U.S. lemon law and lemon law history will be able to help you win your case and get a buyback or a new, faulty-free vehicle. Those of us at Shainfeld Law have over a decade of winning lemon law cases against all major manufacturers, so we know what it takes to present a successful case.

Shainfeld Law Can Help

Both state and federal lemon laws are in place to protect you as a consumer — whether it’s from a faulty toothbrush or a car that constantly breaks down. But if you do find yourself with a lemon car on your hands, Shainfeld Law can help.

Reach out by phone or chat today to get started with the lemon claim process, and you’ll be back on the road before you know it.