By: Brett Shainfeld

“This car is always in the shop. It’s a lemon if I’ve ever seen one.”

The term “lemon” gets used all too often as a catch-all for cars that experience maintenance issues as their owners express their frustrations with mounting mechanic bills and the inability to rely on their motor vehicle. What some may not know is that a lemon is also a legal term of sorts, and for a vehicle to qualify as a lemon in the state of California (and elsewhere), there are some basic and essential criteria necessary to meet in order to make such a determination.

There are some issues that result from typical wear and tear to a vehicle. These things are expected to happen, and dealers cannot be expected to be held accountable for problems with a vehicle when regular maintenance is ignored, when users misuse their vehicles or components last their average lifespan.

The first, and arguably most critical, piece of criteria to consider when determining whether or not your vehicle is a lemon is to determine if your new or used automobile was sold to you with a warranty. In the event that you have purchased a new motor vehicle, the warranty most often will be received from the automobile manufacturer. The terms of the warranty vary based on company and dealer, and it’s necessary to determine these terms for the purpose of determining lemon status. They may range spans of multiple months to years, broken down by individual sets of parts, or have mileage limits.

Once you have that information in place, it’s time to review the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act. This law requires that if the manufacturer or an authorized representative of such in the state of California is not able to provide repair service on a new motor vehicle that meets the exact written terms of the warranty after a reasonable number of attempts, the manufacturer is required by law to offer a replacement for the vehicle or issue a return for the purchase or lease price. Seems straightforward, right?

Let’s break this down. The first component that can tend to be a sticking point is the “reasonable number of repairs”. The generally accepted rate that this falls within is that within the first 18 months (or 18,000 miles) of owning a vehicle, two or more attempts have been executed by the manufacturer to provide a warranty repair to a problem that could lead to serious injury and/or death. The last component of this drops off if the manufacturer has tried to repair the same warranty problem at least four times. The Act also states that cars that have been out of service for 30 days or more for repair and face problems that are not the result of driver mismanagement fall under these provisions.

Now is the right time to emphasize how critical it is for you to keep detailed service and purchase records on your vehicle. The reality is that many dealers actually want to help you out when a new vehicle is a lemon; with so much competition in the automobile industry, reputations and customer satisfaction are at a significant premium. On top of that, should the dealership fail to live up to their duties as specified under regulations like the Song-Beverly Act and something happen to a vehicle owner, such as an accident or injury, this could open up the automaker and dealer to a lawsuit and further costly civil litigation.

Is all of this starting to sound familiar to your situation? Then let’s turn to what you can do next as a vehicle owner if your dealer is no longer assisting you with recurring problems in your new vehicle.

A strong first step is to reach out to the manufacturer, which can be done independently or with the assistance of legal representation. This letter should include specifics of your situation, outlining the problems your vehicle has faced and when you’ve gone to your dealer to have the problems resolved. Dates, times, costs and everything that may seem at all pertinent should be included in this writing. The letter should request that the manufacturer take the necessary steps to buy back your vehicle. Send this using certified mail, with a return receipt requested, to the listed address that can be found on the inside of your vehicle owner’s manual.

At this juncture, if the manufacturer pushes back and informs you of their intent to not buy back the vehicle, request for the manufacturer to provide details of any available arbitration programs. You can search for information within your owner’s manual or by calling California’s Bureau of Automotive Repair Hotline at (800) 952-5210. You may also seek out legal representation either prior to opting for arbitration or, if you reject the findings of the arbitration panel, afterwards.

This is where the benefit of an experienced lemon law attorney can lead you in the right direction. The expertise of a qualified attorney with a background in consumer protection should not only give you peace of mind and a fighting chance, but also may ultimately end with a resolution far more quickly than attempting to handle the entire process on your own. Your attorney will provide you with negotiating power via their knowledge of the law, and also manage correspondence you may have with your manufacturer so that you can not make statements on your own that would prove compromising to your case in court.

At Shainfeld Law, we have a commitment to our clients to exercise and leverage our decades of combined experienced in order to secure the best possible financial outcome and ensure that the wrongs you have experienced at the hands of major automobile corporations are righted. If you believe that you may meet the criteria outlined here and would like to learn more about lemon law in California or the US, what is considered a lemon car and whether or not you have a presentable case, please feel welcome to reach out to our offices and we’ll get you set up on the right path to the compensation you may be entitled to.