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California Lemon Law

If you bought a lemon car, have vehicle problems that can’t be fixed, or just tired of taking your car back to the dealer again and again for the same problem, the California lemon law can help! We are California lemon law attorneys who bring Lemon Law claims against manufacturers and dealers to help buyers get out of their contracts and to get their money back.

If you purchased a new or used vehicle that is covered by a manufacturer’s warranty, and your vehicle has a problem that can’t be fixed, you may have a valid lemon law claim. You likely have a valid lemon law claim if any of these things happened to you:

  • Your vehicle has a problem that cannot be repaired after 3 attempts
  • Your dealer is refusing to fix the problem or honor the warranty [for any reason]
  • Your vehicle has been in the shop for more than 30 days [combined total] for repairs
  • Your dealer is telling you that the warranty does not cover your issue/problem

DON’T WAIT! Delaying action can lower the chances of a successful case! Talk to a California lemon law attorney to find out if you have a valid lemon law case.

Does California Have a Lemon Law?

The California lemon law is very consumer-friendly. It applies to both purchased and leased vehicles; for both new and used vehicles. California lemon law also applies to vehicles purchased for business use and is not limited strictly to vehicles for personal use. In California, the time limit to bring a legal claim is 4 years from the time when the defect is discovered, as long as the manufacturer’s warranty is still in effect.

What is the Lemon Law in California?

The lemon law in California is referred to as the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, which is part of the California Civil Code [beginning at section 1790]. Under the California lemon law, a manufacturer or dealer either has to repurchase or replace a defective vehicle after a “reasonable” number of attempts to fix or repair the vehicle. A vehicle may be a lemon if the buyer has made more than 1 attempts to repair, depending on the circumstances, but a general rule is at least 2-3 failed repair attempts where the same problem persists and the condition of the vehicle is either dangerous to drive, or the value is lower due to the issue.

To qualify for a California lemon law buyback, a buyer does not necessarily have to make a demand for the dealer or manufacturer to buy the vehicle back. It is the responsibility of the dealer and manufacturer to advise the buyer that the vehicle should be labeled as lemon as soon as the determination is made that the recurring problem cannot be repaired.

Once a vehicle is labeled a lemon, the dealer or manufacturer is required to either offer a buyback or a lemon law replacement vehicle. A buyer is NOT required to accept a replacement vehicle once their vehicle is labeled a lemon; instead, a buyer can insist on a buyback or a “cash and keep” offer.

In some cases, a buyer may want to keep the vehicle in spite of the problem and may be willing to accept cash as compensation for the inconvenience, however minor the issue may be. Cash and keep offers can be common as an alternative to a buyback or replacement remedy.

In California, there is a civil penalty under the law for any dealer/manufacturer that refuses to comply with the lemon law. The civil penalty doubles “damages” for a buyer, allowing up to twice the recovery of money paid for the vehicle when the dealer/manufacturer denies a valid lemon claim and refuses to label a defective vehicle as a lemon.

Do I Qualify For Lemon Law?

A person may qualify for the lemon law when a problem or defect exists that causes the vehicle to be unsafe, or affects the use. Even if the problem seems minor, the vehicle may still be labeled as a lemon if the issue cannot be repaired after reasonable attempts are made.

Vehicles Covered Under the Law

In order for a vehicle to be covered under the lemon law, the problem must arise while the vehicle is still covered by the original manufacturer’s warranty. The new or used status of the vehicle is not what determines the lemon status, as long as the vehicle is purchased/leased through a retail transaction in the state of California. If the original manufacturer’s warranty still covers the vehicle, it may be labeled a lemon for a problem that persists.

Defects Covered Under the Law

For a defect to be covered under the lemon law it must “substantially impair the vehicle’s use, value, or safety,” and the problem must arise while it is still covered by the factory warranty.

It is the dealer’s duty to advise the buyer that the vehicle qualifies as a lemon after several unsuccessful attempts to fix the defect by the dealership – but this varies case by case, and it is fairly common for the dealer to say that there is nothing they can do and nothing that can be done. In some cases, the dealer keeps the car in the shop for weeks or even months at a time and never tells the buyer that the vehicle should be labeled a lemon.

There are literally hundreds of issues that commonly arise. Too many to list. But the key issue for a lemon claim is that the problem was not fixed after more than 1 attempt while the factory warranty still covered the repairs. Even if the claim is brought after the warranty expired, the claim is still valid [up to 4 years later in California].

Here are some common examples of persistent problems:

  • Engine problems – either major or minor
  • unusual engine sounds
  • electrical problems
  • power window failure
  • broken sunroof – unable to open or close properly
  • faulty radio – unable to function properly
  • faulty Bluetooth or navigation
  • faulty back-up camera
  • faulty locks, faulty alarm, faulty trunk latch; just to name a few.

Does the Lemon Law Apply to Used Vehicles?

Yes the lemon law can apply to used cars! 

The lemon law applies to used cars when:

  • Your car is still under the manufacturer’s warranty or warranty provided by the retailer
  • The car was purchased/leased through a retail transaction in the state of California
  • Reasonable attempts have been made to repair the car 
  • Despite several attempts being made, the car still cannot be repaired

Used car lemon laws:

  • The lemon law will apply to used cars when they are purchased for mainly personal, or familial reasons. Vehicles bought to be commercial vehicles can qualify as lemons if they are under 10,000 lbs. 
  • Lemon laws vary depending on the state, the new California Lemon Law code exclaims that dealerships must issue a 30 day, 1000 mile warranty for the used vehicles sold or leased if they are buy-here-pay-here dealers.
  • Only six states have used-car lemon laws- New York, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Connecticut, Minnesota, and New Jersey. If the vehicle shows signs of problems during the warranty period, if the dealer attempts to fix your car and it still doesn’t work, the dealer must replace or refund the buyers money. 
  • Most states aren’t very effective in covering used car buyers, making it easier to get ripped off. Arizona new laws only cover if the main component of your car breaks after 500 miles or 15 days after purchase. Although, for new cars the terms extend to 24,000 miles or two years.

Currently, though, only six states — Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, and New York — have used-car lemon laws on the books. The laws provide a statutory used-car warranty, often based upon the age or mileage of the vehicle. If the vehicle exhibits problems during the warranty period, the dealer gets a chance to repair them. If those fixes don’t work after several tries, the dealer usually must either replace the car or refund the buyer’s money.

A new California law requires buy-here, pay-here dealerships to issue 30-day/1,000-mile warranties for the used vehicles they lease or sell. Most states aren’t very effective at protecting used-car buyers from the myriad ways they can be swindled. Arizona law covers a used car only if a major component breaks within 15 days or 500 miles of its purchase — whichever comes first. For new cars, though, those terms extend to two years or 24,000 miles.

What If Your State Doesn’t Have a Used-Car Lemon Law?

For consumers who don’t live in a state with a used-car lemon law, or whose state laws don’t cover their individual situations, there are federal laws that may help:

  • The Uniform Commercial Code (UCC): Under the UCC, a used-car sale automatically includes an implied warranty that the car is fit for transportation. However, used-car dealers may deny (or “disclaim,” in legal parlance) the implied warranty if they sell the vehicle “as is,” which they typically do. In the few states that prohibit dealers from disclaiming the implied warranty (such as the District of Columbia, Maryland, Massachusetts, and West Virginia), the UCC can be more effective than a used-car lemon law would be.
  • The Federal Trade Commission’s Used Car Rule: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires dealers who sell five or more cars per year to post a Buyers Guide in every used car that’s offered for sale. The guide must show whether the vehicle is being sold “as is” or with a used-car warranty, what percentage (if any) of repair costs is covered by the dealer under the warranty, and a list of the major defects that can occur on used vehicles.
  • Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act (a.k.a. federal lemon law): This law prohibits the disclaimer of an implied warranty when a car is sold with an express written warranty. It also provides for the awarding of attorney fees in particular cases.

What Happens When You Win A Lemon Law Case?

There are several different outcomes in a typical California lemon law case. A dealer or manufacturer is required to take “prompt action” once a vehicle is labeled a lemon under California law. That can mean a lot of things, and lemon claims can take many months to resolve. In a typical case, once a lawyer files a lawsuit, settlement can be reached in 2-3 months for a quick resolution, or a case that drags out can go 18-24 months for a trial.

When a case results in a California lemon law buyback, the dealer/manufacturer is required to return all payments made by the buyer, including the down payment, monthly payments, and money spent for repairs. The dealer/manufacturer typically deducts for miles driven before the problem occurred, as well as after-market costs like money spent on a service contract, gap insurance, rebates, and negative equity.

A dealer or manufacturer may offer a lemon law replacement vehicle, but the buyer may refuse to accept a replacement vehicle and insist on getting their money back [less deductions for mileage and aftermarket costs].

The dealer or manufacturer sometimes offers cash and keep settlements, paying the buyer to drop their claim and to accept money to keep the vehicle. In a case where the buyer has made enhancements to the vehicle or wants to keep it for any reason, cash and keep settlements might make sense.

Talk to Our California Lemon Lawyers Today If You Have A Lemon

We are California lemon law attorneys, and we win Lemon Law claims against manufacturers and dealers. If you are having problems with your vehicle and the dealer has not fixed the problem, or refuses to make a repair covered by the warranty, you should talk to our California lemon lawyer to see if you have a valid case for a lemon.

We are dedicated to California lemon law claims, and we can tell you right away if you have a valid case. Call our experienced California lemon law attorneys today for free legal advice, and we will take the stress, frustration, and worry out of dealing with your vehicle and your claim against the dealer/manufacturer.

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