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  • Ben Beck

California Lemon Law vs. Federal Lemon Law: Which Applies to You?

When purchasing a new vehicle, the last thing anyone wants to think about is the possibility of it being a "lemon." Unfortunately, it does happen from time to time, and consumers need to be aware of their rights when it comes to getting a refund or a replacement for a defective vehicle.


Lemon laws are in place to protect consumers, but did you know that there are California Lemon Laws as well as Federal Lemon Laws? It is important to understand which one applies to your situation, as they can differ significantly.


Knowing Your Consumer Rights

As a consumer, it's important to know your rights and protections under the law. Knowing your rights can help you make informed decisions when purchasing products and can also help you take action if a product you purchased is defective.


Lemon laws are designed to protect consumers from defective products, including vehicles, appliances, electronics, and other consumer goods. By knowing your rights under the lemon laws, you can take steps to protect yourself and your investment.


In this blog, we will discuss what the California lemon law covers and when the Federal lemon law can be enacted, and help you determine which one applies to you in a lemon law claim.


California Lemon Law vs. Federal Lemon Law: Which Applies to You


The Importance of Understanding the Applicable Lemon Law

There are several lemon laws and it is paramount to understand which one applies to your individual circumstance. If you are in California, for example, you will need to be aware of the California lemon law and its requirements. If you live in another state, you will need to research that particular state's lemon laws and see if it is applicable to you.


Understanding the applicable lemon law is important for several reasons:


Your Rights as a Consumer

Firstly, it will help you understand what rights you have as a consumer. Lemon laws vary in terms of what qualifies as a "lemon," what remedies are available, and what steps you need to take in order to pursue a lemon law claim. By understanding the applicable lemon law, you will be better equipped to navigate the process and make informed decisions about your case.


Avoiding Common Mistakes

Secondly, understanding the applicable lemon law can help you avoid common mistakes. For example, if you reside in California and you are not aware of California's lemon law requirements for a "reasonable number of repair attempts," you might miss out on pursuing a claim. Similarly, if you are not aware of the Federal Lemon Law's requirements for notifying the manufacturer of the defect, you might miss an important step in the process.


Avoiding Fraudulent Lemon Law Services

Finally, understanding the applicable lemon law can help you avoid scams and fraudulent lemon law services. Unfortunately, there are companies that prey on consumers who are unfamiliar with the lemon law, offering to help them pursue a claim but charging exorbitant fees or making false promises. By understanding the applicable lemon law, you will be able to recognize legitimate lemon law services and protect yourself from fraud.


What is the California Lemon Law?

The California Lemon Law is a state law that provides protection to consumers who purchase or lease a new or used vehicle and experience persistent issues with it. The law requires that manufacturers either replace or buy back vehicles that have substantial defects or problems that cannot be repaired after a reasonable number of attempts. In California, the lemon law applies to cars, trucks, motorcycles, motorhomes, and other motor vehicles that are purchased or leased in the state.


What Does California's Lemon Law Cover?

To qualify for protection under the California Lemon Law, a vehicle must meet several criteria:

  1. The vehicle must have a substantial defect that substantially impairs its use, value, or safety. This defect must be covered by the manufacturer's warranty.

  2. The defect must not be the result of abuse, neglect, or unauthorized modifications with after-market parts to the vehicle.

  3. The consumer must have given the manufacturer a reasonable number of attempts to repair the defect. In California, a reasonable number of repair attempts is typically three attempts to fix the same issue or two attempts if the defect poses a serious safety risk.

  4. Alternatively, if the vehicle has been out of service for a total of 30 days or more due to the defect, it may also qualify for protection under the lemon law.

  5. The defect must have occurred during the warranty but there are certain presumptions if a safety defect occurred two or more times (or four or more times for a non-safety defect) within the first 18 months of the vehicle's purchase or within the first 18,000 miles on the odometer, whichever comes first.

If the vehicle meets these criteria, the consumer may be entitled to a replacement vehicle or a refund of the purchase price, minus a deduction for any use of the vehicle. The manufacturer is also responsible for paying for certain expenses related to the defect, such as rental cars, storage, subsequent years registration and towing fees.


Is there a Federal Lemon Law?

The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act (MMWA), also known as the "federal lemon law," was established in 1975 to regulate warranties for consumer products, including vehicles. Like the California Lemon Laws, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act provides legal protection for owners of either new cars or used vehicles that are covered by warranty if the vehicle has a persistent defect that cannot be repaired.


While the California lemon law applies specifically to vehicles purchased or leased in California, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act applies to consumer products nationwide and there may be certain cases where the federal lemon law is more applicable than the California lemon law in protecting consumers' rights.


It's All About the Warranty Period

The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act (MMWA) was enacted to regulate warranties on consumer products and to protect consumers from misleading warranty practices. The Act requires that warranties be written in clear and easy-to-understand language and that warranty terms be available to consumers before they purchase the product.


Additionally, the Act prohibits manufacturers from conditioning warranties on the use of specific parts or services under express warranty, unless those parts or services are provided for free. If a product is found to be defective, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act can provide a way for consumers to pursue legal action against the manufacturer to get a refund or replacement for the defective product.


While the MMWA does not apply specifically to automobiles, it can still be used in conjunction with state lemon laws to protect consumers who have purchased a defective vehicle.


Qualifications for Protection Under Federal Lemon Laws

Unlike the California lemon law, the Federal lemon law does not specify a specific number of repair attempts required before a consumer can pursue a claim. Instead, the law requires that the warranty be clear and easy to understand and that the manufacturer honors the terms of the warranty. If the manufacturer fails to do so, the consumer may be entitled to legal recourse.


It's important to note that the Federal lemon law does not preempt state lemon laws, which means that consumers may be entitled to protection under both federal and state law. However, the Federal Lemon Law can be particularly useful for consumers who have purchased a defective vehicle in a state without a lemon law or for consumers who have exhausted their options under a state lemon law.


To qualify for protection under the Federal Lemon Law (Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act), a consumer must meet the following criteria:

  1. The product must have a warranty. The Federal Lemon Law only applies to products that are sold with a written warranty.

  2. The consumer must give the manufacturer a reasonable opportunity to repair the defect. The law does not specify a specific number of repair attempts required before pursuing a claim, but the manufacturer must be given a reasonable number of attempts to fix the defect.

  3. The defect must occur within the warranty period. The defect must occur while the product is still covered by the manufacturer's warranty.


What's the Difference Between California Lemon Law and Federal Lemon Law?

The California Lemon Law and the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act (MMWA) are both laws that provide protection to consumers who purchase defective products with warranties, including vehicles. Both the California lemon law statutes and the Federal lemon law offer consumers different forms of compensation such as refund, replacement, or cash compensation for defective consumer products that were purchased with a warranty.


While both the California lemon law and the federal lemon law offer protection to consumers who purchase defective vehicles, there are several key differences between the two laws:


Origins of Purchase

One major difference is that the California Lemon Law is a state law that applies specifically to vehicles purchased or leased in California, while the MMWA is a federal law that applies to consumer products nationwide. This means that the California lemon law only applies to consumers who purchase or lease a vehicle in California (unless it was purchased out-of-state by a California resident, active duty military member while stationed outside of California), while the MMWA can apply to any consumer product with a warranty, regardless of where it was purchased.


Qualification Criteria

Another difference is that the California lemon law has specific requirements for what qualifies as a "lemon" and what remedies are available to consumers, while the MMWA is more general in its requirements. For example, the California Lemon Law requires that the defect substantially impairs the use, value, or safety of the vehicle and that the consumer gives the manufacturer a reasonable number of attempts to repair the defect before pursuing a claim. The MMWA, on the other hand, requires that the warranty be clear and easy to understand and that the manufacturer honors the terms of the warranty.


Legal Remedies

The remedies available under the two laws can also differ. The California lemon law allows consumers to receive a replacement vehicle or a refund of the purchase price, minus a deduction for any use of the vehicle, while the federal lemon law does not require a specific remedy but instead allows for damages to be awarded to the consumer for any losses suffered as a result of the defect, typically relying on state commercial code law.


Number of Repair Attempts

The California lemon law requires a "reasonable number of repair attempts" (typically three or more attempts depending on the defect) before a consumer can pursue a claim, while the federal lemon law does not specify a specific number of repair attempts.


Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations for pursuing a claim under the two laws is typically the same although interpreted differently depending on the jurisdiction. Consumers of new cars generally have 4 years from when the vehicle was purchased or when the consumer knew the manufacturer breached the warranty.


It's important to note that the California lemon law can be more protective of consumers' rights in certain circumstances, particularly for vehicles purchased or leased in California. However, the federal lemon law can also provide a way for consumers to pursue legal action against manufacturers for defective vehicles. If a consumer believes they may have a claim under either law, it is strongly recommended that they seek legal advice to help navigate the process.


California Lemon Law vs. Federal Lemon Law: Which Applies to You


Factors to Consider When Determining Which Lemon Law Applies

When determining which lemon law applies to a particular case, there are several factors that should be considered:

  1. State of Purchase The first factor to consider is the state in which the vehicle or product was purchased. If the vehicle or product was purchased in California, then the California lemon law would likely apply. If the vehicle or product was purchased in a different state, then that State's lemon law or the federal lemon law may be more applicable.

  2. Remedies: The available remedies can also differ between the two laws. The California lemon law provides for replacement or refund of the purchase price, while the federal lemon law does not specify a particular remedy but defers to state remedies which may differ by the state.


Examples of When California Lemon Law Applies

Here are some examples of situations where the California Lemon Law may apply:

  1. A new car is purchased in California, and it has a persistent issue with the transmission that cannot be repaired after four repair attempts.

  2. A certified pre-owned car is purchased in California, and it has a persistent issue with the electrical system that cannot be repaired after two repair attempts.

  3. A new motorcycle is purchased in California, and it has a persistent issue with the brakes that cannot be repaired after four repair attempts.

  4. A new RV is purchased in California, and it has a persistent issue with the engine system that cannot be repaired after four repair attempts.

  5. A new boat is purchased in California, and it has a persistent issue with the steering that cannot be repaired after four repair attempts.

In each of these cases, the vehicle or product was purchased in California and had a persistent defect that substantially impaired its use, value, or safety. The defect could not be repaired after a reasonable number of repair attempts, which would likely make the consumer eligible for protection under the California lemon law.


Examples of When Federal Lemon Law Applies

Here are some examples of situations where the Federal Lemon Law may apply:

  1. A consumer purchases a new refrigerator in a state that does not have a lemon law, and it has a persistent issue with the compressor that cannot be repaired after three repair attempts.

  2. A consumer purchases a new lawn mower in a state that does not have a lemon law, and it has a persistent issue with the engine that cannot be repaired after three repair attempts.

  3. A consumer purchases a new power tool in a state that does not have a lemon law, and it has a persistent issue with the motor that cannot be repaired after two repair attempts.

  4. A consumer purchases a new computer in a state that does not have a lemon law, and it has a persistent issue with the hard drive that cannot be repaired after two repair attempts.

  5. A consumer purchases a new motorcycle in a state that has a weak or no lemon law, and it has a persistent issue with the transmission that cannot be repaired after three repair attempts.

In each of these cases, the product was purchased in a state that does not have a strong lemon law or does not have a lemon law at all. The product had a persistent defect that could not be repaired after a reasonable number of repair attempts. This may make the consumer eligible for protection under the Federal Lemon Law.


Seeking Legal Advice When Dealing with a Lemon Law Claim

The process of pursuing a claim under the California lemon law can be complex, and it is recommended that consumers seek legal advice to help navigate the process.

Here we have listed some reasons why seeking legal advice is important:

  1. Knowledge of the Law: Lemon laws can be complicated, and an experienced attorney can help you understand your rights and the protections offered to you under the law. A knowledgeable lemon law lawyer can also help you determine which lemon law applies to your case.

  2. Negotiation: Often, the manufacturer will try to settle a lemon law case before it goes to court. An attorney can help you negotiate a fair settlement and ensure that you receive the appropriate compensation for your situation.

  3. Paperwork: Pursuing a lemon law claim often involves a significant amount of paperwork, including notices to the manufacturer, repair orders, and other documents. A lemon law attorney can help you prepare and file the necessary paperwork to ensure that your claim is properly documented.

  4. Court Proceedings: If a lemon law case goes to court, an attorney can represent you and advocate on your behalf. An experienced attorney can present your case in the best possible light and help you receive a fair resolution.

  5. Time and Cost: Pursuing a lemon law case can be time-consuming and costly. An attorney can help you navigate the process more efficiently and effectively, potentially saving you time and money in the long run.


Why Choose The Beck Law Office to Represent You?

At The Beck Law Office, we understand that buying a new vehicle should be an exciting time, not the beginning of constant maintenance and repair issues. Unfortunately, dealerships and manufacturers are often reluctant to fulfil their obligations under California's lemon laws and this is where we come in.


We at The Beck Law Office, have over a decade of experience in the lemon law industry and we have successfully resolved hundreds of lemon law claims in favor of our clients and know the lemon law inside and out.


We pride ourselves on taking a personal approach to each case, valuing great communication and tailored service to get clients back on the road as quickly as possible. We understand that few people can afford to be without a car for long, and we will fight on your behalf to hold auto manufacturers responsible.


Contact Us Today

If you're dealing with a lemon law issue, we offer a free consultation with an experienced attorney without any obligation or cost to discuss your case and help you understand your options.


If you are considering pursuing a lemon law claim, we encourage you to contact us and we can help you understand your options and determine the best course of action for your specific situation.

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