What Fees Are You Able to Claim Under the Californian Lemon Law?
The California Lemon Law, formally known as the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, is a pivotal piece of legislation designed to protect consumers who have purchased or leased new vehicles and certain used vehicles that turn out to be problematic, often referred to as 'lemons.'
The law mandates that if manufacturers cannot repair a vehicle to conform to its warranty after a reasonable number of attempts, they must either replace it or refund the consumer. This makes it essential for buyers and lessors in the state of California to be familiar with their rights and the various forms of compensation they might be entitled to. Understanding the specifics about the various fees you are entitled to if you claim under Californian lemon law isn't just a matter of legal compliance—it is about ensuring consumers get every cent they are rightfully owed.
In light of recent clarifications from the California Supreme Court, there is even more emphasis on the importance of being well-informed about these claimable fees. Knowing these details can mean the difference between frustrating lemon law claims and a satisfactory resolution.
In this blog we aim to cover the following topics:
Basics of the California Lemon Law
Conditions for a Vehicle to be considered a 'Lemon'
Types of Compensation Available
Specific Fees and Costs You Can Claim
Deductions That Might Be Made From Your Refund
Supreme Court's Clarification on Lemon Law Damages (July 2023 Report)
What are Collateral Charges and Incidental Damages
Steps to Take if You Believe You Have a Lemon
The Beck Law Office: Your Expert California Lemon Law Attorney
1. Basics of the California Lemon Law
The California Lemon Law, recognized formally as the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, is a consumer protection legislation tailored to safeguard individuals who buy or lease new and, in some instances, used vehicles. The primary intent behind this law is to ensure manufacturers uphold their promises related to vehicle warranties.
➡️ Here are some foundational aspects of the lemon law in California:
Coverage: California's lemon law predominantly covers new vehicles, including cars, trucks, SUVs, and vans, which come with a manufacturer's written warranty. Some used vehicles, which are still under the manufacturer's original warranty, might also qualify.
Manufacturer's Obligation: If a vehicle exhibits persistent defects or issues that are not rectified after multiple repair attempts, the manufacturer has a duty to either replace the vehicle or provide a full refund to the consumer.
Reasonable Repair Attempts: The term 'reasonable number of attempts' is crucial within California's lemon law. While there isn't a fixed number of attempts, general guidelines suggest that if the vehicle has been in the repair shop for over 30 days (cumulatively) for warranty repairs, or if the same issue has been attempted to be fixed multiple times without success, it could be deemed a 'lemon.'
Defects Covered: California's lemon law emphasizes defects that impede the vehicle's use, value, or safety. Minor issues that don't affect these parameters might not qualify a vehicle as a lemon.
Consumer's Duty: Consumers must ensure that they give the manufacturer a reasonable number of attempts to fix the issue. This involves notifying the manufacturer of the defect and keeping detailed records of all repairs and maintenance.
Refund or Replacement: If a vehicle is declared a lemon, the consumer usually has the choice of receiving a replacement vehicle or a refund. The refund would encompass the purchase price, taxes, licensing, and other official fees. Any amount for the consumer's use of the vehicle, prior to the first repair attempt, may be deducted.
Understanding the basics of the California Lemon Law is the first step for any consumer. It not only empowers them with knowledge about their rights but also provides a clear path to negotiate a successful Lemon Law claim should they find themselves with a malfunctioning vehicle.
2. Conditions for a Vehicle to be considered a 'Lemon'
For a vehicle to be classified as a 'lemon' under the California Lemon Law, certain conditions must be met. These conditions have been set in place to ensure fairness for both the consumer and the manufacturer, providing a clear guideline for when a vehicle's persistent problems qualify for remedies under the law.
➡️ These are the primary conditions:
Warranty Coverage: One of the foremost conditions is that the vehicle must be covered under the manufacturer's written warranty. This typically applies to new vehicles, but some used vehicles might also qualify if they are still under their original manufacturer's warranty.
Significant Defects: The problems or defects of the vehicle should be significant enough to affect its use, safety, or value. Trivial or cosmetic defects that don't impair the vehicle's operation or safety usually don't qualify.
Reasonable Number of Repair Attempts: California's lemon law emphasizes the idea of a 'reasonable number of attempts' to fix the defect. While this isn't strictly defined, some general benchmarks include:
Four or more repair attempts for the same issue without resolution.
The vehicle has been in the repair shop for cumulative days exceeding 30 due to warranty defects.
Two or more repair attempts for issues that could cause death or serious injury if the vehicle is driven.
Defects Not Caused by Unauthorized Use: It is crucial to note that defects or issues resulting from abuse, neglect, or unauthorized modifications/repairs are not covered. Only those defects arising from regular use in line with the manufacturer's recommendations qualify for a California lemon law claim.
Manufacturer's Notification: Consumers are not required to notify the manufacturer but can ask the manufacturer to repurchase their vehicle directly.
Time or Mileage Constraints: The problems should manifest themselves during the warranty period but it is essential to refer to the specific warranty details. Additionally, there are certain penalties if the vehicle is in two or more times within the first 18,000 miles or 18 months for a safety defect or four times for a non-safety defect during that same period.
Defect Persistence: If the defect persists even after multiple repair attempts and significantly impairs the vehicle's use, safety, or value, it strengthens the case for the vehicle to be considered a lemon and a strong case for filing a lemon law claim.
3. Types of Compensation Available
When a vehicle is deemed a 'lemon' under the California Lemon Law, consumers are entitled to specific remedies. California's lemon law seeks to ensure that they are fully remunerated, receiving appropriate compensation for the malfunctioning vehicle.
➡️ Here's a breakdown of the types of compensation offered:
✅ Vehicle Replacement:
The manufacturer may opt to provide the consumer with a new, comparable vehicle in place of the defective one.
This replacement vehicle should be essentially identical or of similar value, ensuring the consumer gets what they initially paid for.
The consumer can receive a full refund of the purchase price.
The refund should also include any costs directly associated with the purchase such as sales tax, registration fees, and other official charges.
Finance charges and interest on loans, if applicable, might also be recoverable.
There might be a deduction for the mileage the vehicle was used before the first repair attempt. This is often termed as a 'usage fee.'
✅ Incidental Damages:
Beyond the direct costs, consumers might also be eligible to claim incidental damages in a lemon law case.
These are costs that arose due to the defective nature of the lemon vehicle, such as rental car expenses, towing charges, and even repair fees not covered under warranty.
As clarified by the recent California Supreme Court ruling, certain fees like registration renewal and non-operation fees may also be recoverable as incidental damages if they are incurred due to the manufacturer's delay or breach of duty.
✅ Civil Penalties:
In certain cases, if it is determined that the manufacturer willfully violated the Lemon Law, consumers might be entitled to civil penalties.
This could be up to twice the amount of any actual damages, serving as a deterrent for manufacturers to ensure compliance with the law.
✅ Attorney’s Fees and Costs:
One of the notable aspects of the California Lemon Law is that if the consumer prevails in a lemon law claim, the manufacturer is typically required to pay the consumer's attorney's fees and court costs.
This provision ensures that consumers aren't deterred from pursuing their rights due to potential legal expenses.
✅ Consumer-friendly Law:
The California Lemon Law is designed to protect consumers, ensuring they are not financially disadvantaged when they unfortunately end up with a defective vehicle. By being aware of the types of compensation available, consumers can confidently navigate the process and ensure they receive what they are rightfully owed in a valid lemon law claim.
4. Specific Fees and Costs You Can Claim
A significant benefit of the California Lemon Law is that it not only allows consumers to recover the primary costs associated with their vehicle but also various additional fees and costs that arise due to the malfunctioning vehicle. Understanding these can help consumers ensure they claim every possible dime they are owed where the California lemon law applies.
➡️ Here's a breakdown of specific fees and costs that can be claimed:
1. Purchase-Related Costs:
Purchase Price: The full amount paid for the vehicle.
Sales Tax: The tax amount associated with the vehicle's purchase.
License Fees: The charges paid for the vehicle's registration and licensing.
Finance Charges: If the vehicle was financed, interest and other related finance charges might be recoverable.
2. Incidental Costs:
Rental Vehicles: If you had to rent a vehicle while your car was being repaired.
Towing Charges: Costs associated with towing the vehicle due to breakdowns.
Repair Fees: If you paid out-of-pocket for repairs that should have been covered under the warranty.
Accommodation and Travel: Costs incurred if the vehicle broke down while travelling, necessitating unexpected stays or alternate travel arrangements.
3. Subsequent Costs due to Manufacturer's Breach:
Registration Renewal Fees: As noted in the recent California Supreme Court clarification, if these fees are incurred because of the manufacturer's breach of its duty to provide a timely replacement or refund, they can be claimed.
Nonoperation Fees: Similarly, these can be recovered if they arise due to the manufacturer's delay or failure to act promptly.
4. Reduction in Value:
If you opt not to have the vehicle replaced or refunded and instead sell it, you might claim the difference in value between a non-defective vehicle and the selling price of the 'lemon.'
5. Civil Penalties:
In cases where the manufacturer's violation is deemed willful, civil penalties may be imposed, which can be up to double the actual damages.
6. Legal Expenses:
Attorney's Fees: If you prevail in your lemon law claim, the manufacturer is generally required to cover your legal fees.
Court Costs: Filing fees, expert witness fees, and other related court expenses can be claimed.
While this list encompasses many of the fees and costs that consumers commonly claim under the California Lemon Law, it is essential to remember that each case is unique. Engaging with a knowledgeable lemon law lawyer can ensure you are thoroughly apprised of all potential recoverable costs in your specific situation where California's lemon law applies.
5. Deductions That Might Be Made From Your Refund
While the California Lemon Law ensures consumers are fairly compensated for their faulty vehicles, it also incorporates provisions to account for the value the consumer derived from the vehicle before it manifested defects. This means that, in some cases, certain deductions might be made from the final refund or compensation. It is essential to understand these potential deductions to have clear expectations of the amount you might receive.
➡️ Here are some of the primary deductions that can be made:
One of the most common deductions in lemon law claims is for the mileage used by the consumer before the first repair attempt is made for the lemon defect.
This deduction is calculated by a specific formula that prorates the vehicle's usage against its expected life span. It is based on the idea that the consumer did get some value from the vehicle before it became problematic.
Negligence or Unauthorized Modifications:
If there's evidence that the vehicle's problems were exacerbated or caused by negligence, misuse, unauthorized modifications, or unauthorized repairs, deductions might be made to account for this.
This emphasizes the importance of adhering to manufacturer guidelines for maintenance and use.
Excess Wear and Tear:
If the vehicle displays wear and tear beyond the standard expectation for its age and mileage, a deduction might be made to account for this.
Other Non-Lemon Related Issues:
If the vehicle has damages or issues not related to the identified lemon defect, costs for those might be deducted. For instance, if there's body damage unrelated to the defect, its repair cost might be subtracted from the refund.
Credits or Incentives:
If the consumer received specific promotions, rebates, or incentives at the time of purchase, these might be factored into the refund, reducing the overall amount.
If the vehicle was financed, certain financial adjustments might be made based on the terms of the agreement, such as early termination fees or other related penalties.
It is helpful for consumers to be aware of these potential deductions, ensuring there are no surprises when settling a lemon law claim. Having a transparent conversation with the manufacturer or, better yet, consulting with an experienced lemon law attorney can help in navigating these intricacies and ensuring a fair and just resolution.
6. Supreme Court's Clarification on Lemon Law Damages (July 2023 Report)
The Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act has always been a cornerstone in consumer protection when it comes to faulty vehicles. However, laws, no matter how well-drafted, sometimes require clarification to address ambiguities. Such was the case when the California Supreme Court delivered its report in July, offering further insights into the damages recoverable under the law.
➡️ Here's a detailed overview:
The Lemon Law's primary intent is to ensure consumers who end up with defective vehicles either receive a replacement or restitution from the manufacturer. However, what constitutes 'restitution' was a grey area, specifically in the context of certain fees.
2. The Core Issue:
At the center of this clarification was whether registration renewal and non-operation fees are recoverable. Consumers argued that these should be included as they are often essential expenditures they would not have incurred if not for the defective vehicle.
3. Court's Stance on Collateral Charges:
The court differentiated between collateral charges and incidental damages. It clarified that registration renewal and non-operation fees are not recoverable as collateral charges.
Collateral charges, in this context, usually refer to direct costs associated with the vehicle's purchase, such as the vehicle's price, sales tax, and official fees.
4. Incidental Damages – A New Perspective:
The court provided a fresh perspective on incidental damages. It stated that while these fees (registration renewal and non-operation fees) cannot be claimed as collateral charges, they can be considered incidental damages.
This means consumers can recover these fees if they were incurred as a direct result of the manufacturer's breach of duty. Specifically, if the manufacturer did not promptly provide a replacement vehicle or restitution, leading to the consumer incurring these fees, they become claimable.
5. Implications for Consumers:
This clarification is significant for consumers. It means they have a broader scope of damages they can claim in situations where the manufacturer's breach or delay causes them to incur additional costs, even if those costs aren't directly tied to the vehicle's purchase.
7. What Are Collateral Charges and Incidental Damages
When it comes to consumer protection laws, especially those concerning defective products like automobiles, two terms often come to the forefront: collateral charges and incidental damages. Both terms refer to costs incurred by the consumer, but they differ in nature and how they relate to the defective product.
➡️ Collateral Charges:
Collateral charges, in the context of consumer laws like the California Lemon Law, refer to the direct and immediate costs associated with the purchase of the product, in this case, a vehicle. These are:
Direct Association with Purchase: Collateral charges are costs that a consumer pays upfront or commits to paying as part of the purchase agreement.
Purchase Price: The actual amount paid or financed for the vehicle.
Sales Tax: Taxes levied on the purchase.
License and Registration Fees: Costs associated with registering the vehicle and obtaining necessary licenses.
Finance Charges: If the vehicle was financed, the interest and other associated costs might also be considered collateral charges.
➡️ Incidental Damages:
Incidental damages refer to the additional costs that a consumer might incur due to the defective nature of the product or a breach of warranty. These aren’t directly tied to the purchase but arise as a consequence of the defect or the manufacturer's actions (or inactions). These are:
Consequential in Nature: Incidental damages are costs that arise as a consequence of dealing with a defective product. They might not be immediate or directly related to the purchase but stem from the defect.
Repair Costs: Out-of-pocket expenses for repairs that should have been covered by the warranty.
Rental Car Expenses: If the consumer had to rent a vehicle while the defective one was being repaired.
Towing Charges: Costs incurred to tow the vehicle due to a breakdown.
Travel and Accommodation: If the defect leads to unexpected travel or accommodation expenses.
Recent Clarification: As noted by the California Supreme Court's recent ruling, fees like registration renewal and non-operation fees can be classified as incidental damages if they arise because of the manufacturer's delay or breach in providing a timely replacement or restitution.
In summary, both collateral charges and incidental damages play a crucial role in ensuring consumers are adequately compensated when they face issues with defective products. While collateral charges are immediate and directly related to the purchase, incidental damages cover the broader spectrum of costs that arise due to the challenges of dealing with a defective product. Recognizing the difference between the two is essential for consumers to ensure they claim all they are entitled to under consumer protection laws.
8. Steps to Take if You Believe You Have a Lemon
Discovering that your newly purchased vehicle might be a 'lemon' can be incredibly frustrating. However, it is crucial to approach the situation methodically to ensure your rights are protected and you receive the compensation or remedy you are entitled to.
➡️ Here are the steps you should take if you suspect your vehicle is a lemon:
1. Document Everything:
Keep a meticulous record of all issues you notice with the vehicle.
Save all repair invoices, work orders, and receipts, even if the repairs were covered by the warranty.
Take note of dates, the nature of the problem, and any conversations with dealers or manufacturers.
2. Return to the Dealer:
Report the issue to the dealer from whom you bought the vehicle. In many cases, the dealer will attempt to repair the vehicle under warranty.
Remember, under the California Lemon Law, a vehicle can often be considered a lemon if the dealer has made multiple unsuccessful attempts to repair the same issue.
3. Understand Your Warranty:
Review your vehicle's warranty to understand the coverage and any stipulations.
Some warranties might require a certain number of repair attempts or a specific duration in the shop before a vehicle is deemed a lemon.
4. Keep Track of Repair Attempts:
The number of repair attempts and the duration your vehicle has spent in the shop are critical factors in qualifying for a lemon law claim.
Make sure to have clear evidence of each repair attempt, including the nature of the repair and any parts replaced.
5. Consult with a Lemon Law Attorney:
If the dealer fails to resolve the issue after multiple attempts or if you feel your concerns are being dismissed, it is time to consult with an attorney specializing in lemon laws.
An experienced lemon law lawyer can review your case, advise you on the best course of action, and represent your interests against the manufacturer.
6. Initiate a Lemon Law Claim:
With the guidance of your attorney, you can file a lemon law claim against the manufacturer.
Ensure you have all the required documentation, including the vehicle's purchase agreement, repair records, and any correspondence related to the vehicle's issues.
7. Consider Alternative Dispute Resolution:
Some vehicle manufacturers offer arbitration or mediation programs as an alternative to litigation.
While these can be faster and less expensive than court proceedings, it is essential to have your attorney involved to ensure your rights are protected.
8. Pursue Litigation if Necessary:
If all else fails and a satisfactory resolution isn't achieved, you may need to take the manufacturer to court.
Having an experienced lemon law attorney by your side during this process is crucial to navigating the complexities of the legal system and ensuring a favorable outcome.
9. Stay Informed and Patient:
Lemon law cases can sometimes be lengthy and require persistence. Stay informed about the progress of your case and trust the lemon law process.
9. The Beck Law Office: Your Expert California Lemon Law Attorney
Buying a new car is an exciting time, however, when that new car turns out to be a lemon, the excitement can quickly turn into a nightmare. That is where lemon law specialists like The Beck Law Office come into play. We promise:
✅ Dedicated Expertise:
The Beck Law Office isn't just any law firm. We specialize in California lemon laws so we have a deep understanding of the nuances and intricacies of cases involving defective vehicles. Our primary mission is to represent our customers and ensure that auto manufacturers are held accountable where necessary.
✅ Immediate Action:
Time is of the essence when it comes to lemon law cases. Our experienced lemon law attorneys understand the urgency and encourage individuals to take swift action if they suspect their vehicle is a lemon. By doing so, car buyers can ensure their rights are protected and that they have the best chance of securing fair compensation.
✅ Experienced Representation:
With a seasoned team of lemon law attorneys, clients can trust that their case is in good hands. Our team is not only skilled in navigating the complex legal landscape but is also committed to ensuring that every client receives the justice they deserve.
✅ No Financial Risk:
Recognizing that the ordeal of dealing with a lemon car can be financially draining, we, at The Beck Law Office, offer free initial consultations. Potential clients can discuss their cases, understand their legal rights, and gauge the best course of action without any financial obligation.
This approach ensures that everyone, regardless of their financial situation, has access to expert legal advice.
Call Us Today!
If you find yourself stuck with a vehicle that's spending more time in the repair shop than on the road, you need to take action immediately and contact a skilled lemon law attorney.
So don't delay, call us today and take the first step towards justice.
Your legal rights are our priority!