THE LEMON LAW
Buying a new vehicle should be a thrilling time but things aren't always as they seem. If you think you may have fallen foul of a scam and been mis-sold a faulty vehicle, do not fret.
If you suspect you may have purchased a lemon, you are not alone. It is more common than you think. The term "lemon" is used to describe a new car that is defective and does not meet automotive industry and consumer protection standards, yet it is put into circulation in the automotive industry supply chain.
The phrase "reasonable number of repair attempts" is a familiar one to law offices specializing in lemon laws. It means that a vehicle's defects are substantial enough to warrant a number of futile trips to repair shops, dealerships, and manufacturers but the issue can not be resolved under a dealership or manufacturer warranty.
What Constitutes a Lemon?
These serious defects include:
When serious safety malfunctions affect the brakes or the steering.
Losing engine power and stalling while driving at a high rate of speed on highways and freeways.
Experiencing problems shifting into and out of gear on either an automatic or manual transmission.
Emitting excessive smoke from the engine's exhaust system.
Inability to start or turn off the vehicle.
Malfunctions with the safety restraint system, including the airbag light repeatedly coming on.
Safety features like the backup camera not working properly.
Oil leaks and excessive engine oil consumption.
Structural defects that weaken the performance or safety of the vehicle.
The car consistently underperforms under normal driving conditions.
Non-serious safety defects can not be repaired after multiple repair attempts.
The vehicle spends 30 days or more in a 18-month period at a dealership to repair substantial defects under warranty. Things like broken mirrors, or chipped windshields, or loose knobs aren't considered serious defects.
NICHOLAS BONTRAGER, LITIGATION ATTORNEY
Mr. Beck is an exceptional litigation attorney who has handled hundreds of claims in his career, including prevailing for his clients in several jury trials. I would recommend this attorney.
What is the California Lemon Law?
Consumer protection state laws, such as lemon laws, were created to protect consumers and provide a solution for purchasers of faulty vehicles and other consumer goods to compensate for products that repeatedly fail to meet safety standards and can not be resolved even after a reasonable number of repair attempts.
While a whole scope of consumer goods can be labeled as defective, the term "lemon" is typically used to describe motor vehicles, including cars, trucks, and motorcycles.
Under the California civil code, a motor vehicle is deemed a "lemon" when it has one or several defects, that significantly impairs the performance, safety, or value of the vehicle that is still covered under a valid warranty.
The California Lemon Law protects consumers who purchase or lease defective motor vehicles that cannot be fixed even after multiple repair attempts. In this case, California law requires vehicle manufacturers to provide a replacement vehicle or refund the purchase price.
The lemon law applies to new, leased, and some used vehicles.
What is the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act?
In 1970, the California Legislature created the California Lemon Law, also referred to as the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act to protect consumers and regulate consumer warranties. Consumer protection laws are written to prevent the distress and damage caused by fraudulent transactions, and misleading sales gimmicks and to eliminate the frustration caused by manufacturers who fail to fulfill their repair obligations under the rules of their warranties.
The Consumer Protection Act is covered by federal law through the Federal Trade Commission, which inspects complaints of scams and protects customers from defective products, dangerous goods and services, and fraudulent business practices.
When Does the Lemon Law Apply?
In order for the lemon law to apply, the vehicle must have a substantial defect -- one that substantially impairs the use, value, or safety of the vehicle. The defect must also be covered by the manufacturer's warranty and in some circumstances, it is presumed that the vehicle has exceeded a reasonable number of repair attempts if the vehicle is brought in for repair two or more times for a safety defect or four or more times for a non-safety defect within 18 months of purchase or lease, or 18,000 miles driven, whichever comes first.
Furthermore, the owner must have attempted to get the defective vehicle repaired multiple times or the defective car must be in the shop for an unreasonable number of days in order to qualify as a valid lemon law claim.
Example of a Manufacturer's Profit Over Safety
Even though auto manufacturers are required by law to repurchase the defective vehicle, over the years, several high-profile automobile manufacturers such as Ford, Nissan, Toyota, BMW, Honda, Volkswagen, Mercedes, and many others, have been known to occasionally prioritize profit over reliability and one famous example was a products liability case.
In 1981, the court heard the landmark case of Grimshaw v. Ford Motor Company in which the jury assessed punitive damages against Ford in the amount of $125,000,000, following a rear-end accident, which caused a Ford Pinto vehicle to explode and severely burn and disfigure the car's occupants.
Astonishingly, during the trial, the jury learned that the car giant was fully aware of the Pinto's susceptibility to explode during a possible low-speed rear-end collision, for the manufacturer had tested the model prior to its release for sale to the general public.
Despite this knowledge, Ford continued to sell the Pinto as it was deemed cheaper to settle an anticipated lawsuit than to amend the design of every single car at $6.65 per piece. In this seismic lawsuit, the jury justifiably returned a verdict for the plaintiffs awarding $2,516,000 in compensatory damages and $125,000,000 in punitive damages.
What should I do if I think I have a lemon?
If you suspect that you may have purchased a lemon, it is paramount that you keep track of every defect and repair that takes place.
These are some simple steps to follow:
Make a note of the problem you are experiencing and check it against the vehicle manufacturer's warranty whether it is covered.
Immediately report the issue to the dealer and the manufacturer directly.
Document every single repair attempt on your car.
After numerous failed attempts to repair the defect on your car, write to the manufacturer to commence a buyback process.
Should you encounter animosity or resistance during the buyback process, it is worth familiarizing yourself with the state lemon law and it may also be worth contacting a lawyer who could give you a free consultation.
An experienced lemon law attorney will be able to help you determine if you qualify for a replacement vehicle or refund under the lemon law. The lawyer can also assist you in filing a claim with the manufacturer, and take things further should it be required.
What are the benefits of the Lemon Law?
In a nutshell, the lemon law provides financial protection to consumers who purchase defective vehicles, which are still under the manufacturer's warranty. The law requires manufacturers to provide a replacement vehicle or refund the purchase price if the vehicle cannot be repaired after a reasonable number of attempts. The lemon law also applies to leased vehicles.
The benefits of the lemon law include:
A refund of the purchase price
A replacement vehicle
The return of any down payments or trade-ins
The reimbursement of the customer's monthly payments
The reimbursement of the customer's towing and rental expenses
The reimbursement of the customer's repair costs
New Cars vs Used Cars in California
Lemon law is implemented to various degrees in all 50 US states, however, only seven states have a lemon law for used cars, and not every vehicle qualifies. Each state has its own process that buyers, manufacturers, and dealers need to follow before a car can be written off as a lemon. California lemon laws are some of the best and most comprehensive in the country, while some states offer very little if any, protection to their customers.
The Lemon Law for New Cars in California
The California Lemon Law covers new and leased vehicles that have a serious defect that cannot be repaired by the manufacturer or its authorized dealer within a reasonable number of attempts. In this case, the law requires the manufacturer to replace or repurchase the defective vehicle.
The Lemon Law for Used Cars in California
The lemon law for used cars in California is different from the law referring to new or leased cars. The California Lemon Law for used cars only protects a buyer if they have purchased a used car that is still under warranty and the vehicle has a serious defect that cannot be repaired after a reasonable number of attempts by the manufacturer or its authorized dealer. It is important to note that the vehicle must be purchased from a licensed dealer or retailer, and not a private individual, and it must have a valid warranty.
What if I Leased My Vehicle?
The lemon law applies to leased vehicles too. If your leased vehicle is a lemon, you may be entitled to a refund of your monthly payments, the return of any down payments or trade-ins, and the reimbursement of your towing and rental expenses. The decision of whether to provide a refund or replacement vehicle is up to the manufacturer.
Lemon Law Presumption
The lemon law provides a presumption that the vehicle exceeds a reasonable number of attempts if one of the following occurs:
The vehicle has been in the shop for repair for 30 days or more in the first 18 months or 18,000 miles.
The vehicle has been in the shop for repair two or more times for the same safety defect within the first 18 months or 18,000 miles.
The vehicle has been in the shop for repair four or more times for the same non-safety defect within the first 18 months or 18,000 miles.
Lemon Law Buyback vs Replacement Vehicle
If your vehicle is a lemon, you may be entitled to a replacement vehicle or a refund of the purchase price. Most manufacturers prefer to offer a settlement before the case escalates to arbitration or trial. The settlement can include:
Offering a full refund buyback on the vehicle
Offering a replacement vehicle
In the case of a lease, paying off the loan and refunding payment installments to the buyer
Offering a cash settlement in lieu of repurchase or replacement while keeping the car
A lemon buyback is when the manufacturer agrees to take back the defective vehicle and gives the customer a refund less a use offset. The refund includes the purchase price, taxes, fees, and other payments made on the vehicle under the financing terms. The manufacturer may also reimburse the customer for their towing, storage, and rental expenses.
The lemon law does require the manufacturer to provide a repurchase or a comparable replacement vehicle at the consumer's election.
The lemon law does not cover all expenses related to the purchase or lease of a vehicle. The following costs are not covered by the lemon law:
The cost of repairs unrelated to the reoccurring defect that were not authorized by the manufacturer.
The cost of aftermarket products or services.
The cost of repairs unrelated to the reoccurring defect made by an unauthorized repair facility.
The cost of towing and rental cars incurred for reasons unrelated to the reoccurring defect.
The manufacturer may not deduct any amounts for depreciation. The refund or replacement vehicle must be based on the original purchase price of the vehicle.
What is Mileage Offset
The vehicle mileage offset is an amount deducted from the consumer’s lemon claim “actual damages” and it is calculated based on “the number of miles traveled by the new motor vehicle prior to the time the buyer first delivered the vehicle to the manufacturer or distributor, or its authorized service and repair facility for correction of the problem that gave rise to the concern.
Lemon Law Timeline
There is no set timeline for the lemon law process. The length of time it takes to resolve a lemon law claim depends on many factors, including:
The severity of the defect.
The number of times the vehicle has been in the repair shop.
The willingness of the manufacturer to cooperate.
Whether you are pursuing a refund, replacement vehicle or cash settlement.
What to do if you think you have a lemon?
If you think you may have purchased or leased a lemon, and you are struggling to reach a satisfactory resolution with the car dealer, you should consider the involvement of a legal team by contacting a specialized lemon law firm that may offer a free case evaluation.
A lemon law lawyer can offer advice on a case-by-case basis and they can help you determine whether you qualify for a refund under the lemon law. In certain circumstances, the lawyer can even assist in filing a claim with the manufacturer.
How to Hire a Lemon Lawyer?
California's lemon laws are there to protect consumers who purchase defective vehicles. The law requires manufacturers to provide a replacement vehicle or refund the purchase price if the vehicle cannot be repaired successfully after several attempts. However, the truth is that dealerships and manufacturers are sometimes reluctant to fulfill their obligation, and in these circumstances the assistance of a lemon law attorney becomes necessary.
Attorney Benjemen Beck and The Beck Law Office, APC have spent over a decade fighting on our client's behalf to obtain the results they deserve. We have successfully resolved hundreds of cases out of court but we don't shy away to take some cases to trial when further action is required and auto manufacturers fail to prioritize safety and reliability. We know the California lemon law inside and out, and our specialist team will do whatever it takes to ensure that your consumer rights are upheld under California’s lemon law.
At The Beck Law Office, APC we pride ourselves on our personal approach and our professionalism and we will do our utmost to fight your corner and get the justice you deserve quickly and efficiently.
How Much Does a Lemon Law Attorney Cost?
The great thing about California's lemon law is it's free to you the consumer. That is, the law requires that the manufacturer pays the attorney fees, costs, and expenses incurred by your attorney in pursuing your case. The benefit of this law is two-fold because it ensures that the decides to take your case believes in it because they don't get paid unless they win. The other benefit is that the law provides you the opportunity to be represented by experienced attorneys.
If The Beck Law Office, APC accepts you as a client you can rest assured that we believe in your case and know we can win. We're banking on it. You also will have peace of mind that your case is being handled by an experienced trial attorney that has been in the trenches.