Have you bought a new or newer vehicle that is still under warranty but not running properly? If so, you may have a case against the manufacturer of your vehicle covered by California's lemon law. The lemon law provides consumers with important relief when their vehicle does not work and the manufacturer or its designated service or repair facility can’t repair the vehicle in conformance to the existing warranty. When that happens, the manufacturer must replace the vehicle or reimburse the consumer for the price of the vehicle (including down payment, monthly payments, and lease or loan buyout), less a deduction for use.
As with any legal claim, there are various requirements that must be satisfied before the vehicle may be considered a lemon. Generally, there are three main stipulations that must be met:
The vehicle has a defect covered by the express warranty that substantially impairs the use, value or safety of the vehicle;
The vehicle was presented to an authorized representative of the manufacturer of the vehicle for repair; and
The manufacturer or his representative did not repair the nonconformity after a reasonable number of repair attempts.
Note that the first requirement includes the term “substantial.” If there is a faint squeak coming from the left rear side of the vehicle that the dealer can’t repair, that may not be a substantial nonconformity sufficient for a lemon law case. On the other hand, that squeak could be the symptom of a much larger problem, like defective brakes or a faulty transmission. Now more than ever, vehicles are fully loaded with new technologies that are not sufficiently tested before being released to the public. These technology systems, which may include important safety features like rear view cameras, collision detection systems, and automated braking or acceleration, may function only intermittently or not at all. The lemon law can cover claims based on systems like these. Often, our attorneys will have the vehicle checked out by an expert to confirm both the nature and the severity of the defect before bringing a claim.
The second requirement means that you must give the manufacturer, through its authorized repair facilities, an opportunity to repair the substantial defect. Don’t take the car to your local independent mechanic if it is under warranty. Only an authorized dealer can perform warranty work - and only warranty work is considered as part of the lemon law. It is paramount that you ensure the service representative writes down your entire complaint about the car on the repair order. Ask to see the repair order to confirm it says what you told the service representative. You also need to obtain a copy of the repair invoice upon picking up the car. The invoice will show what repairs were done to the car - at this time, confirm that all repairs done on the car are accurately recorded on the invoice. It is helpful if you get the business card or write down the names of any employees at the dealership you talked to about the problem with your car. If you have communicated directly with the manufacturer, you should write down a summary of the conversation for your records and email a confirming copy to the manufacturer, as well. Keep all the documents involving your car, including purchase documents and repair documents, in a folder at home. Or, better yet, start a file on your computer and scan all your documents in. Do not use your car’s glove box as your filing system.
The third requirement is that you take the vehicle in for warranty repairs a reasonable number of times. While there is no hard and fast rule as to what is "reasonable," generally three or four attempts for the same issue is sufficient - sometimes less if the problem affects the safety of the vehicle. Remember, if the dealer hasn’t fixed the problem to your satisfaction, keep taking the car back in for repair. If there is more than one authorized repair facility for your vehicle in your town, you can take the car to another authorized facility for repair if you wish. Sometimes different mechanics will approach a problem differently. If, after a few attempts, the dealer can’t repair the problem, you may need legal advice. If the problem affects the safety of the vehicle, such as with brakes, air bags, steering, etc. you should seek legal advice immediately.
Our firm does not charge for a consultation. When we accept a case, we do so based on fee shifting statutes, meaning that we must get our fees from the defendants in the case. You never owe us any fees.
Note that if your warranty has expired, but you took the car into the dealer to fix the problem before it expired and the problem persisted, you still may have a case covered by the lemon law. A number of different problems with the car requiring a significant amount of days in the shop can become a valid lemon law case as well.
If you have further questions, just give us a call. You can order Nancy Barron’s book “Return to Sender – Getting a Refund or Replacement for Your Lemon Car” from the publisher at www.nclc.org or on Amazon.com.
Visit our "Frequently Asked Questions" page for more information on California's Lemon Law.