Have you bought a new or newer vehicle that is still under warranty but not running properly? If so, you may have a case covered by California's lemon law. The lemon law provides that where a dealer or designated service or repair facility can’t repair the vehicle in conformance to the existing warranty, then it must be replaced or the buyer reimbursed for the price of the vehicle less a setoff for use. As with any legal claim, there are a number of requirements that must be met to qualify the vehicle as a lemon. Generally, there are three main requirements that must be met:
If there is sufficient evidence that the vehicle has a nonconformity covered by the express warranty that substantially impaired 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 requirement 1 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 brakes or a defective wheel. Sometimes we have the vehicle checked out by an expert before bringing a claim.
Requirement number (2) means that you give the manufacturer an opportunity to repair the problem. Don’t take the car to your local independent mechanic if it is under warranty. Only an authorized dealer can perform warranty work. Make sure the service representative writes down your complaint about the car on the repair order and that you get a copy of the repair order upon leaving your car there. 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. 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 also obtain documents verifying the information. Keep all the documents involving your car, including purchase documents and repair documents, in a folder at home. Do not use your car’s glove box as your filing system.
If the dealer hasn’t fixed the problem to your satisfaction, take the car back in for repair again. If there is more than one authorized dealer for your vehicle in your town, you can take the car to another authorized dealer for repair if you wish. If, after a few attempts, the dealer can’t repair the problem, you may need legal advice. Our firm does not charge for a consultation and when we accept a case, it is on contingency basis, meaning that we must get our fees from the defendants in the case. If the problem affects the safety of the vehicle, such as with the brakes, air bags, steering, etc. you should seek legal advice immediately.
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 warranty. 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 Lemon Law.