Lemon Law is the common term used for for breach of warranty law. California's lemon law states that a vehicle is a lemon if after a reasonable number of repair attempts for non conformities that substantially impairs the use, value or safety of the vehicle, the nonconformity continues to occur. This law provides the purchaser or lessee of a new vehicle or a used vehicle that is still under the new manufacturer’s warranty, a remedy at law.
II. California Law
California Civil Code §1790 et. seq. deals with the specifics of lemon law. The following are the elements that must be satisfied in order for the vehicle to qualify as a lemon.
A. Who and What is Covered?
Every purchaser of a new vehicle that is purchased or leased for the personal, family or household services is entitled to coverage under the California Law. In addition, purchasers or lease of a used vehicle, that has a valid original manufacturer’s warranty in full force and effect at the time of purchasing or leasing the vehicle, may be entitled to coverage under California law.
B. What Qualifies as a Lemon?
The general requirement that must be satisfied to qualify a vehicle as a “lemon” is to show that after a reasonable number of service attempts, the manufacturer, or its agent, is unable to conform the vehicle to the express warranties provided for the vehicle, and the non-conformity substantially impairs the use, value or safety of the vehicle, the vehicle is a lemon. The general standards set forth by California law to obtain a rebuttable presumption that the vehicle is a lemon is as follows:
1. 2 or more repair attempts for the same non-conformity that is likely to cause serious bodily injury or death within the first 18 months or 18,0000 miles of the purchase of the vehicle or within the warranty period, whichever is earlier, and the non-conformity continues to exist
2. 4 or more repair or more repair attempts for the same non-conformity that within the first 18 months or 18,0000 miles of the purchase of the vehicle or within the warranty period, whichever is earlier, and the non-conformity continues to exist
3. 30 or more days in the manufacturer’s repair facility within the first 18 months or 18,000 miles of purchase or lease of the vehicle
The above are presumptions. The manufacturer may allege that a vehicle is "lemon" only if it meets the above narrow criteria. However, the law does not state so. if you can prove "after a reasonable number of repair attempts for non conformities that substantially impairs the use, value or safety of the vehicle, the nonconformity continues to occur". Non-presumption cases should be evaluated by an attorney.
C. What is the remedy?
If the vehicle is considered a lemon, the following is the buyer’s choice of remedy:
1. Replacement of the vehicle, with a new vehicle, that is the same make with the same options;
2. Repurchase the vehicle and refund the full purchase price including all sales taxes, license fees, registration fees and other similar governmental charges, less a reasonable allowance for his use of the vehicle
In addition to the statutory remedy, the consumer may be entitled to the diminished value of the vehicle as a result of the non conformities. This is commonly known as a "cash and keep" remedy where the vehicle owner retains the vehicle, but receives cash compensation.
III. Consumer’s Duties
In many instances, a consumer that has a “lemon” is not entitled to the remedies provided because of the consumer’s neglect in properly having the vehicle serviced. There are a few things that the consumer must do in order to preserve their right to bring a lemon law claim.
A. Preserve Your Documents
Do not throw away any documents that you receive from the dealer when you purchase your vehicle. Important documents include the original sales contract, your service contract, warranty booklet, finance documents and any other documents that you receive from the dealer. In addition, after taking possession of the vehicle, make sure you keep all of your service records, receipts, and any expenses that you use for the vehicle. This includes the DMV registration documents that you receive each year.
B. Take the Vehicle to an Authorized Service Facility for Warranty Repairs
If there is a problem with the vehicle and the warranty is in full force and affect, make sure you take the vehicle to an authorized repair facility. The dealer that you purchased the vehicle from should have a repair facility onsite. If you move or do not live near the dealership that you purchased the vehicle, look in the warranty booklet or ask the dealership where the nearest authorized facility is. If you take warranty repairs to an independent mechanic, you will be wasting money for repairs that could have been made free of charge under the warranty.
C. Make sure all of your complaints are documented
Many consumers fail to verify their service orders when they take their vehicle in for service. Make sure you review the service/repair order before leaving the dealer and make sure you ask your service representative to write down each and every complaint that you have with your vehicle. For example, if you take your vehicle in for problems with the air conditioning and the transmission, both of these complaints must be listed. If your service advisor refuses to document these requests, ask to speak to a manager.
IV. Attorneys fees
In the event that a vehicle qualifies as a “lemon”, the manufacturer is responsible for your attorney’s fees. As the prevailing consumer, you should not be responsible for your attorney’s fees. If your case goes to trial and you do not prevail, you are not required to pay the other side's attorney's fees, but may be required by the court to pay for their costs.
V. Questions? Consult an attorney
If you have any questions, need more detailed information, contact the Law Offices of Choi & Associates for a free consultation.
This article is not intended to be a full tutorial on all of the specifics regarding a lemon law claim. This is also not a legal consultation nor does reading this article establish an attorney client relationship. For further and more detailed information, please go to your local law library or call our office for a free consultation.