For many Americans, buying a new car is one of the greatest experiences one can have. When you drive away from a dealership in a shiny, new vehicle, you take great pride in your purchase. You show it off to friends and family, you take extra-long routes to your destination just to enjoy the ride, and you know that the vehicle is going to be reliable – after all, you just paid a hefty sum for a brand-new car.
But then the unthinkable happens. Shortly after you buy your new car, it starts to show signs of trouble. Check-engine lights are flashing. Strange sounds start humming from the engine, and you can tell that something is not quite right. So, you finally break down and take it to the shop to get it repaired. But the problems continue. After repeatedly trying to get the thing fixed, you’re now starting to realize that something is seriously wrong with this vehicle…
And then, it finally dawns on you – you bought a lemon.
This is one of the worst fears of any new car owner. After all the exhaustive research, and after all the hard-earned money you spent, you are forced to reckon with the fact that you are squarely on the wrong end of a raw deal. This unfortunate scenario is not as uncommon as you might think. It’s such a concern for consumers that, fortunately, there is a law specifically geared toward consumers who purchased a bum vehicle.
Enacted in 1970, the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, as California’s Lemon Law is more formally known, is intended to help consumers or businesses who have purchased a vehicle that turns out to be defective. While no one ever hopes to be put in a situation where they are forced to use it, California’s Lemon Law is the embodiment of consumer protection at work.
Several states have laws that offer consumers recourse should they purchase a defective vehicle, but California’s is one of the strongest in the nation.
While the law is a great thing for buyers, it is not always easy to hold a manufacturer responsible for the lemon they sold you. The process can sometimes be fraught with frustration, requiring continuous correspondence with a manufacturer and proving that your grievances are in keeping with the claim you are filing.
Yet, for all their limitations, lemon laws are essential for consumer protection. The serve not only as a barrier of protection for the buyer, but they also discourage manufacturers from making faulty and defective products.
What Does the Law Cover?
The Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act covers more than just new car buyers. It can apply to many vehicles that have been leased or purchased, provided the vehicle is protected by a factory warranty. Compensation is contingent upon many components of the law, including the number of attempts required to repair the vehicle, the amount of time the vehicle has been out of service and a requirement that the defect is not a result of actions on the part of the buyer.
The California Department of Consumer Affairs provides the criteria set forth by California Civil Code Section 1793.22(e) used to determine whether a vehicle will be covered by the law. It includes the following:
- A new vehicle bought or used primarily for personal, family, or household purposes
- A new vehicle with a gross vehicle weight under 10,000 pounds purchased or used mainly for business purposes (provided the owner or the business has no more than five vehicles registered in California)
- The chassis, chassis cab, and propulsion portions of a motorhome
- A dealer-owned vehicle, referred to as a “demonstrator,” or another motor vehicle sold with manufacturer’s new car warranty (a used vehicle, for example)
- Purchased and leased vehicles.
A vehicle will not be considered new if it is “any portion of a motor home designed, used, or maintained primarily for human habitation;” or if it is “a motorcycle or a motor vehicle which is not registered under the Vehicle Code because it is to be operated or used exclusively as an off-road vehicle.”
The Importance of an Attorney
An attorney is not required in these cases, but it is typically in the best interest of a consumer who has purchased a defective vehicle. Not surprisingly, manufacturers aren’t always eager to pay back a consumer for their purchase or to replace the defective vehicle with a new one, even when it is explicitly stated in their warranty. Major automotive companies are well-prepared to handle these claims, and they often have a team of attorneys and representatives who are strongly motivated to keep the payments of their corporate client to a minimum.
Ideally, you would be able to file a complaint with a manufacturer regarding the lemon and you would receive a prompt response, followed by a check for the costs you’ve faced. Instead, you’ll be more likely to face a good deal of paperwork, record-keeping, and discussions with an arbitrator, and your claim may still be greeted with disputes from the manufacturer.
The process can be a frustrating one for many consumers, and this is where an attorney can play a key role in your claim. Attorneys experienced with California’s Lemon Law know exactly what to expect from these companies, including what tactics they might employ to reduce the amount of money they pay. Attorneys will be able to deal with the legal teams employed by manufacturers, and they will serve as your advocate to make sure you are treated fairly.
The Department of Motor Vehicles says that using an attorney familiar with California’s Lemon Law makes a big difference in the amount a person might be offered by a manufacturer, in addition to reducing the amount of effort it will take on behalf of a consumer. The DMV also gives plenty of great advice to consumers who are concerned that they have purchased a lemon.
So, You Bought a Lemon…
If you have purchased a defective vehicle, keep in mind that you will be best served by keeping notes and records on everything you do in relation to repairs, complaints, visits to the dealership and anything else that might be relevant to your vehicle. Your personal records will end up playing a big role in documenting the process you’ve gone through, and they will be valuable when determining the amount of your compensation.
When sending letters to manufacturers, always keep copies, send the letter through certified mail and request a receipt. When your vehicle is repaired or whenever you take it to the shop, keep copies of everything given to you. Keep a file with these documents and give them to your attorney.
In addition to keeping extensive notes and records, it is important to keep making your vehicle payments, unless instructed to do otherwise by an attorney. Also, be sure to notify the manufacturer if they performed a repair that did not fix the vehicle’s problem. As always, keep notes about this correspondence.
Buying a lemon is a very unpleasant experience, one that causes a headache for so many consumers. The good news is that the laws are on your side. The factory warranty on your vehicle is more than just lip service; it is a binding document that will protect your interests when you purchase a defective vehicle.
It is not always a simple process, and the companies responsible for holding up their end of the bargain aren’t always cooperative, but with the assistance of a skilled, experienced Lemon Law attorney, you will be positioned to receive compensation for the costs you have suffered.