The Civil Code of California requires that auto manufacturers provide lemon law buybacks to new cars, trucks and SUV owners when the manufacturer cannot repair a vehicle’s serious defect within a ‘reasonable’ number of attempts during the original factory warranty period. The major issue with lemon law claims in California is: What is a reasonable number of attempts? And how does a car qualify for the lemon law?
Details About the California Lemon Law
At Neale & Fhima, we know that some people think that if the car has had at least four repair attempts, it will automatically qualify for a lemon law claim. This is not the case. This indicates a misunderstanding of the state requirements. In most cases, there is no precise rule to determine whether the auto manufacturer or dealership has had enough repair attempts to fix the defect.
Instead, the question about whether enough attempts were made to repair the car is a question for the jury to weigh. Because a jury is involved in a lemon law claim, there is no 100% certainty of the exact number of attempts needed before the vehicle is indeed a lemon.
According to past lemon law cases in the state, a rule of thumb is that a ‘reasonable number ‘of repair attempts may mean that a typical consumer would reasonably conclude that the dealership or manufacturer cannot or will not fix the issue.
As there is no surefire rule to determine when a car is a lemon, it is best to talk to a lemon law attorney in California for their professional opinion.
That said, appellate courts in California have weighed in on this subject. They have determined that the absolute minimum number of repair attempts before a lemon law case can proceed is two. You must provide at least two repair attempts for the same defect to possibly have a lemon law case.
The lemon law statute does state that there are three presumptions about when a car qualifies for a lemon law claim. These are NOT hard and fast rules. Sometimes, the consumer with fewer repair attempts could qualify, and other consumers with more repair attempts may not qualify.
Nevertheless, these presumptions are useful for guidance on this subject:
- There have been at least two attempts to repair a defect that could cause death or serious bodily injury within the first 18k miles or first 18 months of vehicle ownership.
- There have been at least four repair attempts for the same problem within the first 18k miles or 18 months of vehicle ownership.
- The car has been under repair and not available to drive for at least 30 days in the first 18k miles or 18 months of ownership.
If your car does not fit the above presumptions, remember, you still may have a valid California lemon law claim. Too many times, consumers think their claim is not valid because the facts of their case do not fit the above presumptions. The state’s lemon law provides California consumers with certain legal rights and remedies during the factory warranty period. If your car has had several repairs for the same problem while still under warranty, then you could have a valid claim.
Possible Substantial Defects That Could Make a Lemon Law Claim
It is important to note that the general criteria for a valid lemon law claim are broad. There are many types of repair problems that could make a valid claim. For instance, there are many problems that could fall into a gray zone regarding ‘substantial defect.’ Some of the more common substantial defects that will make your claim valid are:
- Engine failure
- Transmission does not shift properly
- Problems with brakes and/or anti-lock brakes
- Problems with steering
- Malfunctions with airbags.
There are many other issues with your vehicle that could qualify it for lemon law protection. For example, if you live in hot Southern California, a good lemon law attorney could possibly make a case that an air conditioner that does not work well is a ‘substantial defect.’
So, in some situations, a defect with the air conditioner may qualify for lemon law protection. Or, you may have a problem with the electrical system that affects the headlights or brake lights. This could easily be considered a serious safety hazard. Problems that affect the value of the car also may qualify for protection. A common problem that arises is one with the car’s paint job. If it is poor, it will certainly affect resale value, so this problem could qualify.
But there is a fine line as far as ‘substantial defects’ go. A broken CD player or knob on the radio probably would not qualify under the lemon law rules.
What Should You Do If You Think You Have a Lemon?
First, you should talk to a lemon law lawyer to understand your legal rights. Car manufacturers usually fight lemon law claims, so getting an attorney is important. Most lemon law attorneys in this state work via contingency fee. So, you will usually not need to pay out-of-pocket costs for your legal representation. There are some other things to do if you think you have a serious defect that may make a lemon law claim:
- Keep copies of all repair orders; make sure they clearly state what the problems are with the car and what has been repaired.
- Keep a file of all records regarding repairs to your vehicle for the defect in question. Do not rely on the auto dealer to handle your lemon law paperwork.
- Notify the car manufacturer of the defects with your vehicle.
- If the car manufacturer has an arbitration program, you can submit the lemon law dispute to that program. But you should always contact your California lemon law attorney prior to going to arbitration; the outcome of that case could damage your chances of getting proper compensation.
Also, if you bought a used vehicle that is still under warranty, you may still qualify for lemon law protection. If you think you were deceived by the dealership about repairs made to your car before it was sold to you, there could be a valid lemon law claim as well.
Need to Learn More on How Does a Car Qualify for the Lemon Law? Talk to A Lemon Law Attorney Now.
Not every new car, truck or SUV in California is reliable. Some of them have serious defects that affect use, value and/or safety. If you have been taking your new vehicle under factory warranty into the dealership for regular repairs, you may have a valid lemon law claim. Talk to the lemon law attorneys of Neale & Fhima today to see if you are entitled to compensation.