California’s Lemon Law

The scope of California’s lemon law is extremely broad. Everything from toaster ovens to sailboats can potentially fall within the parameters of the statute. With respect to automobiles, though, the lemon law contains a number of narrow exclusions, and these can come as quite a shock to unsuspecting car owners.

Neale & Fhima believes the first step toward helping consumers assert their lemon law rights is to make sure they understand what those rights entail. Below you will find a list of issues that the lemon law does not cover. Whether an exclusion applies to the facts of a given case requires an evaluation by an experienced attorney. We provide this service without charge to California residents. Contact our lemon law attorneys today to learn more.

The lemon law does not apply to:

Vehicles with Expired Warranties

The lemon law is designed to give vehicle owners the ability to enforce the terms of their factory warranty. Since all new vehicles sold in California come with a factory warranty, consumers who discover a mechanical defect prior to expiration of the warranty period will normally be covered.

A few additional rules apply, however. The warranty must:

  • Be a factory warranty issued by the auto manufacturer. Extended warranties, such as Certified Pre-Owned Warranties count as well, however service contracts sold by the dealership do not count.
  • Cover the defect. Be aware that warranty periods are not the same for all vehicle parts. For example, Chevrolet covers sheet metal rust for 6 years/100,000 miles, the powertrain for 5 years/60,000 miles, and everything else for 3 years/36,000 miles.
  • Still be in effect as of the date of the first repair attempt. For this reason, vehicle owners who discover a mechanical problem near the end of the warranty period must take the vehicle to the dealership for repairs immediately.

Dealer Fraud

What if a car salesperson withholds or misrepresents facts about a vehicle that affect its value? Had the customer known the truth, the customer would have paid less for the vehicle, or perhaps avoided the purchase altogether. Surely the law provides a remedy in this situation, right?

Yes, the law provides a remedy. Consumers who are misled into purchasing a vehicle may have a tort claim against the dealership. But dealer fraud – no matter how egregious – does not trigger a lemon law claim. The lemon law is only concerned with a dealer’s failure to perform repair work as required by the warranty.

Predatory or Improper Lending Practices

Few car shoppers are in a financial position to pay cash for a new vehicle. Purchasing a vehicle on credit makes sense for many consumers, and it will not affect their ability to assert a lemon law claim if the need arises. But the lemon law does not cover irregularities in the financing process itself. Rather, consumers must look to California’s Automobile Sales Finance Act (ASFA) or other state and federal laws.

Repossessions

Consumers have rights following a vehicle repossession, particularly when it comes to the notice a dealer must provide prior to selling the vehicle at auction. However, such issues are not within the scope of the lemon law.

Private-Party Sales

These days, used car shoppers are more likely to start their search on Craigslist than they are to visit a car lot. Buying from a private party is an attractive option because vehicles are more affordable. For instance, according to Kelley Blue Book, a 2015 Ford Escape in good condition should sell for $14,600 at a dealership. In a private party sale, the same vehicle should sell for $1,150 less.

The problem is that California’s lemon law does not cover vehicles purchased from a private party. Interestingly, the factory warranty requirement discussed earlier has nothing to do with it. Any warranty coverage remaining at the time of sale will usually transfer to the new owner. Rather, the private-party exclusion exists because the lemon law applies only to consumer goods, which the statute defines as goods sold “at retail.” A private party sale is not a retail transaction.

Out-of-State Sales

The lemon law only covers vehicles purchased or leased in California. This exclusion does not apply to active military personnel who purchased their vehicle in another state before being stationed here.

Modified or Misused Vehicles

Dealer-installed options are a great way to personalize a new vehicle. But if problems arise, the components will not be covered by the lemon law. Similarly, the law does not apply to aftermarket modifications like custom exhaust, brake, or air intake systems. It also does not apply to damage caused by improper use of the vehicle by the owner.

Lemon Law Tip: Never accept the manufacturer’s determination that misuse of the vehicle caused the mechanical problem. An evaluation of your claim by the attorneys at Neale & Fhima (and, if necessary, an inspection by an independent mechanic) may reveal otherwise.

Commercial Vehicle Fleets

Small business owners have the same rights as other consumers under California’s lemon law. Driving a vehicle for business purposes, in and of itself, will not invalidate a lemon law claim. But vehicles that weigh more than 10,000 pounds and vehicles belonging to businesses with more than five vehicles registered in California are not covered.

Speak to a California Lemon Law Attorney

Some degree of uncertainty exists in every legal case. So, if you believe one of the exclusions discussed above applies to your vehicle, do not give up just yet. The lemon law lawyers at Neale & Fhima may be able to negotiate a settlement that provides you with fair compensation irrespective of an apparent weakness in your claim. Dial (888) 568-6983 to speak with us from anywhere in California, or tell us about your case now using the form below.