Laws that protect purchasers of defective new cars have been on the books in California for more than four decades. We have reached a point where requiring carmakers to honor their warranties seems like common sense. It is nothing to take for granted, however. The government was not always willing to put the rights of consumers over the interests of big businesses. Today’s Lemon Law came about due to the hard work of public officials and lawyers dedicated to the cause. Herschel Elkins was one of these individuals.
A Pioneer in the Field of Consumer Protection
Herschel T. Elkins (1929 – 2016) was a distinguished attorney and lifelong consumer protection advocate. After graduating from UCLA Law School, he worked in the California Attorney General’s Office for 50 years, serving under nine attorneys general during his tenure. As the first head of his office’s Consumer Law Section, he led the fight to make sure businesses told the truth when they described their products and services. Mr. Elkins also created the California Bureau of Automotive Repair in response to abusive practices by auto mechanics.
Helping to Write California’s Lemon Law
There is no question Herschel Elkins was a skilled litigator, but not all his victories took place in the courtroom. He is credited as one of the authors of the original Lemon Law bill enacted by the California legislature.
Passed in 1970 and amended several times since, the Lemon Law requires manufacturers to “make good” on the written warranties they issue to new car customers. The manufacturer must provide the customer with a refund or replacement vehicle if a defect covered by the warranty cannot be fixed within a reasonable number of attempts. The law presumes this standard is met if the following occurs within 18 months or 18,000 miles of purchase:
- The customer gives the dealership at least two chances to fix a defect that could potentially cause an accident involving death or serious bodily injury.
- The customer gives the dealership at least four chances to fix any other defect that affects the use, value, or safety of the vehicle.
- The customer is unable to drive the vehicle for more than 30 days (total) because the dealership is trying to repair the defect during that time.
California’s Lemon Law has helped countless vehicle owners who might otherwise have been stuck with a car that does not work like it should. The legislation has also served as a model for other states looking to implement similar protections for their residents.
The Impact of Herschel Elkins’ Legacy
Herschel Elkins was revered by those who believe our government should defend consumers against fraud in the marketplace. Here is what one prominent judge had to say in prepared remarks delivered at a 2002 awards ceremony held in Mr. Elkins’ honor:
“Every day, consumers who deal with obtaining credit, who seek housing, purchase automobiles or other retail goods, enter into health club and dance studio contracts, hire contractors to do home repair work, or encounter door-to-door salesmen, have Herschel Elkins to thank for increasing consumer protection and ensuring California’s leadership role in this area of the law.”
-Ronald M. George, former Chief Justice of California
As we reflect on the passing of such an influential public servant, we must remain vigilant. Auto industry lobbyists in Sacramento will always try to reshape policy to benefit the companies they represent. We cannot allow this to happen. If a dealership is giving you the runaround about a new car repair, seek advice from a Lemon Law attorney. The best way to safeguard our consumer rights is to exercise them.