If there is one thing people look forward to when upgrading to a new car (besides that new-car smell), it is peace of mind. No more worrying about getting stranded on the side of the road or waiting for costly repairs. Unfortunately, for some new car owners the gratification is short-lived. An early mechanical problem – especially one involving the transmission – can leave the owner feeling surprised and upset.
All major auto manufacturers offer powertrain warranties covering the transmission. Powertrain warranties generally last longer than bumper-to-bumper warranties. Coverage periods may even be as long as 10 years / 100,000 miles for some non-luxury imports. New car owners can enforce the warranty by simply taking the car in for repairs at an authorized dealership.
Knowing a bad transmission will be fixed at the manufacturer’s expense should come as a relief. But is it enough to completely restore the car owner’s peace of mind? Probably not. There is always the possibility that repairs will be unsuccessful and the car will turn out to be a lemon. At that point, the car owner will need to look to consumer protection laws in order to enforce the terms of the manufacturer’s warranty.
California’s Lemon Law
Like other states, California protects purchasers and lessees of new cars in the event that a serious mechanical defect cannot be resolved in a timely manner. The Lemon Law, as it is commonly known, allows car owners to enforce factory warranties as follows:
- The owner must take the vehicle to the dealership for repair once a substantial defect affecting the car’s use, value, or safety becomes apparent.
- If the initial repair does not fix the problem, the owner must give the dealer a reasonable number of additional attempts to successfully repair the vehicle.
- After documenting the fact that the dealer was unable to accomplish the repair, the owner can insist that the manufacturer repurchase or replace the vehicle.
Car manufacturers do not want to repurchase or replace vehicles, because it cuts into their profit margin. Fortunately, California law gives car owners the right to hire an attorney to handle the Lemon Law claim without cost to the consumer.
Transmission Trouble is Always a Serious Matter
Transmissions are structurally complex, expensive, and vitally important to overall vehicle performance. When an automatic transmission is not operating properly, it can:
- Slip in and out of gear
- Downshift or upshift randomly and then self-correct
- Vibrate or shake
- Make loud whining, humming, or clicking sounds
- Leak fluid
- Emit a burning smell
- Wear out prematurely (leading to transmission failure after warranty expiration).
A faulty transmission is also a safety hazard. It can put lives at risk, as may have been the case in a recent horrific accident involving a Hollywood celebrity whose vehicle unexpectedly rolled down the driveway.
How to Know When the Lemon Law Applies to a Transmission Defect
With hundreds of moving parts, transmissions can come off the factory floor with any number of potential defects. Whether a given defect qualifies under California’s Lemon Law actually has little to do with the precise nature of the defect. This is true because any defect in the transmission is likely to affect the car’s “use, value, or safety.”
Instead, the determining factor will be the dealership’s ability to completely fix the defect, and to do it quickly. Immediately swapping out a faulty transmission for one that works is fine. That is why cars are sold with factory warranties, after all. But, if the transmission problems continue after multiple visits to the dealership, it is time to contact a Lemon Law attorney.