California Lemon Law

Do you own a lemon?

California has one of the toughest auto "lemon" laws in the country. However, if our firm's caseload is any indication, California consumers continue to have trouble persuading auto manufacturers and dealers to replace or buy back defective vehicles that appear to qualify for such treatment under the terms of the law. Usually our clients come to us after a few futile attempts to resolve the problem on their own.

If you are experiencing warranty problems with your vehicle, or other consumer product, we may be able to help you at a cost you can afford. Don't be the judge of the merit of your case! All too often consumers are misled by attorneys who are not well versed in the law of consumer protection and are, unfortunately, told that they don't have a case when in fact they do! Don't give up, or accept peanuts in settlement, until you have taken advantage of a free consultation by an experienced Lemon Lawyer.

The California and Federal Lemon Law

California's Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act and the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act cover more than just new and warranted automobiles, trucks, motorcycles and RVs. These state and federal laws cover any warranted "consumer product" including airplanes, boats, jet skis, and manufactured housing. While less expensive consumer products are covered, the cost of a product should be more than $5,000 before considering hiring an attorney. For less expensive items, you can always attempt to obtain relief in small claims court under these same laws.

California and Federal Lemon Laws are designed to protect consumers who purchase or lease new motor vehicles covered by express warranties. The lemon law also applies to used cars, if at the time of purchase the manufacturer's original warranty had not expired. (If you purchased a used car after the manufacturer's warranty expired, you may be entitled to repurchase under other consumer protection laws. Learn More.). If it is determined that a motor vehicle is a Lemon, the motor vehicle's warrantor must replace or repurchase the motor vehicle from the buyer.

Both California and Federal Lemon Laws require manufacturers and sellers of consumer products to provide consumers with detailed information about warranty coverage. In addition, the laws affect both the rights of consumers and the obligations of warrantors under written warranties. So, you should have proper documentation of any repairs made to the vehicle, possess a complete understanding of the warranty and have attempted to reconcile any issues with the dealer/manufacturer before filing a claim or seeking legal action.

At first glance, it would appear as though California's Lemon Law requires that the manufacturer be given a minimum of either 2 or 4 repair attempts within the first 18 months or 18,000 miles, depending on whether it is a safety-related problem, before the manufacturer is required to replace the vehicle or buy it back. THIS IS NOT THE CASE! A consumer need only prove that the manufacturer has been afforded a REASONABLE number of repair attempts. Also, the repair attempts do not have to occur during the first 18 months or 18,000 miles of ownership, however, at least one repair attempt for the same defect must have occurred while the original warranty was in effect.

A Lemon Law claim exists in California under the following conditions:

  1. The motor vehicle was purchased new, and used for personal, family or household purposes; or has a gross weight under 10,000 pounds and was bought or used primarily for business purposes by an individual or business entity with five or fewer motor vehicles registered in California;

  2. The vehicle has a significant defect or nonconformity which substantially impairs the use, value or safety of the new motor vehicle to the buyer or lessee;

  3. The warrantor is unable to repair the defect or nonconformity after a reasonable number of repair attempts.

What constitutes a "reasonable number of repair attempts" is debatable and will depend on the nonconformity. The law "presumes" a reasonable number of attempts if the vehicle has been in for repair for the same nonconformity four or more times. However, if the nonconformity is safety-related (e.g., a nonconformity that could cause death or serious bodily injury) only two attempts to repair will amount to a presumption of "reasonableness." A presumption only means the party with the favorable presumption does not need to show anything more to prove "reasonableness".

Also, the law presumes a "reasonable number of repair attempts" if the vehicle has been out of service for more than 30 calendar days due to warranty repairs. The more days out of service, the better the chance of establishing that the manufacturer has had a reasonable opportunity to repair the vehicle.

Even if the warranty has expired, the Lemon Law may still apply. If the vehicle is still having problems that were complained about, but never properly repaired during the warranty period, a valid Lemon Law claim may exist. The Lemon Law, generally, will not apply to vehicles with trivial or minor defects. Nevertheless, each case must be judged independently, taking into account the particular needs and expectations of the vehicle's owner/lessee.

Lemon repurchase or replacement provisions under Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act are found at Civil Code section 1793.2. Federal law follows California lemon law remedies.

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Serving All of California

Terry L. Baker serves the California Central Coast areas of Santa Barbara, Ventura, San Luis Obispo, Monterey, and Santa Cruz along with all other areas of California including San Jose, the San Francisco Bay Area, Sacramento and the Central Valley. No matter where you are in California, give us a call or email.