What if your brand-new vehicle requires repeated visits to the dealer for mechanical and safety problems? In southern California, a San Diego “lemon lawyer” may be able to help. California’s Lemon Law protects buyers from warranty defects that the dealer or manufacturer can’t repair.

What exactly does California’s Lemon Law provide? To exactly which vehicles and owners does it apply? What are your legal rights if your new vehicle is a lemon, and how will an experienced San Diego consumer attorney be able to help you? Keep reading. The answers you need are here.

Every day, unsuspecting consumers buy vehicles that are lemons. These consumers have no idea how much aggravation they will suffer after the purchase of a lemon. While consumers in some states have little or no recourse, California consumers have rights when they purchase a vehicle.

WHAT IS CALIFORNIA’S “LEMON” LAW?

In 1970, California’s Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act – the Lemon Law – went into effect. It requires all consumer product manufacturers to buy back or replace defective or faulty products after a “reasonable number” of repair attempts.

The law applies to most consumer transactions in California – not only vehicle purchases. But if you have bought a vehicle that’s a lemon – or if you buy one in the future – the first step toward resolving the matter is learning what is actually provided by the California Lemon Law.

WHAT DOES THE LEMON LAW COVER?

The law does not cover private vehicle sales, even if the vehicle is still under a manufacturer’s warranty. The law covers “new” motor vehicles, including:

  1. cars, vans, SUVs, and pickup trucks
  2. a motorhome’s drivetrain, chassis, and chassis cab
  3. dealer-owned demonstrators and other vehicles
  4. many of the vehicles that are leased or purchased mainly for business purposes
  5. vehicles leased or purchased for family, household, or personal reasons

Additionally, to be covered by the California Lemon Law, a vehicle had to be

  1. leased or purchased at retail in this state, or
  2. leased or purchased by an active duty, full-time member of the Armed Forces residing or stationed in this state at the time of the lease or purchase or when a claim is filed

WHOSE FAULT IS IT WHEN A VEHICLE IS A LEMON?

Who is at fault if you buy a new car, truck, or SUV, and it’s a lemon? Under California law, the person at fault probably is not the purchaser. Who is ultimately accountable in California when a newly purchased vehicle is a lemon?

Vehicles are a major purchase and are an essential part of our lives, so the first party to consider is the vehicle’s manufacturer. Vehicle manufacturers have a duty to protect the public and to manufacture vehicles that are reasonably safe and free of defects.

Under the California Lemon Law, vehicle manufacturers – and dealers – are considered accountable when a vehicle is a lemon. They must refund the entire purchase price or replace the vehicle. It is just that simple.

WHICH VEHICLES ARE CONSIDERED LEMONS?

But what vehicles are “lemons,” and how is that determined? Specifically, the Lemon Law presumes that a vehicle is a lemon if any of the conditions listed here apply within eighteen months of the purchase or 18,000 miles on the odometer, whichever comes first:

  1. The manufacturer or dealer has made two or more efforts and has still failed to fix a warranty problem with the vehicle – a problem likely to cause accidents and injuries if the vehicle is on the road.
  2. The manufacturer or dealer has made at least four efforts – and has failed – to fix the same warranty problem.
  3. Additionally, if the vehicle becomes inoperable for at least thirty days, this can also trigger the California Lemon Law and require a buyback or a replacement.
  4. The issues with the vehicle are covered by the warranty, considerably reduce the vehicle’s use, value, or safety, and have not been caused by an owner’s abuse or neglect of the vehicle.
  5. Finally, any problem that affects a vehicle’s safety may fall under the jurisdiction of the state’s Lemon Law.

WHAT STEPS SHOULD YOU TAKE IF YOU’VE BOUGHT A LEMON?

To exercise your rights under the Lemon Law, a consumer’s first step is to contact the vehicle’s manufacturer about the problems with the vehicle in order to give the manufacturer a fair chance to make necessary repairs before legal action commences.

It is always important to keep every document and receipt that is related to your vehicle and to its repairs. This paperwork helps you in the short term, with the dealer and manufacturer, and in the long term, if you eventually need to take legal action.

The California Lemon Law applies throughout the duration of the vehicle manufacturer’s original warranty period.

Closely scrutinize your warranty when you buy a new vehicle. If you believe that the warranty is being violated and that you are not getting the satisfaction from a manufacturer or from a dealer that you are entitled to by law, speak promptly to an experienced California lemon law attorney.

UNDER THE LEMON LAW, HOW DOES ARBITRATION WORK?

Many vehicle manufacturers offer an arbitration process in California for vehicles that are lemons. These manufacturers have agreed to accept an arbitrator’s decision if the consumer accepts it.

If you choose arbitration to resolve your problems with a vehicle that is a lemon, a neutral third party – the arbitrator – will determine, first, if a reasonable number of efforts have been made to repair the vehicle, and secondly, what award – if any – should be granted to the consumer.

WHAT CAN A CONSUMER EXPECT IN THE ARBITRATION PROCESS?

An attorney should represent you in the arbitration process. However, attorney’s fees are not awarded by arbitrators unless the manufacturer has chosen to include those fees as part of the award. Arbitrators may award:

  1. another repair effort
  2. a replacement vehicle or a buyback
  3. additional reimbursement for expenses such as towing fees and rental cars
  4. an extended service contract or attorney’s fees, if offered by the vehicle manufacturer
  5. or no award at all
ARE ANY USED VEHICLES COVERED BY THE LEMON LAW?

In a few cases, the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act will also protect the purchaser of a used vehicle if that vehicle is purchased from a California dealership during the original manufacturer’s warranty period.

If you purchased a used vehicle in this state before it was either three years old and before it had 36,000 miles on the odometer, or if the vehicle is still covered under the original warranty, you may be entitled to an award under the Lemon Law.

To learn more about the Lemon Law and how it may apply in your own circumstances, or if you need to take legal action or go to arbitration, contact an experienced San Diego lemon lawyer immediately for the advice and representation that you’ll need. In California, that is your right.