California Lemon Law FAQ

California’s Lemon Law, covered under the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, is defined in Section 1793.22 of the California Civil Code. California’s Lemon Law provides relief to consumers who purchase a new motor vehicle with applicable express warranties. The lemon law falls under the provisions of the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, so although the lemon law specifically designates relief for new motor vehicles, the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act contains many general rules applicable to any consumer product sold within the state as long as it was sold with a warranty. A consumer is entitled to relief if a vehicle continues failing to conform to an express warranty after a reasonable number of attempts have been made to correct the problem.Vehicle nonconformity exists when the use, value or safety of the vehicle is substantially impaired.

California’s Lemon Law should be considered a guide, not an absolute rule, which aids in determining what is a reasonable number of repair attempts.It’s possible that a judge or arbitrator can assume a manufacturer was given an adequate opportunity to repair the vehicle even if all conditions under California’s Lemon Law have not been met. And, even if all the conditions have been met, the manufacturer has an opportunity to argue for additional repair attempt opportunities.

To qualify for relief under California’s Lemon Law, several conditions must be met. If the vehicle nonconformity results in a condition that is likely to cause death or serious bodily injury when the vehicle is driven, the consumer must have taken the vehicle to the manufacturer or its agent for repairs at least two times and have directly notified the manufacturer of the problem and the need for repair. If the vehicle fails to conform but the vehicle nonconformity is not one that would result in serious bodily injury or death, the consumer must present the vehicle to the manufacturer or its agent for repair on at least four occasions and directly notify the manufacturer of the problem and the need for repair.

California’s Lemon Law also provides a time limitation for vehicles that are completely out of service due to the manufacturer, or its agent,having failed to conform the vehicle to applicable express warranties. If the vehicle is out of service for a cumulative total of more than thirty days from the point of delivery to the consumer, the consumer must directly notify the manufacturer of the problem and the need for repair only if the manufacturer has clearly and conspicuously disclosed to the buyer the requirements and the relief a consumer is entitled to under California’s Lemon Law. The manufacturer will have adequately disclosed such information to a consumer through the express warranty or within the owner’s manual. If the manufacturer has clearly disclosed the requirements of California’s Lemon Law and the relief a consumer is entitled to under the law, the consumer is required to notify the manufacturer of the vehicle nonconformity and the need for repair by mailing a notification to an address specified clearly by the manufacturer in the warranty or the owner’s manual. This thirty-day time limitation may be extended only if failure to perform repairs is beyond the control of the manufacturer or its agents.

Under California’s Lemon Law, if a seller of any consumer product sold with a warranty fails to repair that product within a reasonable number of repair attempts, the consumer is entitled to relief. California’s Lemon Law requires the manufacturer to either replace the product or reimburse the consumer in an amount equal to the purchase price less the amount directly attributable to use by the consumer prior to the vehicle nonconformity.

A purchaser, or lessee, of a motor vehicle has clearly defined rights under California’s Lemon Law. Section 1793.22 of the California Civil Code provides that if a motor vehicle does not perform as provided by the express written warranty and the manufacturer or its agent is unable to fix the motor vehicle after a reasonable number of repair attempts, consumers may seek relief under the lemon law.

If, after a reasonable number of repair attempts, the manufacturer or its agent is unable to resolve a defect covered under the warranty that affects the use, value or safety of the motor vehicle, the manufacturer is required to replace the motor vehicle or refund the purchase price to the consumer. Consumers should note that even if their motor vehicle qualifies under the lemon law, the consumer does not automatically receive a replacement vehicle or monetary compensation. The manufacturer is afforded an opportunity to argue to a judge or arbitrator that they have not been afforded a reasonable number of repair attempts, that the vehicle does not qualify under the lemon law, that the defect is not one covered under the express written warranty, that the defect is not a material defect and does not substantially affect the use, value or safety of the vehicle or that the defect was caused by abuse on the part of the consumer.

If the arbitrator or judge determines that the motor vehicle is considered defective under the lemon law and that a consumer is entitled to relief in the form of a replacement vehicle or monetary compensation, the choice as to form of relief is left solely to the consumer. Monetary compensation includes money paid by the consumer for manufacturer installed items but will not include aftermarket items installed by a dealer. If the consumer chooses monetary relief, he or she is entitled to a refund of all monies invested in the defective motor vehicle including down payment, monthly finance payments and payoff of the finance contract. The consumer is also entitled to recover expenses such as towing costs, rental car fees and repair costs. Whether the consumer chooses monetary relief or a replacement motor vehicle, the manufacturer is responsible for all sales and use tax, official fees including license and registration and any incidental damages incurred during the repair attempt process.

California’s Lemon Law does provide a specific formula for new motor vehicles used to offset mileage caused by consumer usage prior to the first warranty repair attempt. These definitive rules for new motor vehicles may not apply to used vehicles because there is no set formula for determining the value of consumer usage for a used vehicle.

Protection under the lemon law varies from state to state with changing degrees of coverage depending on the consumer’s situation. Fortunately, if you are a resident of California with a leased car or truck, you are afforded the same rights under the lemon law as someone who purchased a vehicle. California’s Lemon Law, a provision of the more general Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, provides protection for consumers who buy or lease a defective motor vehicle. The lemon law requires a manufacturer of a defective motor vehicle, whether new, used or leased, to replace the vehicle or compensate the consumer monetarily should the manufacturer be unable to fix the defect after a reasonable number of repair attempts. Therefore, leasing a motor vehicle instead of purchasing a motor vehicle will not limit rights to consumer protection.

The precise wording of the lemon law statute itself may be confusing to consumers. The lemon law statute uses words such as “buyer” and “bought” throughout the statute that may lead consumers of leased vehicles to believe that their defective motor vehicle is not covered under California’s Lemon Law. While the wording of the statute may be misleading, the California Legislature and California Courts are clear that leased motor vehicles receive the same protection as purchased motor vehicles under the lemon law.

Consumers of leased motor vehicles should remember that the lemon law specifically applies to material defects covered under the manufacturer’s express written warranty. A material defect is one that affects the use, value or safety of the motor vehicle. Should a manufacturer not provide an express written warranty for the leased motor vehicle, the consumer will not be afforded protection under the lemon law. The lemon law may also not be applicable if a judge or arbitrator finds that the defect is not material or is not a defect that was specifically provided for under the express written warranty.

California’s Lemon Law provides protection for consumers who lease or buy a new motor vehicle within the state of California with an express written warranty. If the vehicle experiences problems covered under the express written warranty and those problems have not been fixed after a reasonable number of repair attempts, it is likely the consumer will receive compensation under the lemon law.

Section 1793.22(e)(2) of the California Civil Code specifically defines what is meant as a new motor vehicle under the lemon law. A new motor vehicle is one that is bought or used primarily for personal, family or household purposes. The statute also covers many vehicles used for business purposes. The lemon law continues to define a new motor vehicle as a vehicle with a gross vehicle weight under 10,000 pounds that is bought or used primarily for business purposes. A person, partnership, Limited Liability Company, corporation, association, or any other legal entity may have purchased the new motor vehicle bought or used primarily for business purposes. California’s Lemon Law does place a limit on the amount of new motor vehicles purchase or used primarily for business purposes that will be covered under the law. No more than five business vehicles may be registered to the person, partnership, Limited Liability Company, corporation association or other legal entity to be covered under the lemon law.

The same restrictions that apply to new motor vehicles purchased for personal use also apply to those purchased for business use. After-market parts such as those found in van conversions, motor vehicles not registered under the California Vehicle Code because they are considered off-road vehicles and vehicles that have been abused by the consumer will not be covered under California’s Lemon Law. Also, if a new motor vehicle that is used primarily for business purposes is purchased with no express written warranty, it will not be covered under the law. The lemon law applies only to disputes over the express written warranty provided with the vehicle at the time of purchase.

A judge or arbitrator hearing the case will make the final determination as to whether a business vehicle will be covered under California’s Lemon Law. The judge or arbitrator must still determine whether the vehicle has a material defect that substantially impairs the use, value or safety of the vehicle and that the material defect is one that is covered under the express written warranty.

After discovering a possible claim under California’s Lemon Law, many consumers will ask themselves if they have the money to hire a lemon law attorney. The Law Offices of Douglas D. Law, Esq. represent all clients on a contingency basis, which means no up front attorney’s fees and no charges unless The Law Offices of Douglas D. Law, Esq. successfully litigate the lemon law claim.

The Law Offices of Douglas D. Law, Esq. prepare all necessary paperwork, manage all negotiations and represent clients for all court appearances before any payments are expected from the consumer. The Law Offices of Douglas D. Law, Esq. assume all risk of non-payment should a lemon law claim not result in compensation. Moreover, any applicable contingency fee will not be due from the consumer until the consumer has collected all proceeds awarded under the lemon law.

In the state of California, attorney’s fees charged by lemon law firms can vary significantly. The California Code of Professional Conduct requires a retainer agreement between the law firm and the client detailing the terms of any representation. Some lemon law firms require clients to pay an up front retainer prior to initiating legal proceedings while other lemon law firms have retainer agreements requiring a small up front payment followed by additional fees upon successful litigation of a case.

Still other firms, such as The Law Offices of Douglas D. Law, Esq., operate on a contingency basis and only receive payment upon successfully completing a case. When enacting the California Lemon Law, the California legislature included assurance within the statute that consumers affected under the lemon law would have the means to hire adequate legal representation.

Under California’s Lemon Law, a judge or arbitrator can require the manufacturer at fault to pay any attorney’s fees incurred by the consumer during the course of the litigation. Attorney’s fees are awarded to a consumer in addition to any monetary compensation or vehicle replacement awarded under the lemon law.

There is always the possibility of an unfavorable outcome under the lemon law resulting in a finding that the consumer’s vehicle does not qualify for relief. Should this occur, it is important to note that the consumer will never be required to pay a manufacturer’s attorney’s fees. This portion of the lemon law is another way that the California legislature ensured that consumers would have access to the legal system to enforce their rights under the lemon law.

A good indicator that a vehicle is considered a lemon under California’s Lemon Law is when the vehicle is in the repair shop more than with the vehicle’s owner. In general, California’s Lemon Law protects consumers who have purchased a vehicle that experiences problems covered under the warranty, but the manufacturer, or its agent, cannot fix the problems. A vehicle suffering from a material defect or defects that remains unrepaired even after a reasonable number of repair attempts is considered a lemon under the lemon law.

A material defect, or nonconformity, is defined under Section 1793.22(e)(1) of the California Civil Code. The material defect is labeled as a nonconformity because a material defect under California’s Lemon Law is considered one that fails to conform to the guarantees of the express warranty provided at the time of purchase. Nonconformity under California’s Lemon Law is a defect that substantially impairs the use, value or safety of a new motor vehicle. The nonconformity and the impact on the use, value or safety of the vehicle are looked at from the consumer’s, the buyer or the lessee’s, point of view.

If a vehicle is experiencing a problem covered under the express written warranty, the vehicle should be taken to the manufacturer or an authorized dealer to perform the necessary repairs. Following the repair, the consumer receives a repair order showing the problem described by the consumer, the mileage on the odometer at the time of the repair, the date the vehicle was in the repair shop and the date the vehicle was returned to the consumer. As a consumer, all repair orders and receipts should be kept with the vehicle records as evidence that a reasonable number of repair attempts have been made. The manufacturer or authorized dealer must be given an adequate opportunity to perform all repairs necessary to conform the vehicle to the express written warranty. If, after a reasonable number of repair attempts have be made, the vehicle continues nonconformity to the warranty, the dealer and manufacturer should be notified.

A judge will make the final determination as to whether a vehicle is considered a lemon under California’s Lemon Law. It is possible that a judge may determine that a vehicle is not a lemon even if the vehicle experiences a material defect covered under the express written warranty, was presented to the manufacturer or its agent for a reasonable number of repair attempts and the vehicle remains defected. The judge or arbitrator must still determine whether the material defect substantially impairs the use, value or safety of the vehicle, whether the defect was caused by abuse by the consumer or unreasonable use by the consumer and whether the manufacturer or its agent has had a reasonable number of attempts to fix the material defect.

The lemon law falls under the provisions of the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act. Under the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, there is no clearly defined time period for lemon law protection. Instead, California’s Lemon Law applies for the entire period of the express written warranty; therefore, application of the lemon law will vary from consumer to consumer.

Under the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act the definition of an express written warranty is divided into two definitions. An express warranty is a written statement from the manufacturer, or its agent, to a consumer after the sale of a good where the manufacturer agrees to maintain the performance of the good and provide compensation if there’s a failure in that performance. A written warranty is a written affirmation or promise made by a manufacturer to a consumer in connection with the sale or lease of a new motor vehicle. The promise relates to the material workmanship and promises that such workmanship is and will remain free of material defects for a specified period of time. A written warranty may also be a written promise from a manufacturer to a consumer to refund, repair, replace or provide other compensation if the good fails to conform to the material workmanship.

The lemon law specifically covers defects in a motor vehicle that affect the use, value and safety of the motor vehicle. Any material defect must be one that is specifically covered by the motor vehicle’s express written warranty to meet the requirements under the lemon law. What this means for a consumer is that if a motor vehicle is purchased in the state of California, with a two-year express written warranty, and a material defect is discovered one year after the purchase date then the lemon law will require the manufacturer to compensate the consumer. Consumers should remember that all other conditions provided under California’s Lemon Law must also be met. This includes providing the manufacturer, or its agent, with a reasonable number of repair attempts. Consumers should also note that express written warranties may be extended by the manufacturer.

In addition to time limitations created under the express written warranty, California law also provides a four-year statute of limitations to bring a lawsuit against a manufacturer or its agents for breach of the express written warranty. Although this statute of limitations exists, consumers should act immediately upon knowledge that their motor vehicle is experiencing a motor defect that is covered under the express written warranty.

California’s Lemon Law applies to all consumer products, including new and used motor vehicles (cars, trucks, motor homes, motorcycles, boats, all-terrain vehicles and SUVs), sold within the state with an express written warranty.The lemon law falls under the provisions of the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, so although the lemon law specifically designates relief for new motor vehicles, the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act contains many general rules applicable to any consumer product sold within the state as long as it was sold with a warranty.

California’s Lemon Law, Section 1793.22(e)(2) of the California Civil Code, defines new motor vehicles as motor vehicles bought for or used primarily for personal, family or household purposes. Many vehicles purchased or used primarily for business may also be covered. Dealer-owned vehicles, demonstrator vehicles and all other motor vehicles sold with a manufacturer’s express written warranty are all included under California’s Lemon Law. A demonstrator vehicle is defined under California law as a motor vehicle used by a dealer to demonstrate the qualities and characteristics common to vehicles of the same or similar model and type.

California’s Lemon Law covers the chassis, chassis cab and the portion of a motor home responsible for the driving or propelling force, but does not include any portion designed, used or maintained primarily for human habitation. The lemon law also does not include motorcycles or motor vehicles that have not been registered under the California Vehicle Code because they have been designated for use exclusively as off-road vehicles. All vehicle parts not manufactured by the original vehicle manufacturer are known as aftermarket parts and will not be covered under California’s Lemon Law.

Motor vehicles that are found to have problems caused by abuse after delivery to the consumer will not be covered under California’s Lemon Law. To be sure of coverage, follow all requirements under the terms of the warranty for proper vehicle maintenance and proper use of the vehicle. Service and maintain the vehicle according to the manufacturer’s recommended schedule and review all recommendations contained within the owner’s manual. It would also be beneficial to keep a service record with repair orders and receipts.

It is also important to note that the lemon law specifically applies to disputes over the manufacturer’s express written warranty. If a motor vehicle was purchased without an express written warranty, California’s Lemon Law will not apply. The lemon law will also not apply to equipment or defects not specifically covered under the manufacturer’s express warranty.

California’s Lemon Law is covered under the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, which begins with Section 1790 of the California Civil Code. The lemon law provides relief to buyers of motor vehicles and other consumer products sold within the state of California with an express written warranty that have failed to perform in conformity with the warranty. “Perform in conformity with the warranty” is a fancy way of saying the product had defects which affected its use, value or safety. Among the many issues that are evaluated in a lemon law case, is whether a manufacturer, or its repairing agents (the dealership in automobile case), were given a reasonable number of repairs to conform the motor vehicle to the express written warranty. This means whether the vehicle was taken back to dealership for repairs and whether the number of times the vehicle was taken in for repairs was unreasonable, that is, too many.

There has been a lot of debate over what constitutes a reasonable number of repair attempts. Unfortunately, there is no absolute answer to what constitutes a reasonable number of repairs as it always depends on what is reasonable under the circumstances. Therefore, what constitutes too many repair attempts must be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

California’s Lemon Law is contained within the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act and Section 1793.22 of the California Civil Code provides some specific guidance in narrowing down what constitutes a reasonable number of repairs; however, a judge or an arbitrator will ultimately make the final decision.

This section of the law provides some bright line legal standards or rules of thumb when answering the question of whether there have been too many repair attempts. One rule is that if the vehicle has been subject to repair four or more times within the first 18,000 miles of use and 18 months from delivery, and the defect which has been subject to the repair attempts is “substantial” then it is presumed by law that a reasonable number of repair attempts has been exceeded. “Substantial” is somewhat in the eye of the beholder, but generally means the defect has had a significant impact on the use, value or safety of the vehicle.

Of course this is a legal standard so it has to be much more complicated than any simple statement, but the four repair attempts for a significant defect is recognized by both attorneys and manufacturers as a very good indication of whether a vehicle should be repurchased under the Lemon law.

In my practice, when evaluating whether there have too many repair attempts, I often look for a minimum of four total repair attempts (unless the vehicle has been in the shop for repair for over 30 days) and then look to see how serious the defects have been, the age of the vehicle, the miles it has been driven, whether some or all of the defects have been “fixed,” at least at the time I am looking at the potential case, and whether actual repairs have been made or the dealership has stated the problem could not be duplicated (“CND”) or whether the condition is “normal”. Obviously, cases come in all shapes and sizes, but after reviewing vehicle repair histories for 30 years I can generally determine what vehicles will get bought back and what vehicles will not by reviewing the repair orders and speaking to the owner of the vehicle about some particulars.

Another standard under California’s Lemon Law to help determine what a reasonable number of repairs means is whether the problems with the vehicle have caused it to be out of service by reason of repair (at the dealership) for a cumulative total of more than thirty days. Again, this standard applies if the thirty days in the shop for repairs occurs within the first 18,000 miles of use and 1 1/2 years of ownership.

When evaluating a potential case it is very significant to me if this standard has been met, but it is also significant if 30 days out of service has occurred whether or not the time and mileage elements are met. Excessive amount of time in the shop is significant to me regardless of how significant the defects are because the consumer is without his or her vehicle. Free loaner cars are great, but my clients did not buy loaner cars and are not happy with paying for a vehicle they chose for particular reasons that is not available for their use.

Thankfully, the lemon law also looks at whether the problem with the motor vehicle is likely to cause death or serious bodily injury and if so, fewer repair attempts are required. Under California’s Lemon Law, if the problem results in a condition that is likely to cause death or serious bodily injury when the vehicle is driven or in an accident, two repair attempts are sufficient. Under these circumstances the consumer must have directly notified the manufacturer of the problem and the need for repair if the manufacturer has clearly and conspicuously disclosed to the buyer the requirements and the relief a consumer is entitled to under California’s Lemon Law.

Notice to the manufacturer of the vehicle of the problem and the need for repair only exists if the manufacturer has clearly and conspicuously disclosed to the buyer the requirements and the relief a consumer is entitled to under California’s Lemon Law.

Typically, the manufacturer will have adequately disclosed such information to a consumer in the written, express warranty or within the owner’s manual. If the manufacturer has clearly disclosed the requirements of California’s Lemon Law and the relief a consumer is entitled to under the law, the consumer is required to notify the manufacturer of the vehicle nonconformity and the need for repair by mailing a notification to an address specified clearly by the manufacturer in the warranty or the owner’s manual. This thirty-day time limitation may be extended only if failure to perform repairs is beyond the control of the manufacturer or its agents.

In practice, this requirement is not relied upon by manufacturers and only applies in the case of a jury trial where the consumer wants the jury instructed regarding the four repair attempts and 30-day requirements.

The length of time a consumer has to bring an action or a claim against a manufacturer is commonly referred to as the statute of limitations. A statute of limitations is designed to prevent false or old claims from being filed after relevant evidence has been lost or the facts of the case have become diminished by time, memory or incapacitation of a witness. The statute of limitations can be asserted as a defense to a lawsuit by the party that a lawsuit or claim has been brought against. What that means for consumer is that any claim against a manufacturer must be brought within this time frame or the manufacturer can raise this as a defense and your lawsuit will likely be dismissed.

The statute of limitations is different for each cause of action, or reason for the lawsuit. The legislature of the state of California defines each statute of limitations by cause of action and defines these time limitations within our laws.

The applicable statute of limitations for lemon law cases in California is four years from the date that the consumer knew or should have known that the product was defective and that the manufacturer was unable to fix the defect. The standard courts use to determine whether a lemon law consumer should have known about a vehicle defect is called the reasonable person standard. This means that courts consider whether a reasonable person in the consumer’s position should have know about a material defect and that the manufacturer was unable to fix the defect. Accordingly, the four-year statute of limitations applicable in lemon law cases is not a clearly defined four years and it leaves room for argument from both the consumer and the manufacturer about when the time limit began to run.

The type of lawsuit that will be filed by the consumer’s lemon law attorney is known as a lawsuit for breach of warranty. The consumer is asking a judge or arbitrator to review the circumstances of their purchase and determine whether the defect in their product is one that is covered under the express written warranty provided at the time the product was purchased. It is important to note that a lawsuit must be filed with a court before the expiration of the statute of limitations. Consumers often file a claim with the manufacturer itself in an attempt to avoid litigation, but filing a claim with a manufacturer will not stop the time from running on the lemon law statute of limitations.

Although there is a four-year statute of limitations for lemon law cases, it is important to act immediately upon discovering a potential lemon law claim. Contact us for a free case evaluation.

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"Doug and Kristen were invaluable in getting GM to repurchase my Corvette due to the driveline defects in the car that Chevrolet could not fix after 9 visits. GM and the Chevy dealerships in La Mesa and Mission Valley were not helpful, giving me absurd excuses, runarounds and one time ultimately refusing to write the defects up after demonstrating them to one of their technicians. In short, I highly recommend them to handle any lemon law case you may have."

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