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 CA 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 the 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. An 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. 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.