Qualifying under the Lemon Law
From 2013 on, the laws of California were amended to require that even “buy here, pay here” used car dealers must offer at least a 30 day or 1,000-mile warranty that covers the essential components of the car. However, most dealers that are not “buy here, pay here” will provide a better warranty, particularly if the vehicle is Certified Pre-Owned. Either way, the Lemon Law entitles you to compensation if you bought a used car and the following qualifications are met:
- You bought the car from a retailer, not a private individual. Private used car sales are not covered under the law.
- There is an active warranty on the car, whether that is the original manufacturer’s warranty or an extended warranty given by the retailer.
- The pre-owned vehicle has a substantial defect.
- The pre-owned vehicle has spent an excessive amount of time in the shop being repaired.
- Despite a “reasonable number” of repair attempts, the car still is not fixed and the problem persists.
Types of Used Vehicles Covered
Under CA Lemon Law, used car owners who purchased vehicles primarily for “personal, family, or household” purposes are entitled to protection against faulty manufacturing. The Law also covers used vehicles purchased for commercial purposes, so long as said vehicles have a gross weight that’s below 10,000 pounds, and so long as the business has only 5 or fewer vehicles registered under its name. The term “vehicles” includes cars, trucks, RV trailers, SUVs, and watercraft of any kind.
As mentioned, used vehicles must have a still-active warranty in order to qualify for protection under the law. This warranty, however, does not have to be the original manufacturer’s warranty. A used car dealership’s express written warranty will suffice to qualify a used vehicle purchase for consumer protection. Lemon vehicles that have been repurchased as buybacks by the manufacturer and resold with new express written warranties covering the defect may also be covered under the guidelines of the CA Lemon Laws.
The Law’s Used Car Guidelines are Less Specific
Some specific Lemon Law guidelines that apply to new vehicle purchases are left unspecified when it comes to used car purchases. As a result, Lemon Law cases involving used cars can be a little more complicated and may be harder for consumers to make. To give an example, if a manufacturer is unable to fix a sold vehicle’s problem within a reasonable number of repair attempts, the manufacturer must provide the buyer with a replacement vehicle or with a full refund of the purchase minus an amount that can be attributed to the consumer’s use of the vehicle before the defect was discovered. In the case of new vehicle purchases, the Law provides a formula for calculating this charge. With used vehicle purchases, however, such a formula is not provided, and so it is left up to the contending parties to negotiate an appropriate amount.
How Many Repair Attempts Must Be Made?
The used car Lemon Law states that the manufacturer must fix the car within a reasonable number of repair attempts or replace or buy back the vehicle. But how many repair attempts are considered “reasonable” for the purposes of California’s Lemon Law?
Well, the answer may surprise you because it actually depends on the type of defect the car has. For a serious issue that affects the safety of the vehicle and the welfare of the passengers, the manufacturer only gets one or two attempts to fix the car before they have met the “reasonableness” standard. This would apply if the defect was in the brake system, the steering system, the transmission, engine, or any other essential function of the car. If they are unable to get the vehicle in safe, working order after a couple of attempts, the Lemon Law requires them to compensate the owner.
If there is the possibility of death or severe bodily injury due to a recurring defect in the vehicle, then two or more repair attempts are considered reasonable before compensation is required.
If four or more repair attempts have been made but the same issue continues to recur and has not been fixed (even if not life-threatening), then the reasonableness standard has been met and compensation is required.
If the car has been in the shop for repairs for 30 days or more, and a single defect or multiple defects still have not been able to be repaired, then the standard has been met.
What Should I Do If I Believe I Have Purchased a Lemon?
First, keep your records. Whenever you bring the car to the shop for repairs, make certain you get the mechanic to write out all of the repairs that need to be done. You want to keep good records on what defects were worked on, how many times they were worked on, and the result of each attempt. It is also a good idea to make a list of defects that the car has experienced and send that list to the manufacturer so that they are informed of the issues.
Second, write a letter to the manufacturer to document your claim under the California used car lemon law. Have it notarized and send it by certified mail (return receipt requested) to the manufacturer’s address printed in your car’s owners manual. Keep a copy of the letter for your own records. You will need to carefully draft this letter, because every word is likely to have consequences.
Avoid arbitration under most circumstances. The manufacturer may try to get you to agree to arbitration. Don’t do it. Arbitration can perhaps best be described by the term “rent-a-judge.” An arbitration is a private (as opposed to public) procedure. Its main advantages are efficiency and speed, which is why busy manufacturers prefer it.
You will need to gather evidence and witness testimony. Ultimately, the arbitrator will decide on the rules of evidence and procedure. They will determine whether your car qualifies as a lemon under the California lemon law, and they will determine the amount of any compensation you receive
There are three main reasons why a consumer should avoid arbitration. First, arbitration has a reputation for being pro-business rather than pro-consumer. Second, arbitrators are not even required to apply the law. Third, although you can appeal an adverse decision to a court, the manufacturer can use your defeat in arbitration to argue that you should lose in court as well.
Then, contact a highly experienced attorney. Most attorneys use a contingency fee system, so contacting them should not cost you any money until you receive compensation for your case. To give yourself the very best chance of success, a lawyer is recommended because most car dealers, manufacturers, and their agents will fight Lemon Law claims. You need someone in your corner who knows the law and can fight back to get you the results you are entitled to under the law.
The Importance of Consulting With an Attorney
Because the Lemon Law is much less specific when it comes to used vehicle purchases, the California Department of Justice recommends that used car owners seeking to pursue a Lemon Law case consult with an attorney. A qualified lawyer can better provide you with complete advice concerning your rights.