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Understanding California Lemon Law
The California lemon law is part of the Song-Beverley Consumer Warranty Act (Song-Beverley), which applies to all retail consumer goods sold in California that are covered by implied or written express warranties.
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Song-Beverley says that every sale of retail consumer goods in California must be accompanied by both an implied warranty of merchantability and an implied warranty of fitness.
An “implied warranty of merchantability” means a product should work as expected. For example, if you buy a car, it is expected to start, safely convey you from one point to another, and then stop. If a car dealership sells you a brand new vehicle that fails to do any of these things, they have breached the implied warranty of merchantability.
An “implied warranty of fitness,” often called an “implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose,” is a warranty implied by law stating if a seller knows or has reason to know of a particular purpose for which the good is being purchased by the buyer, the seller is guaranteeing that the good is fit for that particular purpose. For example, if you buy a truck with the intent of hauling materials or towing trailers and the seller guarantees the truck can do those things, an implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose is created.
Song-Beverly states that if a manufacturer has provided express warranties for goods sold in California, they must maintain sufficient service and repair facilities in the state or authorize independent repair and service facilities to fulfill the terms of their warranties.
Per the California law, a car is considered a lemon if the following criteria are met within 18 months of the car’s delivery to the buyer or 18,000 miles on the vehicles odometer, whichever comes first:
The manufacturer or their authorized agents have made two or more attempts to repair a “non-conformity” covered under warranty considered deadly or dangerous if the vehicle is driven; or
They have made four or more attempts to repair the same problem with no success; or
The vehicle has been in the shop for more than 30 days while being repaired for any number of warranty-covered non-conformity.
The Tanner Act defines a “non-conformity” as a problem or defect that substantially impairs the use, market value or safety of the motor vehicle to the buyer or lessee.
California’s lemon law presumes, if these criteria are met, that the buyer or lessee of the lemon vehicle is entitled to a replacement vehicle or a refund of the purchase price. However, the manufacturer may argue that the criteria has not been met. For example, the manufacturer may claim the problems are either minor or somehow caused by the buyer.
Many vehicle manufacturers offer an arbitration process to California consumers. In an arbitration, a neutral third party (an arbitrator) decides whether a reasonable number of repair attempts have been made and what award, if any, should be granted to the consumer. If the consumer accepts the arbitrator’s decision, the manufacturer agrees to comply with it.
California’s lemon law requires that consumers must resort first to the manufacturer’s state-certified arbitration before pursuing litigation. The state-certified arbitration programs train arbitrators in the fair and fast resolution of disputes. Arbitration is free and funded by the participating manufacturers.
For more information on arbitration and other frequently asked lemon law questions, click here
California consumers with warrantied vehicle problems would be well served to contact a law firm for a consultation on what their next step should be, whether it be going through with arbitration or proceeding to trial. In court, consumers are guaranteed the ability to gather evidence under the state’s civil discovery rules, and the ability to have a qualified lawyer who can guide them through the often Byzantine legal process.
Because California lemon law claimants can make claims under the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, they can hire lawyers who will represent them without the vehicle owner having to pay any attorneys’ fees directly out of their pocket. This is because the federal Act provides that the vehicle manufacturer shall pay the claimants’ attorneys’ fees if the claimant prevails against the manufacturer. Lemon law attorneys exist that will only collect attorneys’ fees if they succeed in obtaining a financial recovery for their clients.
Where the lemon law fails to protect you, the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty act can. While the state law’s protection expires 18 months after the vehicle’s delivery or after 18,000 miles traveled, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act protects you up to four years after you buy the vehicle. As a federal law, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty act supersedes the car lemon law in California.
There is no specific lemon law for used cars in California. The state’s law specifically covers “new motor vehicles” bought or leased at retail. However the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act covers any defect that occurred within the vehicle’s manufacturer’s warranty. If you buy a used car within the manufacturer’s warranty, you may still be able to force the manufacturer to repair the problem.
Both the state’s lemon law and the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act allow clients to recover “reasonable and necessary” attorney’s fees after prevailing in court. The California Civil Code states any consumer victorious in court can recover as part of the judgement “a sum equal to the aggregate amount of costs and expenses,” including attorney’s fees and costs incurred during the case. The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act also mandates vehicle manufacturers will pay a claimant’s attorneys’ fees if said claimant wins in court against the manufacturer.
Hiring a lemon law attorney is one of the best decisions you can make when resorting to the lemon law in California. Allen Stewart, P.C.’s dedicated and knowledgeable team of lawyers know the ins and outs of state and federal lemon law, and can help you navigate the various pitfalls and obstacles when seeking justice. Lemon lawyers know each technicality and hurdle facing plaintiffs, and will help guide your claim to a positive resolution. Allen Stewart, P.C.’s lemon lawyers never shy away from a challenge and won’t hesitate to take your claim to trial if needed.
Consumers filing a claim under the lemon law in California should keep exhaustive records of any and all repair attempts done on their defective vehicles. Consumers should document what problems they find, when they discover those problems, when they report them to the manufacturer, when they take their vehicle in for repairs, when they get their vehicle back and what repairs were done on their vehicles.
Diligent record keeping helps your lemon law attorney craft a sound, solid case most likely to resolve in your favor. Hanging on to all your paperwork, no matter how minor you may think it is, can only help.
The lemon law in California makes manufacturers repurchasing a defective vehicle repay the vehicle’s actual price including manufacturer-installed options, sales taxes, license and registration fees, and incidental damages. “Incidental damages” include towing and repair costs as well as other finance charges. The manufacturer can, however, withhold an allowance based on the number of miles driven by the consumer before the vehicle was taken in for repair.
The law also forces manufacturers replacing a defective vehicle provide one that is new and “substantially identical” to the defective vehicle.
Ross said clients can use funds earned through a successful lemon law claim for any purpose they choose.
If a client is financing their lemon vehicle, they must continue to make timely payments regardless of the vehicle’s condition or functionality. Even if the vehicle is still in the shop for repair, its owner must continue making payments as long as they own the vehicle. Falling behind on car payments can actually adversely affect a lemon law claim.
Luckily, one of many ways a successful lemon law claimant could use their settlement money is paying off their auto loan. This gets them out from under a bad loan, severing their connection from the defective vehicle and letting them start their search for a new vehicle – this time, hopefully, one lacking repeated unfixable problems.
Clients who owned their lemon vehicle outright could use their settlement funds on a down payment for an entirely new vehicle, letting them get back on the road and put the problems of their old vehicle in the rear view mirror. Once their lemon law claim resolves, a successful claimant can spend their settlement money however they like.
This information brought to you by Allen Stewart P.C.