Dispelling Myths About Lemon Law
June 20, 2022
If you’ve bought or leased a vehicle that is a "lemon," you’re probably frustrated or even overwhelmed. A lemon car means one that has a significant defect (or defects) that were not repaired after an unreasonable amount of time or an unreasonable number of attempts. Under California law, consumers who purchase or lease lemon vehicles or other consumer products, including home appliances and computers, have a right to a replacement or refund if a significant defect cannot be fixed.
In the category of vehicles, California recognizes not only cars but also vans, SUVs, motorcycles, and pick-up trucks. The Golden State’s Lemon Law applies when the vehicle is sold with a warranty, the defect is covered under the warranty, the defect impairs the vehicle’s value, safety or use, and the purchaser/lessee did not create the defect themselves through unreasonable or unauthorized use.
Though California’s Lemon Law is among the strongest in the nation, the average vehicle purchaser or lessee often has a hazy concept of what the law entails and thus may harbor several misconceptions about the obligations of the seller and their own rights. If you believe you've bought or leased a lemon vehicle in or around Sunnyvale, California, or anywhere else in the state, contact the lemon law attorney at the Law Offices of Kevin Faulk. Our legal practice is dedicated to protecting consumer rights.
Birth of Lemon Laws
The word “lemon” was first associated with vehicles that had ongoing and significant defects back in 1962 when it was used in an advertisement for the Volkswagen Beetle. A few years later, an economist published a paper advocating for stronger consumer protection laws called “The Market for Lemons.” Thus came about the term “lemon car.”
In 1975, the federal government passed the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, which covers consumer purchases of $15 or more. If the seller makes an express warranty, then the seller must repair, replace, or refund the product if there are defects covered by the warranty.
The California Lemon Law protects you when a significant defect cannot be repaired after repeated attempts, and the vehicle is still covered by the manufacturer’s warranty, whether you acquired the vehicle new or used.
About California’s Lemon Law
Here are some misconceptions about lemon law in California:
Only safety-related issues
are covered by the Lemon Law.
Defects that make the vehicle less safe are certainly covered by state law, but so are defects that detract from the value of the vehicle or make it more difficult to operate. The point to remember is that the defect must be significant.
If a knob to a radio or other dashboard instrument keeps falling off, that likely won’t be considered significant. If, on the other hand, the transmission keeps shifting out of drive mode on its own, that is certainly significant and would no doubt qualify under safety, use, and value standards.
If the manufacturer asks me to go to arbitration
over the issue, I’m bound by the decision.
Manufacturers often rely on state-certified arbitrators to settle issues over lemon vehicles. However, you are not bound by the decision of an arbitrator. You can reject it and demand a replacement or refund.
To be eligible for a refund or replacement, I must’ve taken the vehicle in for repairs at least five times.
The California Lemon Law only specifies that the vehicle must have been taken in a “reasonable” number of times before seeking replacement or refund. An exact number is not specified. Among the factors that may be considered are the following:
The vehicle was taken in four or more times for the same problem, or
The vehicle was taken in two or more times for the same problem and the problem created a risk of serious injury or death, or
The vehicle has been out of service for 30 days (the days do not have to be consecutive).
However, there are strong lemon law claims that do not feature any of the qualities. It's always best to talk to an attorney to evaluate your case.
The car still works, so I’ve been told I don’t qualify.
Wrong. If the defect is significant, as discussed above, the Lemon Law will most likely apply. If the defect affects the value of your vehicle, makes its use difficult, or presents a safety problem, then the Lemon Law applies regardless of the fact that it can still get you from A to Z or even if the vehicle has been repaired.
My warranty expired, so I don’t have a claim.
It’s true that your lease or purchase won’t be covered under California’s Lemon Law if there is no manufacturer’s warranty in effect at the time you acquire the vehicle. But if you did acquire the vehicle with a warranty in place, the law most likely applies.
Therefore, if you meet any of the requirements of showing you have a lemon vehicle—repeated visits for repairs, and the defect is significant enough to cause a loss of value, or use or safety issues—you should still be able to file a claim even if the warranty expires while you’re pressing your claim.
Additionally, according to the California Attorney General: “Even if the Lemon Law does not apply in your case, other state and federal laws may protect you. These include laws that prohibit deceptive practices and require vehicles to meet minimum safety standards.”
I don’t need an attorney to file a Lemon Law claim.
While it’s true that you can technically pursue a Lemon Law claim on your own, the seller and manufacturer can and no doubt will try to put up hurdles to prevent your claim from going forward. They may ask you to undergo arbitration, hoping the arbitrator rules in their favor, or they may just try to deny the problem really exists. They can also look for loopholes such as not enough repair attempts having been made or that the vehicle has too many miles on it.
Your best advice is to obtain the services of an attorney experienced in lemon vehicle claims. A skilled lawyer can expedite the process and fend off the use of delaying tactics.
Legal Guidance You Can Trust
Operating out of Sunnyvale, the Law Offices of Kevin Faulk are dedicated to protecting your consumer rights and fighting for everything due you under the law, including the replacement or cash refund of a lemon vehicle you have ended up buying or leasing. If you’re stuck with a lemon vehicle, contact us for a consultation immediately.