How Long Does the Lemon Law Last?

Owing a lemon car is a frustrating experience. Many owners who accidentally buy lemon vehicles miss the convenience of new vehicles. For instance, a pick-up truck could stall unexpectedly, disrupting your travel plans. In addition, a lemon car causes unplanned expenses. If your car stalls away from home, you may need to find alternative accommodation, incur towing charges, or pay a rental car to proceed with the journey. Fortunately, California lemon laws were designed to protect vehicle owners who buy defective vehicles that automakers have been unable to fix.  If you want a refund or replacement under lemon laws, consider working closely with an experienced California lemon law attorney.

How Long Does Lemon Law Last?

California lemon law applies to vehicles with a manufacturer warranty that develops repair issues within 18,000 miles or 18 months, whichever comes first.  After discovering the repair issue, there’s a limited window under the law to file a lemon claim. California’s statute of limitation for filing a lemon law claim is four years. Therefore, if you’re looking for a refund or replacement, you should file a claim within that prescribed time limit. When determining the window of a lemon law claim, you should understand the starting point. Most manufacturers argued that the starting point of filing a lemon law should be from the first purchase date or after the deposit payment. However, the court ruled that the four-year period starts after the latest repair, covered by the manufacturer’s warranty. More importantly, there are many considerations when calculating the four-year window. To that end, don’t wait until the last minute to file a lemon law claim.

Vehicles Covered By Lemon Law?

California lemon law covers new and used vehicles with the manufacturer’s new vehicle warranty. It covers the following vehicles:

  • Vans, SUVs, cars, motorcycles, and pick-up trucks
  • Vehicles primarily bought or leased for commercial purposes
  • Cars bought or leased for household, personal, or family reasons
  • Dealer-owned vehicles and demonstrators
  • Chassis, chassis cab, and drivetrain of a motorhome

If the dealer or automaker can not repair a vehicle with a severe warranty defect after a ‘’reasonable number’’ of repair attempts, the manufacturer must either;

  • Replace the vehicle
  • Refund the buying price—whichever you prefer

How to Determine a ‘’Reasonable Number’’ of Repair Attempts

Before a judge or arbitrator awards a lemon law claim, they must be satisfied that the manufacturer had a reasonable opportunity to fix the vehicle. Besides protecting consumers, California lemon law requires consumers to inform automakers about persistent defects. Similarly, automakers do not have a duty to repair a vehicle whose defects they’re unaware of. Once you inform the manufacturer, you should give them a ‘’reasonable number’’ of repair attempts to fix the fault. Whether a manufacturer had a reasonable window to fix the problem depends on the severity of the circumstances of the case. For instance, a manufacturer has fewer attempts to fix a vehicle defect that endangers the safety of the driver and other vehicle occupants. On the other hand, a manufacturer has more attempts to fix a general defect that causes nuisance. Ultimately, there’s no set number for a ‘’reasonable number’’ of repair attempts. Even so, California’s lemon law presumption offers the following guidelines:

  • The manufacturer or dealer hasn’t fixed the defect after four or more repair attempts.
  • The vehicle has been in the repair shop for more than 30 days— not necessarily consecutive for vehicle problems covered by warranty.
  • The vehicle problem could cause death or severe injury(if driven), and the automaker has made two unsuccessful attempts to fix it.

The above guidelines offer a mere direction; whether a manufacturer made a ‘’reasonable attempt’’ to repair the vehicle lies with a judge or arbitrator. The California lemon law presumption applies to vehicles that develop defects within 18,000 miles or 18 months, whichever comes first. In most lemon law cases, manufacturers argue that consumers didn’t allow them enough opportunity to fix the vehicle defect. If unrepresented, such manufacturer tactics will likely delay your lemon law claim, highlighting the need to work with an experienced attorney.

Vehicle Defects That Qualify for Lemon Law Protection

A vehicle is considered a lemon if it has substantial defects that impact its value, use, and safety. Here’s how vehicle defect impacts vehicles:

Vehicle Defects That Impact Safety

You may be entitled to a refund or a replacement if your vehicle has a persistent defect that endangers the safety of a driver and vehicle occupant.  Here are a few defects that impact vehicle safety:

  • Airbags: An airbag reduces the chances of your head or upper body striking the vehicle’s interior during a crash. An airbag defect increases the likelihood of an injury in case of a crash. A defective airbag can also deploy unexpectedly, resulting in injuries, including chest injuries, fractures to small bones, and burns.
  • Service Brakes: The purpose of brakes is to safely and reliably stop the vehicle regardless of its speed. A defective brake increases the stopping distance, making it unreliable to stop the vehicle. That said, a vehicle with defective service brakes is at a high risk of being involved in a crash.

Vehicle Defects That Impact Its Use

All vehicle owners buy vehicles intending to fulfill a specific purpose. A lemon vehicle has defects that make it challenging to achieve the intended goal. For instance, if you bought a vehicle intending to access construction sites in different states. However, a transmission defect affects the vehicle’s ability to engage higher gears. Although the truck works fine in nearby sites, albeit at low gear, it is less effective in far-flung sites. Due to the job’s demands, the construction company hires an alternative truck, increasing business costs.

Vehicle Defects That Impact Its Value

Vehicle defects impact the value of a vehicle in various ways. For instance, an engine defect that makes a vehicle stall unexpectedly has a poor reputation in the market. If you decide to sell the vehicle, you will likely receive few offers, resulting in a low resale value. Similarly, a vehicle with a persistent defect depreciates faster than a unit with minimal issues. As a result, the vehicle quickly loses its book value.  Besides the cash value, a defect can make a vehicle lose its value in your eyes. For instance, a vehicle with defective door knobs intermittently fails to open, causing embarrassment before your friends or family. If your vehicle has the following defects, you may be entitled to a refund or replacement under lemon laws:

  • Defective airbags
  • Faulty seat belts
  • Power steering loss
  • Faulty transmission
  • Brake failure
  • Intermittent headlights
  • Fuel injection failure
  • Faulty powertrain
  • Electrical defects
  • Defective anti-lock brake system
  • Defective vehicle speed control system

Although lemon laws cover many vehicle defects, there are still a few exceptions, including:

  • Defects Caused By Accidents: Vehicles tend to develop additional problems following an accident, even after complete repairs. If a vehicle covered by warranty is involved in an accident that causes a defect, it is not protected by lemon law.
  • Defects Caused By Owner Negligence: A manufacturer’s warranty obligates consumers to maintain vehicles well. Lemon law doesn’t cover a vehicle that develops a problem due to owner neglect or lack of proper maintenance and care.
  • Defects Due to Unauthorized Repair or Alteration: The manufacturer’s warranty requires vehicle owners to take their vehicles to a dealership or another agent authorized by the manufacturer. If you try to make the repairs independently or take it to an independent repair shop, you could void your warranty and protection under lemon laws.

How to File a Lemon Law Claim

If you purchased or leased a defective vehicle covered by the manufacturer’s warranty, you may be entitled to a refund or replacement under lemon laws. However, you must understand the steps of filing a lemon law case to increase your chances. Here are the crucial steps:

Step 1:Take the Vehicle to the Dealership for Repairs

You must take your vehicle to the manufacturer’s representative to protect your rights under lemon law. You can either take it to the dealership or an authorized agent of the dealership. Once you’ve brought the matter to the dealer’s attention, you’re also supposed to give them a ‘’reasonable number’’ of repair attempts to fix the defect.

Step 2: Gather Evidence

The chances of your lemon law claim depend on the strength of the evidence against the manufacturer.  Here is the essential documentation for the claim:

  • Repair Order: A repair order is the document that the repair facility hands you after dropping off the vehicle for repairs. It describes the car you brought in for repairs, the problem with the vehicle, and the mileage at the time you brought it in. Keep all the repair orders as they provide evidence of problems with your car and all attempts to solve the defects.
  • Repair Invoice: A similar repair invoice is the document the repair facility hands you after picking up the vehicle. Ensure it lists the problem with the car, the date, mileage, and the cost of repairs.
  • Vehicle Warranty: The manufacturer’s warranty is part of the booklet contained in the owner’s manual at the time of purchase. It has the terms and period of coverage. A manufacturer warranty proves that the vehicle was under warranty when it was taken in for repairs.
  • Original Purchase and Lease Documents: Your attorney will be highly interested in the original purchase or lease document. This set of documents contains important information about vehicle pricing, trade-in information, and added after-market items.
  • Correspondence: Keep records of any letters you send or receive to the dealership, manufacturer, and other state agencies.

The following documents may also help your case:

  • Accident history
  • Vehicle registration
  • Receipts of incidental expenses
  • Maintenance records

Step 3: Hire an Experienced Lemon Law Attorney

You’ll need to discuss your case with an experienced lemon law attorney at this stage. Generally, manufacturers hire experienced lemon law attorneys to represent them in consumer disputes, explaining the need to engage legal aid. First, the manufacturer will give you legal advice about your case. The lawyer will evaluate the facts of the case and give you a verdict on whether it’s worth pursuing the claim.  The lawyer will also create a strong case because both parties stand to gain. You’ll provide the data, evidence, and timelines, whereas the attorney will process the information and try to develop the best approach for the case. More importantly, you don’t have to pay a lawyer to represent you. Lemon law requires manufacturers to pay the attorney fees involved in pursuing a refund or replacement once a consumer wins.

Step 4: File a Lemon Claim

After you’ve engaged an attorney, the next step involves filing a lemon law claim. The claim should include all your evidence, including repair documentation and correspondence with the manufacturer.  Fortunately, the process is easy if you are armed with an attorney to guide and represent you in any legal proceedings.

Step 5: Negotiate a Settlement

After filing the lemon law claim, the manufacturer will likely table an offer when in agreement with the request. Your attorney will evaluate the offer and negotiate for a higher amount if need be.  Out-of-court negotiation is always faster and a less expensive option when compared to the judicial process. However, if the manufacturer refuses to settle or offers a less satisfactory offer, the next option involves the court. With that in mind, consider working with a knowledgeable and experienced attorney who can represent you in court or argue your case before a jury.

Get Legal Help From an Experienced California Lemon Law Attorney

You cannot rely on a lemon vehicle to run errands if you’re a technician. It’ll likely develop a mechanical issue unexpectedly, which can cause you to miss project deadlines or appointments, leading to losses. With this in mind, consider working with an experienced lemon attorney during a lemon law claim to maximize your settlement. At LemonLaw123, our lead attorney, Valerie. G. Campbell has a 99% success rate, giving us an edge in lemon law cases. Contact us online or call us at  657.529.5239 to book an appointment.

Valerie G. Fernandez Campbell

Valerie G. Fernandez Campbell, known as The Lemon Law Lady, has dedicated her entire legal career to the specialized field of Lemon Law, a journey that began immediately after her
graduation from UCLA School of Law.

With a 99% success rate and a policy of no fees unless you win, her practice stands as a testament to her expertise in California’s Lemon Law, her commitment to her clients, and her unwavering dedication to justice and consumer rights.

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