Step-by-Step Guide to Getting a Refund or Replacement

If life gives you lemons, you can make lemonade. Unfortunately, if you accidentally buy a lemon, you’re stuck with a nasty ride. That’s the reality of owning a lemon. 

Despite your efforts to cure its defects, it doesn’t improve. As a result, you’ll have to deal with the related expenses, such as hiring rental cars and costs related to failure to meet contractual obligations.

On the other hand, a defective vehicle threatens your safety. Imagine speeding on a highway, and suddenly, your steering wheel fails or the car stalls. You’ll be lucky to survive the danger posed by oncoming traffic.

Fortunately, California lemon laws protect vehicle owners who accidentally buy lemon vehicles through refunds or replacements. If you’re stuck with a defective car, consult a California lemon law attorney to pursue a refund or replacement.

What it is and How it Protects Consumers

California lemon laws are regulations that protect consumers who buy defective vehicles and other goods or services. A consumer can activate rights guaranteed under lemon laws if a good or service doesn’t meet the purported quality or usefulness.

The movement to have the federal government enact laws that protect consumers from defective goods started as early as the 1950s. In the mid-20th century, consumers referred to faulty products as lemons.

It was until 1975 that the federal government enacted Magnuson-Moss Warranty, which covers goods sold under warranty. Subsequently, each state, including California, passed its own version of lemon laws to protect new vehicle purchases.

Before the enactment of lemon laws, automotive consumers had little protection against manufacturers who sold them defective vehicles. Consumers were only required to return the car to the repair shop according to the manufacturer’s warranty.

Unfortunately, it meant consumer rights were restricted to repairs. 

How Does Lemon Law Cover Consumers?

Lemon laws cover new and used vehicles with a manufacturer’s new warranty. 

Here’s a list of vehicles covered by lemon laws;

  • Cars, vans, pick-up trucks, motorcycles, and SUVs
  • Vehicles primarily bought or leased for business purposes
  • Cars purchased or leased for family, household, or personal use
  • Dealer owned vehicles
  • Chassis, chassis cab, and drivetrain of a motor home

How Lemon Law Protects Consumers

If a manufacturer or dealer fails to fix a substantial defect in your vehicle after a reasonable number of repair attempts, the manufacturer must either:

  • Refund the vehicle’s purchase price
  • Replace the vehicle

Identifying a Lemon: Signs Your Vehicle May Qualify for a Refund or Replacement 

A vehicle qualifies for lemon law protection if it has substantial defects that a manufacturer or dealer has failed to repair after a ‘’reasonable number of repair attempts’’.

Signs Related to ‘’Reasonable Number of Repair Attempts’’

Before you follow up on your rights under lemon law protection, you should give the manufacturer a reasonable window to resolve the defect. How the repair facility addresses a problem can determine if the vehicle is due for a refund or replacement.

If a manufacturer can’t fix a persistent engine problem, you should take the vehicle in and complain about it.

With that in mind, there’s no set limit for ‘’ a reasonable number of repair attempts’’ Even so, California Lemon Law Presumption offers several guidelines on whether a manufacturer has achieved a ‘’reasonable number of repair attempts’’.

Here are a few signs to look out for regarding the ‘’reasonable number of repair attempts.’’

  • The manufacturer or dealer hasn’t fixed a substantial defect after four or more attempts.
  • If the vehicle has been in the repair shop for more than 30 days— not necessarily consecutive for vehicle defects covered by a new vehicle warranty
  • The vehicle defect could cause serious bodily injury or death if driven, and the manufacturer has made at least two unsuccessful repair attempts.

How to Identify a Substantial Defect

You can only qualify for a refund or replacement if the vehicle has a significant problem that impairs its use, value, and safety. Generally, three aspects of a substantial defect are subjective, opening it for argument and opinion.

In addition, the vehicle doesn’t have to be immobile to be termed a lemon.

Here’s an explanation of how substantial defects change vehicles into lemons.

Impaired Vehicle Use

Every consumer has a goal when buying a vehicle. For instance, a roof installation technician buys a pick-up truck to carry tools and supplies from across three states. However, a damaged fuel injector causes the engine to misfire, contributing to its poor performance, stalling, and low-fuel efficiency.

As a result, the technician can longer rely on the vehicle to transport him and his supplies to different customer locations. Although he can still use the car for local clients, the reduced performance has led to inefficiencies with a significant impact on the business.

Impaired Vehicle Safety

A safety defect that puts the driver, passengers, and other road users at risk of accidents is a major concern regarding lemons. If the manufacturer or dealer has been unable to fix these defects after reasonable attempts, your best bet is to request a refund or replacement.

Typical safety and substantial defects include broken seat belts, brake failure, defective headlights, and airbags.

Impaired Vehicle Value

A vehicle defect can impact the vehicle’s value in several ways. For instance, a car that frequently rattles or produces black smoke can be a source of embarrassment. Despite being a new vehicle, you opt to use it less often because it has lost its pristine condition and value in our eyes.

A substantial defect could also impair its value due to increased maintenance costs.

Substantial Defects Not Covered By Lemon Laws

Although California lemon laws cover most substantial defects, a few exceptions remain, which include;

  • Defects Caused By Accidents
  • Defects Due to Unauthorized Repairs or Alterations
  • Defects Due to Owner Negligence

6 Common Substantial Defects that Make Vehicles Lemon

The following material defects affect the vehicle’s use, value, and safety, making it a lemon.

Here are the defects and the potential impact on your vehicle;

  1. Seat Belts

A seat belt is one of the most effective ways to prevent death and serious injury following a car crash. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, seatbelts saved an estimated 15,000 lives in 2017

Therefore, if a seat belt fails and the manufacturer can’t fix the defect after two or more attempts, you might be eligible for a refund or replacement.

    2. Fuel Systems

A problematic fuel system is one of the reasons that cause car fires and explosions. The causes of fuel system defects include clogged fuel injectors, defective fuel filters, malfunctioning fuel pumps, or leaking fuel lines.

A fuel system defect can affect the reliability of your car when you begin to experience common symptoms like reduced gas mileage, loss of power, and engine sputtering.

    3. Airbags

Airbags are designed to deploy after a vehicle collides with an object or another vehicle. However, some vehicles accidentally deploy airbags because of manufacturer defects.

Unfortunately, if an airbag deploys involuntarily, it can blur your vision leading to accidents. A defective airbag may also deploy with an unusually massive force leading to injuries such as broken arms, burns, hearing loss, and blindness.

    4. Malfunctioning Steering Component

A steering wheel and its components control the vehicle’s direction. A malfunctioning steering wheel affects the ability to control a car, which is dangerous to a driver, vehicle occupants, and other road users.

Some of the warning signs of a defective steering wheel include;

  • Difficulty in turning the steering wheel
  • Drifting of a vehicle on a straight road
  • Steering wheel vibrations
  • A whining sound as you turn the wheel

   5. Braking System

A defective braking system can occur due to mechanical problems or manufacturer defects. Unfortunately, if your vehicle can’t brake, you aren’t safe. It also translates to less usage because of its unreliability.

The typical warning signs of defective brakes include broken calipers, ABS failure, leaking hydraulic lines, overheating, and defective parking or emergency brakes.

  6. Headlights and Taillights

Drivers rely on headlights to see at night and improve clarity in low visibility conditions. Rear lights on the other alert other drivers when you’re about to stop. Headlights and rear lights are, therefore, critical components in the reliability and safety of a vehicle.

Your car is a safety concern for you and other road users when its headlight and taillights are not working well. Some causes of defective headlights and tail lights include faulty bad sockets, defective light sensors, or poor wiring.

Taking Action: A Step-by-Step Guide to Filing a Lemon Law Claim 

If you bought a defective vehicle with an original new manufacturer warranty, you might be entitled to a replacement or refund under California lemon laws. Even so, to get the full benefits of lemon laws, it’s essential to master the steps of filing a lemon law claim.

Here are the steps you need to take to get a refund or replacement;

Step 1: Take Your Vehicle to an Authorized Dealership For Repairs

You can only enforce your rights under California lemon laws by taking the vehicle for repairs to a manufacturer’s representative. Interestingly, consumers ignore taking the car for repairs because they’re too busy or when the effects of the defects are felt intermittently.

You could also risk voiding the warranty terms when you take the vehicle to an unauthorized repair shop. Therefore, once you identify the car is a potential lemon case, prioritize service from an authorized repair shop over your local technician.

Requesting repairs from a manufacturer or an authorized dealer also serves as notice. The action sets in motion a window where they can try to fix the defect using the ‘reasonable number of attempts’ principle.

What constitutes a reasonable number of repair attempts differs in different circumstances. It depends on the severity of the defects, how quickly a dealership can identify the problem, the time spent at the repair shop, and the mileage between the visits. 

Determining a reasonable number of repair attempts is subjective. It’s therefore advisable to consult an attorney whether the manufacturer has attained ‘’reasonable attempts’’.

Step 2: Gather All Relevant Documentation

All legal cases, including lemon law claims, depend on the availability of solid evidence. Therefore, keep an accurate record of repairs or warranties to ease claim processing.

Prepare the following documents for a strong lemon law claim;

Repair Orders

A lemon law claim exists because a manufacturer has failed to fix a substantial defect. A repair order serves as evidence of the fault and the subsequent failure by the manufacturer to fix it. It is also a document that the dealership hands you when you drop off the vehicle for repairs. Confirm if it contains a vehicle’s defect, date, and the correct mileage.

Repair Invoice

A repair invoice is a document the dealership hands you after you pick up the vehicle. It describes all the problems you mentioned as you dropped off the car and the repair attempts made by the dealer.

Therefore, ensure it has the description of the defect, date, mileage, and cost of repairs. Every time you take the car for repairs, ensure you request a repair invoice and repair order as evidence of a “reasonable number of repair attempts.”

Original Purchase or Lease Documents

The purchase or lease document indicates ownership and your interest in the defective vehicle. There are no lemon law claims that can be valid without these documents. The sales contract contains crucial information on the date of sale, vehicle cost, rebates, trade-in information, and after-market purchases.

If you bought the vehicle through financing, you need relevant information such as a letter of offer, loan schedule, or loan statement.

Manufacturer’s Warranty

Manufacturer warranty is another vital document usually included in the owner’s manual handed to consumers after purchasing a vehicle. It describes the express warranty from the dealer by expounding the terms and conditions and warranty period.

If you do not qualify for lemon laws, you can sue the manufacturer for breaching warranty terms.

Other Valuable Documents

While the above documentation is vital, the following paperwork will supplement the strength of your case;

  • Accident history
  • Vehicle Registration
  • Rental Vehicle Receipt
  • Maintenance Records
  • A timeline of repair attempts

Step 3: Hire an Experienced Lemon Law Attorney

After you’ve gathered the available documentation, you’ll need to discuss the case with a knowledgeable and experienced attorney. Generally, it takes a legal expert to file a complaint against giant automakers. 

On the other hand, most manufacturers hire the best lawyers to deal with disputes. It would therefore put you at a disadvantage to deal with them without legal aid. 

An experienced attorney will help your case in the following ways;

  • Legal advice; An attorney will advise you whether to aggressively pursue a lemon law claim or pursue an alternative route to compensation.
  • Handle all Legal Aspects: Processing a lemon law claim is a complicated affair, so you need the help of a lawyer who understands the deadlines, steps, and processes.
  • Get the Best Possible Outcome: During negotiations, a manufacturer or dealer will fight for a deal that best preserves their profits or wealth. An experienced attorney understands the manufacturer’s perspective and also knows which buttons to press to activate the best possible outcome.

Step 4: File a Lemon Law Claim

After hiring a knowledgeable and experienced lemon law attorney, the next step is to file a lemon law claim. Ensure the claim has enough evidence to avoid delays, including repair orders, invoices, sales contracts, and vital paperwork.

Work closely with your attorney, who understands the claim process and is ready to represent you if it goes to trial.

Step 5: Negotiate a Settlement 

A manufacturer will make an offer after perusing the claim. You can either reject the amount or negotiate for a higher figure with the help of your attorney. If the negotiation process goes to plan, the manufacturer will settle.

However, ensure your lawyer is ready for a legal battle if the manufacturer refuses to settle. You may also need court intervention if the manufacturer excludes the incidental expenses related to your lemon.

Step 6: Go to Court

The court process is expensive, time-consuming, and a complex process. You, therefore, need to work closely with a California lemon law attorney who’s experienced and ready to pursue the manufacturer through the courts.

Getting Results: What to Expect from a Lemon Law Case and How to Maximize Your Refund or Replacement 

If your vehicle meets the lemon law requirements, you have a right to refund or replacement. Equally, a manufacturer is legally obligated to compensate the affected consumer. However, in case of a refund, it’s natural for a manufacturer to look for ways to minimize your payout.

In addition to the full contract price of the vehicle, a manufacturer may be compelled to pay the following; 

  • Attorney and court fees
  • Civil penalty damage
  • Out-of-pocket expenses such as towing expenses, rental cars, traveling to repair shops, and accommodation expenses

When calculating the settlement amount, a dispute may arise, so working with an attorney is advisable. Under California lemon laws, a manufacturer must offer a refund/replacement or make repairs within 30 days of receiving a lemon law claim.

Otherwise, the manufacturer may face a massive fine for violating California Lemon laws.

An Attorney Can Maximize Your Refund or Replacement

You can maximize your refund or chances of a replacement by mounting a strong case against a manufacturer. An attorney is best placed to prepare a compelling case with the proper documentation. An attorney will help you gather all the relevant documentation and data required to mount a strong case. 

On the other hand, a lemon law attorney has experience and knowledge of dealing with manufacturers, which culminates in a higher refund payout or a timely replacement.

Don’t Settle For a Lemon; Get Legal Help to Pursue a Refund or Replacement

Besides extra expenses, a lemon vehicle is a source of inconvenience. It frequently disrupts your personal and business plans. If you had an early Monday morning meeting with a client, a defective transmission could affect its performance, causing a delay or postponement and the possible loss of that client.

To that end, you deserve knowledgeable and experienced legal aid to improve your chances of success.

At LemonLaw123, our lead attorney, Valerie G. Fernadez, has a 99% success rate, which explains our confidence in handling any lemon law claim.

Contact us online or call us at 657.529.5239 for a free case review.

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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