The Insider’s Guide to Lemon Law at California Dealerships

A car is designed to bring convenience and comfort to a consumer. Unfortunately, some vehicles fall short of these expectations. If you unknowingly buy a lemon, your excitement over a new car purchase can quickly become a nightmare.

A lemon is a source of frustration and loss in various ways. For instance, you must dig deeper in your pockets to keep it running. You’ll also frequently visit the dealership for repairs per warranty terms. Worse still, substantial defects make vehicles unreliable, disrupting your personal trips, business meetings, and other errands. A lemon can even put your safety at risk.

Lemon laws are crucial to protect consumers who accidentally buy problematic vehicles. If you unknowingly bought a defective car at a California dealership, consider consulting a California lemon law attorney to understand your options.

What is California Lemon Law and How Does it Protect Consumers at Dealerships?

What Is California Lemon Law?

Before 1970, consumers who bought defective vehicles faced an uphill task. They had no legal protection against dealerships and manufacturers. Usually, manufacturers and dealers are financial giants making the outcome one-sided at the expense of consumers.

The Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, also known as the California lemon Law, enacted in 1970, was a welcome relief to consumers. In addition to vehicles, lemon law covers retail consumer goods sold under implied and express warranties.

The law implies that all consumer goods, including cars, are protected under the implied warranty of merchantability and implied warranty of fitness. To that end, a vehicle bought under such terms should fit a particular purpose and perform as the dealer or manufacturer promises.

What Does California Lemon Law Cover?

California lemon laws cover any of the following used or new vehicles that come with the manufacturer’s new vehicle warranty:

  • Cars, vans, pick-up trucks, and SUVs
  • Demonstrators and dealer-owned vehicles
  • Vehicles bought or leased for personal, household, or family use.
  • Vehicles purchased or leased for business use.
  • Components of a motorhome— chassis, drive train, and chassis cab

What Is a Lemon?

A lemon has substantial defects or mechanical problems that impair its value, safety, or use. Lemon is a common term that identifies vehicles with persistent problems that have proved challenging to fix or repair.

Substantial Defects in Dealership Vehicles

A substantial defect that imparts the vehicle’s use, value, and safety is a crucial criterion for identifying lemon vehicles. Significant defects symbolize ‘weighty’ defects such as transmission or engine failure as opposed to ‘minor’ issues like a loose radio knob or a missing rear-view mirror.

Even so, minor issues like lousy odor can be classified as substantial defects.

Here’s a breakdown of defects according to their impact on the vehicle:

Substantial Defects That Impair Vehicle’s Safety

Any vehicle malfunction that makes passengers or drivers insecure is a significant defect covered under lemon laws. If you bought a vehicle that threatens the security of vehicle occupants, you might be entitled to a refund or replacement under lemon laws.

Common safety defects include brakes, malfunctioning seat belts, unresponsive airbags, defective headlights, or transmission systems. For instance, faulty brakes increase the stopping distance, making it difficult to respond to road hazards leading to collisions and accidents.

Substantial Defects That Impair Vehicle’s Use

These are vehicle problems or malfunctions that impede its proper functioning. Examples of vehicle defects that impair proper functioning include electrical issues, acceleration defects, and engine failures.

A vehicle with a malfunctioning engine suffers performance because of the reduced speed, acceleration, and handling. In addition, the vehicle may stall unexpectedly, affecting your personal or work routines.

Substantial Defects That Impair Vehicle’s Value

A defect that impairs the vehicle’s value doesn’t have to reduce its monetary value. Perspective is an excellent way to assess the fault. If your car has a defective engine, it’ll display common symptoms like an odd smell, loss of power, and rattling noise that could put you off.

As a result, you’re forced to use it less often because it’s a source of embarrassment and nuisance. Ultimately, the vehicle has lost value due to its reduced use and reliability.

The Steps to Take if Your Vehicle is a Lemon at a California Dealership

You might be entitled to a refund or replacement if you bought or leased a problematic vehicle with an active manufacturer’s new vehicle warranty. It’s, therefore, crucial to understand and adhere to the procedures for filing a lemon law claim. 

Here’s how you can file a lemon law claim at California dealerships:

Step 1: Take Your Vehicle to a Dealership for Repairs

You must take the vehicle for repairs to an authorized dealer or manufacturer to receive protection guaranteed by California lemon laws. You could also void the warranty terms if you decide to make DIY repairs or fix it from other unauthorized repair shops.

Step 2: Give the Dealer a ‘’Reasonable Number of Repair Attempts’’ 

What constitutes a ‘’reasonable number of repair attempts’’ depends on the circumstances. It’s either the length of time, e.g., spending weeks in the repair shop, the severity of the defect, or whether the dealer can quickly identify the problem.

No set number of attempts can be labeled ‘’a reasonable number of repair attempts’’. Two repair attempts may be deemed sufficient for vehicles with severe defects. In other instances, three or four repair attempts will suffice.

You may also file a successful lemon law claim if the vehicle exceeds 30 days in the repair shop.

Step 3: Gather Relevant Documentation

The success of your lemon law claim depends on the availability of supporting documentation. Therefore, keep a record of any interaction with the dealership.

Here are a few records that’ll enhance your lemon claim.

  • Repair Orders: When you drop off your car at the dealership for repairs, the dealership will hand you a repair order. It’s a document that describes the vehicle, defects, mileage, and the time you brought it in. Make sure the dealership accurately describes the problem. The print-out is a paper trail vital for proving a ‘reasonable number of repair attempts’’.
  • Repair Invoice: It’s the document that the dealership hands you once you pick up the vehicle after the repairs. The repair invoice lists problems with the car, completed repairs, cost of repairs, date, and mileage. Repair invoices provide a paper trail for the vehicle defects the dealership attempted to fix.

A point to note: You’ll also need an additional set of documentation that includes the manufacturer’s warranty, original purchase or lease documents, correspondence, maintenance records, accident history, and registration records.

Step 4: Hire an Experienced California Lemon Attorney

At this point, you will need to discuss your case with an experienced California lemon law attorney. Filing a lemon law claim and negotiating with dealers requires legal expertise. In case of disputes, a dealer will hire an experienced attorney, which can put you at a disadvantage. 

With that in mind, consider hiring an experienced lemon law attorney to boost your chances of success.

Step 5: Negotiate a Settlement

The manufacturer will table an initial offer upon receipt of a valid lemon law claim. If you’re satisfied with the proposal, they will proceed to settle. Most manufacturers honor lemon claims without a problem; however, some require special consideration and are challenging to handle without legal aid.

The possibility of a manufacturer giving you an insufficient offer highlights the need to work with an attorney.

Step 6: Proceed to Trial

You may need the court’s intervention if the manufacturer refuses to settle after receiving your lemon law claim. You may also require the court’s opinion if the manufacturer makes a low offer. Usually, the court’s route is a lengthy and complex process whose outcome can be improved with the help of a lemon law attorney.

Lemon Law Reprieve For Consumers Who Buy Defective Vehicles From Dealers

Lemon laws enforce the express warranty provided by manufacturers. Therefore, if a manufacturer or dealer fails to repair a substantial warranty defect after a ‘’reasonable number of repair attempts’’, they must either:

  • Refund the car’s purchase price or 
  • Replace the problematic vehicle

For clarity, California lemon law Presumption provides the following guidelines that confirm whether a dealer has met a reasonable number of repair attempts.

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

Get the Compensation You Deserve: Speak to an Experienced California Lemon Law Attorney

A lemon can pour your investment down the drain. Dealerships are also powerful entities, a factor that can hinder your pursuit of a fair refund or replacement. To that end, consider partnering with an experienced lemon law attorney to boost your chances.

At LemonLaw123, we’re highly knowledgeable and experienced in lemon law cases, and we are proud of our impressive success rate.

Contact us today 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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This page has been written, edited, and reviewed by a team of legal writers following our comprehensive editorial guidelines. This page was approved by attorney Valerie G. Fernandez Campbell, personally handled over 500 lemon law cases and settlements.