What Is the Meaning of a Lemon Car?

Buying a car is a considerable investment.     

For most people, it’s part of their daily lives. You need a car to commute to work, meet clients, and run personal errands. However, imagine buying a vehicle that frequently breaks down, disrupting your plans, or leaving you stranded on the roadside. 

Unfortunately, constant disappointment is the reality for most consumers who unknowingly buy lemon cars. Simply put, owning a lemon car is a nightmare. It forces you to make regular trips to repair shops, buy expensive parts, and feel unsafe on the road.

The constant pain of owning a lemon car highlights the importance of understanding your legal rights under lemon laws. If you’re looking to put behind the frustration of owning a lemon car, consider speaking to a California lemon law attorney.

Here’s what you need to know.

What Makes a Car a Lemon According to Law?

A lemon car is a new or used car with significant defects that affects its value, use, and safety. California Lemon Laws( Civ. Code, 1793.2 et sq) protects cars bought or leased in California but covered by the manufacturer’s new vehicle warranty.

California Lemon laws cover the following vehicles:

  • Cars, vans, pickup trucks, and SUVs
  • Dealer-owned vehicles and demonstrator
  • Vehicles that are bought or leased for business use
  • Cars that are purchased or leased for family, household, or personal purpose

What is a Significant Defect Under Lemon Laws?

A significance in lemon vehicles affects their value and usability and cannot be repaired after multiple attempts. Significant defects considered under lemon laws include defective airbags, engine failure, steering malfunctions, suspension defects, coolant problems, brake failure, and mechanical door problems.

Here’s how significant defects affect the value, use, and safety of vehicles.

Value of the Vehicle

A significant defect affects the value of a vehicle in several ways. First, it reduces the car’s reliability and safety, making it potentially dangerous to the buyer. A significant defect translates to costly repair parts and a hefty maintenance routine, making it less desirable in the market.

A significant defect also affects the perceived value of your car. For instance, it’s rare for a buyer to commit to buying a vehicle with a defective door. 

An electrical defect is another significant defect that reduces your car’s value. For instance, a vehicle with a persistent ignition problem, which is difficult and expensive to repair, can turn off buyers.

In addition, a dysfunctional electrical system affects other functions like steering, GPS, and airbag deployment, further degrading the car’s value.

Impairs the Use of the Vehicle

A material defect in a vehicle, e.g., a defective transmission, reduces a car’s performance. A malfunctioning transmission means the vehicle will have trouble accelerating, reaching optimum speeds, and may stall unexpectedly. 

Similarly, a car with transmission problems doesn’t shift gears smoothly and may produce a rattling sound reducing the safety and comfort of the vehicle. 

Moreover, a significant defect can affect the vehicle’s intended purpose. For instance, a business owner bought a pick-up truck to carry construction materials across states. However, the pick-up truck has transmission defects, making driving uncomfortable and unreliable for an extended period.

The shortcoming of the truck forces the driver to use alternative means of transport.

Impairs the Safety of the Vehicle

This is a substantial defect that exposes the driver or passenger to a risk of an accident. Common safety defects include brake failure, headlights, engine defects, and dysfunctional safety belts.

For instance, a defective safety belt doesn’t deploy, resulting in injuries, discomfort, or fatalities. In other cases, a defective airbag may delay deploying, causing the driver to hit the steering, increasing the risk of serious injuries.

Vehicle Defects Not Covered by Lemon Laws

Lemon laws do not cover any defect arising from the car owner’s action or any other party apart from the manufacturer. 

They’re as follows:

Accident-related Defects

When a car is involved in an accident, there’s the likelihood it’ll develop a problem, even after successful repairs. Generally, lemon laws require manufacturers to offer a reprieve to vehicles with defects covered by the manufacturer’s new warranty defect.

However, lemon law doesn’t extend to accident-related defects, irrespective of the warranty status.

Defects Caused by An-authorized Repairs

According to warranty terms and conditions, you should seek repairs from the manufacturer or authorized dealer during the warranty period. 

However, suppose you experience a problem and decide to repair it or seek the services of an unauthorized mechanic, and your vehicle develops a problem. In that case, the lemon law will not cover the defect.

In a nutshell, a consumer violates warranty terms or lemon laws when they make repairs without success, only to seek reprieve from the manufacturer later.

Vehicle Defects Due to Owner Negligence

Lemon laws don’t apply to vehicles that sustain defects due to owner neglect, improper maintenance and care, or misuse. For instance, a consumer ignores the manufacturer’s instruction to change the oil after 5,000 miles.

As a result, the low levels make the engine overheat, leading to engine failure. The negligent act of the vehicle owner eliminates the responsibility for repairs from the manufacturer.

What Is the Origin of the Term Lemon Car?

Lemon is used to refer to both a fruit and a substandard product. As early as 1909, Americans started using lemon to refer to something worthless. In 1960, ‘lemon cars’ was adopted as a tagline for defective, used vehicles. 

In 1975, the federal government enacted the Magnum Moss Warranty Act to protect consumers who bought vehicles with substantial defects. The Magnum Moss Warranty Act is the backbone of lemon laws, with each state, including California, creating its version of lemon statutes.

Before the enactment of lemon laws, consumers had minimal protection when they experienced repeated problems or defects with their newly acquired vehicles. Consumers are now cautious of potential lemon cases and are quickly dissuaded from buying cars not backed by lemon laws.

What Are the Legal Rights of a Lemon Car Owner?

California lemon laws require manufacturers or dealers to repair significant defects within a ‘reasonable number of repair attempts.’ Otherwise, they must either replace the vehicle or refund its purchase price.

How Do You Determine a ‘Reasonable Number of Repair Attempts’?

Although there’s no set number, California lemon law presumption uses the following guidelines to determine whether a manufacturer has attained a ‘reasonable number of repair attempts.’

  • The vehicle could cause death or serious bodily injury if driven, and the manufacturer has made at least two unsuccessful repair attempts.
  • The vehicle has been in the repair shop for more than 30 days—not necessarily consecutive for any problem covered by the manufacturer’s warranty.
  • The manufacturer has made four or more unsuccessful repair attempts for the material defect.

Steps to Follow When Pursuing a Refund or Replacement

Step 1: Take Your Vehicle to the Dealership for Repairs

Vehicle owners should take their vehicles to an authorized agent or manufacturer to protect their rights under lemon laws. More importantly, you should give the dealer or manufacturer a reasonable time to correct the substantial defect, in line with the presumption of California lemon laws.

Step 2: Gather Relevant Documentation

The probability of success of your lemon claim depends on your documentation. Therefore, ensure the manufacturer or dealership comprehensively describes your defect each time you take your vehicle for repairs.

Then, ensure you have copies of essential documents like repair orders. You’ll also need other records like a copy of the lease or purchase agreement, manufacturer’s warranty, repair invoice, rental vehicle receipt, and accident history.

Step 3: Hire an Experienced Lemon Attorney

At this stage, it’s important to discuss your case with a California lemon law attorney. Creating a solid claim against a manufacturer requires legal expertise. An attorney will help you navigate objections and any technicalities applied by the defense.

More importantly, a lawyer can advise you on the type of documents to gather as you build a strong case. Upon receiving an offer from the manufacturer, your attorney can help you evaluate its worth or negotiate a better deal.

It’s also the attorney’s job to pursue the matter in court if you hit a stalemate.

Step 4: Proceed to Trial

You’ll need to seek reprieve from the court if the manufacturer doesn’t settle following your complaint and claim. Alternatively, you can move to court if the manufacturer presents an offer that doesn’t cover your loss brought by the lemon car.

Unfortunately, a trial is complicated and tedious, highlighting the importance of working with an experienced California lemon law attorney.

Speak to an Experienced California Lemon Law Attorney

If you buy a car hoping to make your life easier, a lemon vehicle will frustrate you. Sometimes you’ll have to take the bus, cancel road trips, report to work late, or disappoint clients. To that end, you deserve the best representation when seeking a replacement or refund.

At LemonLaw123, we have experienced attorneys like Ms. Campbell, who’s handled over 500 lemon cases, giving us the confidence to deliver results.

Contact us online or call us at 657.387.0440 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.