California lemon law Frequently Asked Questions…
If I hire an attorney to represent me in a lemon law action, do I have to pay attorneys fees?
The California lemon law features a “fee shifting” clause in the statute. This means that when you hire a lemon law attorney to represent you, upon settlement of the case, the automobile manufacturer is required to pay your attorneys fees and costs. When the California lemon law was passed by our legislators, it was assumed that the consumer would not have the money to pay for attorneys fees. Reputable attorneys will use a “contingency” agreement, which holds the client harmless of any monies due if the attorney does not settle/win the consumers case.
A consumer also does not pay the manufacturers attorneys fees. The automobile manufacturer pays for their own fees and costs.
My warranty booklet says that I am required to go through arbitration before pursuing a lemon law claim. Is this true?
No. The California lemon law does not require the consumer to enroll nor attend arbitration that may be offered by the vehicle manufacturer in order to pursue a lemon law claim. Your warranty book covers all 50 states. Some states do require arbitration before using legal process. California does not.
Am I required to notify the vehicle manufacturer in writing, or via a telephone call before pursuing a lemon law claim through an attorney?
No. So long as the manufacturer’s authorized warranty repair facility (car dealership) has had a reasonable number of opportunities to repair a warranty problem, the manufacturer need not be given written or verbal notice.
Does the lemon law apply to vehicles that are older than one or two years?
Yes. As long as the vehicle is having warranty problems, and is covered by a written warranty, the Lemon Law potentially can apply no matter hold old the vehicle is (some Statue of Limitations issues may affect this, so consult with an attorney). The California lemon law may also apply to a vehicle even if the original new vehicle warranty or “Certified Pre-Owned” warranty has expired, so long as the vehicle is still having problems complained about on repair orders during the original warranty period.
Does the lemon law apply to vehicle that has in excess of 18,000 miles, or 18 months?
Yes. As long as the vehicle is having warranty problems, the lemon law may apply no matter what the odometer reading is on the vehicle, so long as it is covered by a written warranty.
Is a vehicle registered to a business on lease or purchase covered by the lemon law?
Yes, so long as there are no more than 5 vehicles in total registered to a business, or individual registered owner.
Are there a specific number of repair attempts that must be completed in order to have a valid lemon law claim?
No. There must be a reasonable number of repair attempts. The definition of what constitutes a reasonable number of repair attempts will vary given the vehicles particular problem(s), the nature of the problem, frequency of the problem, and how many miles have been put on the vehicle. In general, if a problem has been subject to at least three separate repair attempts at the manufacturers authorized repair facility, or has spent more than 30 days cumulative in the shop, this is sufficient to establish a reasonable number. “Serious injury or death” problems can be only two repair attempts, if within the first 18 months or 18,000 mile presumption period.
Are there situations where only 2 repair attempts are considered reasonable?
Under our lemon law, if a vehicle has had 2 repair attempts under factory warranty for a issue which is “likely to result in serious injury or death” to the driver/owner, only 2 repair attempts are necessary.
Does the lemon law apply only to passenger cars?
No. The lemon law applies not only to passenger cars, but also to trucks, SUV’s, vans, motorcycles, and all consumer goods that are covered by a manufacturer’s written warranty, and are used primarily for personal, family, or business use. The five (5) registered vehicle limit still applies (see # 5 above).
Does the lemon law apply to vehicles that are purchased used?
Yes. The lemon law can apply to a used vehicle. The vehicle must be covered by a warranty.
Does the lemon law apply to minor defects, or only significant defects?
The Song-Beverly Act (California lemon law) applies to defects which constitute a substantial impairment to the use, value or safety of the vehicle to the owner or lessee. Therefore, inconveniences (static or poor reception in the radio, for example) normally do not make a lemon law claim. Serious problems with brakes, transmission, engine function, SRS/airbag, inoperable air conditioning, persistent water leaking, engine oil or transmission oil leaks, overheating, “CHECK ENGINE”, to cite a few, are examples of lemon law impairment to use, value, or safety of the vehicle. There are other federal laws that further expand on this.
My dealer tells me that I don’t have a case, and they won’t take my car back. What do I do?
This is a very common consumer scenario. Re-direct your situation to the automobile manufacturer. Auto dealerships are only interested in getting the consumer to trade back-in their present car to sell another. Disregard what the dealer tells you, as it’s not the California lemon law, nor are they attorneys to be giving you legal advice as to what your potential rights and entitlement are under the lemon law. You should consult with an attorney that is an expert in the California lemon law.
What am I entitled to under the California lemon law?
If you financed or leased your new or used vehicle, you are entitled to get back your down payment (or lease inception fee), government fees, trade-in equity, license fees and all the monthly payments you have made up to the date of settlement. You may also be entitled to towing reimbursement, as well as rental car expenses you personally paid during your warranty repair visits. The manufacturer is required off the existing loan (or lease), you turn the vehicle back in to the car dealership, and you get your lemon law refund check. This is known as a vehicle repurchase. In certain circumstances you may also elect to take a replacement vehicle in lieu of a repurchase. This is known as an exchange of collateral. Your loan remains the same, and you simply “swap” your present vehicle for a new one with the same equipment. Vehicles leased as “new” are treated in the same way.
In any lemon law action, the manufacturer is entitled to an offset for mileage based on the odometer reading at the first time you had your vehicle repaired for a recurring problem. There is a specific formula for calculating this offset, which your Lemon Law attorney will discuss with you.
How long can the lemon law buyback process take?
Each lemon law claim/case is different, and the facts and repair history are different. How each automobile manufacturer reviews, processes and defends their case is different. California lemon law cases can take as little as 30 days, or as long as a number of months. This is based upon attorney representation of the consumer. Consumer-direct communications and negotiations with an automobile manufacturer has not specific time-frame, as when dealing direct with the consumer, the automobile manufacturer has not duty to follow the California lemon law statutes rules, nor is under any obligation to settle a case in any specific period of time. In this scenario (dealing direct), the consumer has absolutely no control over the process, nor can exercise any pressure on the automobile manufacturer.
I have added accessories to my vehicle. The dealer added aftermarket accessories to my vehicle. Are these reimbursable as part of a lemon law claim?
No. California lemon law has no provision for reimbursement of aftermarket and/or dealer-added, non-factory accessories. The vehicle is assumed “as-built” (how it came off the assembly line).
I purchased my car from a private party. Does my vehicle qualify for California lemon law?
No. Only vehicles purchased from car dealerships (those normally in the business of selling cars, and with a valid dealers license) are applicable to California lemon law protection.
(Your vehicle is a 2014 - 2021, purchased or leased, new or used, from an automobile dealership in California.)