california Lemon Law FAQ

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California Lemon Law Basics

What is the Lemon Law in California?

The California Lemon Law holds manufacturers responsible for defective vehicles. Under the law, those that fail to repair defects after a reasonable number of attempts must provide the consumer with a refund or replacement vehicle. The law applies to most vehicles covered by a new-vehicle warranty.

How does the Lemon Law work?

If a vehicle manufacturer fails to repair a warrantied defect after a reasonable number of attempts, the California Lemon Law entitles the consumer to a refund or replacement vehicle. In most cases, the first step in filing a claim is to notify the manufacturer of your intention to do so. If you have a strong case, the manufacturer may offer a settlement at this point.

Otherwise, the next step is generally to present the case to an arbitration board, which can be done remotely by submitting the relevant documents. The board will review the case and issue its opinion. If the consumer is not satisfied with the arbitrators’ decision, they may then file a lawsuit.

At Krohn & Moss, Ltd. Consumer Law Center®, more than 99% of our cases settle before going to trial. So even if we do file suit, manufacturers almost always offer acceptable settlements before we need to take it further. Regardless of when the offer arrives, only the consumer can decide whether or not to accept it. We’ll advise you, but the decision is yours to make.

How many repair attempts does the Lemon Law in California require?

The California Lemon Law grants dealers four (4) repair attempts for any single defect. However, if the defect has the potential to cause serious injury or death, the law only provides dealers with two (2) repair attempts. Additionally, if your car is out of service for repairs for a total of 30 days or more, it qualifies as a lemon.

In each of these cases, the vehicle must first be brought in for service within 18 months or 18,000 miles (whichever comes first) of the original delivery date.

What counts as a repair attempt?

The California Lemon Law defines a repair attempt as any time a consumer presents a vehicle to an authorized dealer for repair, even if the dealer is unable to duplicate the problem you are having or says there is no problem with the vehicle.

For example, say you bring your car to an authorized dealer four times for a steering concern. Even if the dealer claims to be unable to duplicate the issue three of those four times, all four times still count as repair attempts. You attempted to have the defect repaired by bringing it in for service four separate times and that’s all that matters.

​Does my car qualify as a lemon in California?

In the express language of the Song-Beverly and Tanner Consumer Protection Act (California’s Lemon Law), the phrase “four (4) repair attempts within 18 months or 18,000 miles” is often misunderstood as a requirement for vehicles to qualify as lemons. But it is possible to successfully pursue cases that do not meet these requirements.

The California Lemon Law provides that a consumer may be entitled to a refund or replacement of their vehicle if the manufacturer is unable or unwilling to repair the vehicle within a reasonable number of attempts. The Lemon Law presumes that a reasonable number of attempts have occurred if the vehicle has been subject to repair four (4) times for the same non-conformity within 18 months or 18,000 miles, whichever occurs first. But this is only a presumption.

A consumer may still qualify for lemon law remedies if they do not meet this presumption. In fact, many of our former and current clients have vehicles that qualify for the refund/replacement remedy without meeting this presumption. Moreover, several consumers have vehicles that qualify for the repurchase/replacement remedy even when their problems occurred after a year or 18,000 miles.

How long do I have to file a lawsuit under the California Lemon Law?

You have four years from the date of the breach of warranty to file a lawsuit under the Song-Beverly Act (California Lemon Law). In other words, you have four years from the date of the first failed repair attempt.

Do I need to hire a lawyer?

No, you may file a claim directly against the automobile manufacturer without help from an attorney. However, we’re often able to secure settlements that are far more beneficial to our clients than the ones they might collect on their own. Retaining our counsel costs you nothing, means less work for you, and greatly increases your chances of success.

Since 1995, the lemon law lawyers at Krohn & Moss, Ltd. Consumer Law Center® have helped over 50,000 consumers settle their Lemon Law disputes with automobile manufacturers. We also have an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau. So no, you don’t need to hire a lawyer for your Lemon Law case, but there are literally no advantages and numerous disadvantages to filing on your own.

How much does it cost to hire a Lemon Law attorney in California?

NOTHING! California’s Lemon Law includes a fee-shifting provision that holds the manufacturer responsible for your legal fees when you win your case. And at Krohn & Moss, Ltd. Consumer Law Center®, we don’t charge for our services unless you prevail. It’s common for other firms to charge their clients for filing fees and other costs related to the case. But our California clients pay nothing out-of-pocket.

Does the California Lemon Law apply to used vehicles?

YES! The California Lemon law applies to both used and pre-owned cars that are still covered by a dealer or manufacturer’s warranty. The law does not distinguish between new and used car purchases. As long as your vehicle meets the definition of a lemon, you can and should pursue compensation.

Additionally, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, often referred to as the “federal Lemon Law,” allows consumers to pursue breach of warranty claims for up to four years after the date of the breach of warranty. So if your car is still relatively new and has a defect that the dealer can’t seem to fix, touch base with us today for a free case review.

Does the California Lemon Law apply to private sales?

No, private party sales are no longer covered under the Song-Beverly Act, California’s Lemon Law. However, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act also protects Californians who purchase vehicles from private sellers as long as the vehicle is still under warranty. This “federal Lemon Law” also provides consumers with as many as four years after the warranty was breached.

Does the California Lemon Law apply to vehicles out of warranty?

YES! If the vehicle was originally serviced during the warranty period for a defect that was never fixed, the California Lemon Law will still apply. Consumers have four years from the date of the breach of warranty to file a lawsuit under the California Lemon Law.

The “federal Lemon Law,” the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, also grants consumers up to four years after the breach of warranty occurs to file a claim. That said, the sooner you take action the better your chances are of success.

How long does a Lemon Law case take in California?

Every Lemon Law case is different, but the vast majority of cases in California settle in a matter of months rather than weeks or years. We’re obligated to share every settlement offer that we receive with you. And the decision to accept or reject all offers is yours and yours alone, but we will provide you with our professional opinion of the offer.

Our goal is always to get you the greatest possible compensation for your lemon. Thus, we try to avoid setting general expectations about how long a random case may take. However, once we’ve reviewed the details of your case, we may be able to provide you with a rough estimate based on similar cases we’ve handled.

Which vehicles are covered by California Lemon Law?

The California Lemon Law covers most new vehicles and even used vehicles that are still covered by the manufacturer’s warranty. Specifically, it covers:

● Vehicles with a gross weight under 10,000 lbs
● Vehicles purchased or leased for personal, family, or household purposes
● Vehicles purchased or leased for business purposes, as long as the purchaser/lessee has no more than five vehicles registered in California
● The chassis, chassis cab, and components of motor homes devoted to propulsion
● Dealer-owned vehicles
● “Demonstrator” vehicles

Does the California Lemon Law apply to RVs?

YES! The vehicle portion of RVs and motor homes are covered by the California Lemon Law. Thus, the law protects the drive train, the chassis, and the chassis cab of RVs and motorhomes.

Does the California Lemon Law apply to motorcycles?

YES! The California Lemon Law does apply to motorcycles.

Does the California Lemon Law apply to customized vehicles?

YES! Customized vehicles are covered by the lemon law. However, manufacturers are not required to repair defects that result from unauthorized customizations.

The law also has special provisions for vehicle manufacturers that alter new vehicles into housecars. When alterations in such cases nullify warranty coverage from the original vehicle manufacturer for any or all components, the alterer assumes the responsibility of said warranty.

What if I bought my automobile out of state?

The California Lemon Law applies only to vehicles purchased in the State of California. However, if you purchased your vehicle outside the State of California you may qualify for a case under the federal Lemon Law, known as the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act.

How much money should I expect in a California Lemon Law buyback?

A buyback under the California Lemon Law includes the return of any down payment or trade-in value, all payments made plus the payoff of any loan on the vehicle. From this total, the manufacturer will reduce the total by a sum proportional to the time you were able to use the vehicle before the first failed repair attempt. Additional deductions may be necessary for negative equity rolled into the loan, non-manufacturer service contracts, and after-market items.

Is arbitration required for Lemon Law claims in California?

Yes, if the manufacturer has established a qualified third-party dispute resolution process, consumers must attempt to resolve their issue with the arbitrators before they may file a legal claim. However, if the manufacturer has not established such a process or if they have not notified the consumer of the process in writing, the consumer may take legal action immediately.

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