What is a Lemon Under California Lemon Law?
California Lemon Law covers a variety of new motor vehicles, including:
- A new vehicle bought or used primarily for personal, family, or household purposes.
- A new vehicle with a gross vehicle weight (GVW) under 10,000 pounds bought or primarily used for business purposes (provided the owner or business has no more than five vehicles registered in California).
- The chassis, chassis cab, and propulsion portions of a motor home.
- A dealer-owned vehicle, a demonstrator, or a used vehicle sold with a manufacturer’s new car warranty.
- Leased vehicles.
- Motorcycles that are registered under the Vehicle Code.
California’s Lemon Law presumes that a vehicle is a lemon if the vehicle:
- Does not conform to the manufacturer’s express warranty.
- Has substantial defects affecting the use, safety or value of the vehicle.
- Has manufacturer’s defects that occurred during the first 18 months from the original owner’s delivery date or the first 18,000 miles on the odometer (whichever period ends first) unless your vehicle is covered by a longer warranty; if you have a longer warranty, Lemon Law protects you for the entire warranty period.
- Has been taken in four times for the same problem or if it has been out of service for 30 days due to a series of unrelated problems; or if the problem is likely to cause death or serious bodily injury, the vehicle has been taken in two times for repair.
- The manufacturer has been notified of the need for repair if the manufacturer requires it.
Getting Lemon Justice — Relief Under California Lemon Law
California Lemon Law provides several options for a successful Lemon Law claimant. First, you may be awarded a replacement vehicle of the same year, make, and model. You may also qualify for a monetary award, which can include:
- The full contract price
- Sales tax
- Registration fees
- Finance charges paid on your loan
- Towing and vehicle rental costs
- Incidental costs
- Attorney’s fees
The amount of the monetary reward may be reduced by a deduction for the total mileage on the vehicle. This amount is calculated by dividing the miles drive at the time of the first repair attempt by 120,000, and multiplying by the purchase price.
Under California Lemon Law, if the manufacturer of your vehicle participates in a state-certified arbitration program, you must request arbitration in order to seek relief (although you can accept or reject the arbitrator’s decision). If the manufacturer doesn’t participate in a state-certified arbitration program, you must still notify the manufacturer of the problem if your owner’s manual states that notification is required. Although it’s not required by law, the demand letter should be sent by certified mail, with a return receipt requested.
Hiring a Lemon Law Lawyer in California
Most vehicle manufacturers follow the principle of “No lawyer, no money.” In other words, they count on being able to outmaneuver the consumer who hasn’t retained a Lemon Law attorney. While California Lemon Law requires consumers to go to arbitration if the manufacturer participates in a state-certified program, you’ll only be on equal footing if you have an advocate at your side. A lemon lawyer can present your case to the arbitrator or go to court and can call and question witnesses. His or her expertise enables your attorney to easily dispute the manufacturer’s testimony.
But perhaps the most important reason to hire a Lemon Law lawyer is that it sends a clear signal to the manufacturer that you are serious about your claim, and are willing to sue them in order to get justice. Vehicle manufacturers have powerful legal teams that are adept at avoiding or stalling Lemon Law claims, and often only obey the law when they’re faced with the threat of a lawsuit by Lemon Law experts. When they are, they usually settle very quickly, since they know that the cost of going to court will be much higher. For these reasons, it’s in your best interest to have an advocate who knows the law and works on your behalf.
Keep in mind that, if you go to court, you shouldn’t have to pay a lemon lawyer to handle your Lemon Law case. That’s because the law says that the manufacturer is responsible for paying the consumer’s attorney’s fees in successful Lemon Law claims.
What Happens When You Hire a Lemon Law Lawyer?
A good lemon lawyer will work on your behalf to get the compensation to which you’re entitled — typically in the form of a refund, a replacement vehicle, or a cash settlement. Your Lemon Law attorney will ask you for all of your records, such as repair orders and correspondence, that pertain to your lemon. Your lawyer will conduct a thorough investigation of your vehicle’s repair history, then present the manufacturer with a statement outlining your case and demanding full recovery. More often than not, the manufacturer will settle; if not, though, your Lemon Law attorney should be prepared to sue the manufacturer. Your lawyer should be able to resolve your case within one to two months.