For much of our country’s history, consumers were on their own when they purchased a product. Buyer beware wasn’t just a sign posted at flea markets, it was a way of life for Americans. But slowly over the course of the 20th Century, our government enacted laws that offered greater protection for consumers.
By 1970, California passed the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, which protects consumers who purchased or leased a lemon vehicle. Today, this law remains one of the strongest lemon laws in the nation, and it is still used to hold manufacturers accountable for faulty vehicles.
Who Can Use California’s Lemon Law?
The Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act is a wide-reaching consumer protection law, one that has implications beyond just new vehicle purchases. But for our purposes, let’s focus on how it impacts car buyers. Anyone who purchases or leases a new vehicle that is covered by a warranty is protected by the lemon law. If the vehicle has certain defects and the manufacturer’s attempts to fix those defects aren’t successful, the buyer can have their vehicle repurchased or replaced.
What Types of Defects are Covered by the Lemon Law?
The lemon law can be applied to any defect that impairs the overall use, value or safety of a new vehicle. Safety defects are a much greater concern for motorists, and they are specifically addressed in the law. If the manufacturer cannot repair a safety defect (brakes, steering wheel, etc.) after a couple of repair attempts, then the buyer should be compensated for the lemon.
However, it is not only safety-related defects that are addressed in California’s lemon law. Any major defect that decreases the overall value or use of a vehicle must also be repaired by a manufacturer, though the manufacturer is allowed more attempts than they are given after a safety defect.
What Should I Do if I Buy a Lemon?
First, you should inform the manufacturer and request a repair as soon as you notice the defect. Keep copies of all correspondence with the manufacturer, bills that you receive due to those repairs, and any other bills or records that you encounter from a defect.
Having an attorney can also make a big difference in the amount of payment offered by a manufacturer. While consumers can go it alone, some manufacturers have systems set in place to minimize the compensation they offer customers. An attorney experienced with lemon laws will know the tactics manufacturers use and will make sure that their clients get treated fairly.
California’s Lemon Law is Strong, but an Effort is Still Required by the Consumer
The lemon law affords consumers the opportunity for recourse after buying a lemon, but that doesn’t mean the process is effortless. Buyers often find that a manufacturer will balk at the request for compensation or that they will offer much less than the consumer is owed. That’s why it is so important for consumers to keep records of all transactions, bills and correspondence that arise after a defect is discovered.
Additionally, manufacturers can account for “use reduction” when determining the amount owed to the buyer. “Use reduction” is calculated by determining how much a vehicle was driven before a defect impairs the use of a vehicle.
Repayment or Replacement?
The buyer of a lemon can either have their vehicle replaced or receive reimbursement for their purchase. While a consumer might have a preference, the ultimate decision will be up to the manufacturer. If the manufacturer decides to reimburse the consumer, they must also pay any costs related to taxes, shipping, DMV fees and factory options. If they decide to replace the vehicle, they still must pay the costs or fees incurred by the buyer.
It can be difficult for a buyer to know if the deal being offered to them is a fair one. For that reason, many consumers settle for amounts significantly less than they deserve. This is yet another reason to seek the services of a lemon law attorney. Attorneys can assist clients by establishing a timeline, determining the amount owed a consumer and making sure the manufacturer follows through on their end of the deal.
California’s lemon law is a powerful tool for consumers who have purchased a faulty vehicle, but it is also one that requires a good deal of effort or experience to receive the best payment possible. If you have just purchased a new vehicle or are planning on doing so in the future, remember to keep records and have the vehicle inspected before making a purchase. Having a paper trail documenting your expenses and repair efforts can make a huge difference if you seek compensation from a manufacturer.
Aaron Fhima is a lemon law attorney and partner at Neale & Fhima, LLP. He represents clients throughout California.