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Breach of Warranty (Lemon Laws)

When you buy a car or any other product, you expect it to perform not only as advertised but to operate safely and in the manner in which it was intended. For example, a car should have efficiently operating brakes, air bags, driving mechanism, seat belts, and be crashworthy so that you need not worry about constant breakdowns or malfunctions particularly in an accident.

In California, when you buy a new car or many used cars, it has an express or written warranty. Also, any consumer good bought in California has an implied warranty of fitness and merchantability, or that it is safe for its intended purpose and meets state or federal standards regulating safety and quality.

California Warranty Protection-- The Song Beverly Consumer Warranty Act

New cars that are bought in California are subject to a state law called the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act. For new cars under an express written warranty, all car manufacturers and dealers are mandated to replace your vehicle or reimburse you for its value if your vehicle cannot be satisfactorily fixed after a reasonable number of repair attempts have failed. You can bring your car in for repair during the life of the car’s warranty. Under Song-Beverly, you are only entitled to the value of your car after deducting for its use according to a set formula. For instance, if you drove the car for 4,000 miles before its first of a series of failed repairs, you are charged for 3 percent of the purchase price. This is based on dividing the miles travelled by the figure of 120,000 miles and multiplying that figure by the purchase price.

Song-Beverly also contains a provision for problems in cars that arise during the first 18 months or 18,000 miles of its purchase. These cover problems that significantly impair the use, value or safety or the car. It must be a serious defect or one that can cause serious injury or death. You have to notify the manufacturer of the problem and if the defect or flaw cannot be repaired after 2 attempts, the manufacturer must replace the car or return your purchase price minus the value of your use of it.

For other problems, at least 4 repair attempts must be made or the car out of service for at least 30 days before your car is presumed to be a lemon, entitling you to demand a replacement vehicle or reimbursement less use value. To bring a lawsuit under breach of warranty, you have 4 years to file.

Federal Warranty Protection--The Magnuson-Moss Consumer Warranty Act

For vehicles that may not apply under California’s Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, such as used vehicles or those used primarily for business purposes, you may seek your remedy for a “lemon” under federal warranty legislation called the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act. This law applies to any product that costs more than $25 and came with an express written warranty.

This act requires that the manufacturer or dealer offer you a warranty with clear and easy to understand language, and to allow consumers with poorly functioning vehicles to get a remedy if at least 3 repair attempts have not fixed the problem. Unlike California law, you are entitled to the difference between the Kelly Blue Book value in excellent condition versus the value of your car. You are also entitled to attorney’s fees if you have to file a claim under this act. Also, a manufacturer cannot claim that you are not entitled to its warranty protection if you had your car routinely serviced by someone other than the dealer.

Typical problems that arise under warranty include transmission, brakes, suspension, water leaks, head lights or paint defects.

If you are unable to get satisfaction from the dealer or manufacturer and your complaints are unheeded, contact a California consumer law attorney or one versed in lemon law and breach of warranty law.