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Lemon Law Basics

For any owner of a new car or one with intractable operating or serious safety problems, California has consumer protection laws that provide remedies to frustrated car owners if the manufacturer or dealer is unable to fix the flaws.

Song-Beverley Consumer Warranty Act

For new car owners with vehicles under an express written warranty, or used car owners whose cars are still under the original warranty or where repairs were made while under that warranty, they can look to California’s own consumer law, the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty law. The vehicle may be a passenger car, truck, van, the chassis or cab or a motorhome and bought primarily for personal or family use. Some vehicles used primarily for business are also covered.

If you are having problems that are covered under warranty, you must give the manufacturer or dealer a reasonable number of repair attempts or you may demand a replacement vehicle or reimbursement of the purchase price or down payment minus an offset for the mileage incurred before the first attempted repair. You are also entitled to reimbursement for the monthly finance payments you made along with incidental costs such as towing, repairs, and vehicle rental costs.

For cars not covered by a warranty, you still may have a remedy under the California Consumer Legal Remedies Act. This legislation applies to products, including used cars, where the dealer made false representations about the quality of the vehicle or misrepresented its source or sponsorship.

What is a "Lemon"?

Your car is legally presumed to be a "lemon" if the manufacturer has made 4 or more attempts to repair the same problem or your car has been out of service for at least 30 days while under repair for any number of problems. You must have brought your car in for repairs within the car’s first 18,000 miles or within 18-months of receiving the vehicle or within the warranty period, which can be longer.

If the problem is one that substantially impairs the car’s value, poses a risk of death or serious bodily injury, the number of attempts is only 2. If these conditions are met, your car is legally presumed to be a lemon that the manufacturer can only rebut by claiming that:

  • there has not been a reasonable number of attempts to repair the problem
  • the problem is not covered by the warranty
  • the problem does not substantially impair the car’s value, use or pose a serious safety risk

Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act

A consumer is also protected by federal law as well under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act so long as there is a written warranty. Such warranties must be issued in a single document and be clear and concisely written to be easily understood by a reasonable consumer. The law protects owners of used cars under written warranty, or implied warranty in some cases, and those who use their vehicles for business purposes. An implied warranty is a promise of merchantability and fitness for its intended purpose.

Any breach of warranty is a violation of federal law. If your car is not repaired after 3 attempts, you can demand and receive a replacement vehicle or purchase price reimbursement offset by the mileage along with costs and expenses, including attorney’s fees, incurred in bringing the suit.