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What Qualifies as a Lemon?

Many car buyers are aware that California, like most other states, have a lemon law that they can turn to if their new or used car breaks down or fails to perform as expected. Not all cars are lemons, however, for purposes of the law and you need to be aware of the criteria that defines a car as a lemon and the remedies available.

California’s lemon law is the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act that protects new car buyers or those who lease new motor vehicles. It requires the manufacturer or certified dealer to repair your car to meet the terms of the express written warranty covering the vehicle or you may demand the car be replaced or the manufacturer return the purchase price if a reasonable number of repair attempts fail to fix the flaw or problem.

When is a Car a Lemon?

To receive relief under California’s lemon law, your car must still be under written warranty or the repairs occurring while in the warranty period. The flaw or problem in your vehicle must present a serious safety risk or significantly impair its use or value. Once a reasonable number of repair attempts have failed to remedy the flaw, you can demand a remedy. The nature of the defect determines how many repair attempts are considered reasonable before you can demand a replacement car or reimbursement of the purchase price.

When Does the Law Apply?

Your car must be used primarily for personal, family or household use. Cars for business purposes are included if the business has fewer than 5 other cars registered in California. Your warranty will advise you of the procedures to follow if you have a repair problem including notifying the manufacturer of the problem.

If the flaw or problem substantially impairs your safety or the use or value of your car and it arises within the first 18,000 miles of use or 18-months of its delivery to you, the manufacturer or certified dealer is given a reasonable number of repair attempts. If your car has a longer warranty period or mileage, then the longer period or mileage applies.

The law presumes that a reasonable number of repair attempts is 2 or more times for the more serious warranty problems, and 4 or more attempts for a series of other problems or for the same single problem. This presumption can be disproved by the manufacturer or supported by the car buyer who could show that fewer repair attempts were reasonable given the nature or extent of the problem.

A third condition is if your car was out of service for at least 30-days for repair, or a cumulative total of 30-days.

Used Cars

The same criteria for a lemon applies to used cars as well though the car must still be under an express written warranty before Song-Beverly applies.

For used cars, there may not be a presumed number of repair attempts that are considered reasonable. You will probably need an industry expert to testify regarding what is considered a reasonable number of attempts for that particular problem for your used vehicle. Again, consult the warranty for the procedures to follow for repairs and a make a claim.

Further, if your car fits the criteria to be a lemon and you are demanding a return of your purchase price, there is no set formula or equation for determining the value of your use of the car before you discovered the defect.

You may also be eligible for compensation under other California statutes if your car was bought “as-is” and if the dealer made material misrepresentations of the car’s origin or quality or if there was odometer tampering or other fraud involved. Seek an attorney’s advice regarding your remedies and which law may apply to your situation.

Contact a California consumer lawyer if your car is a lemon or regarding how to file a claim if your new or used car is experiencing serious problems and cannot be repaired.