What is the California Lemon Law?
The California lemon law states that a purchaser or lessee of a vehicle has certain rights under both federal and state law if the motor vehicle does not perform as stated under an express warranty. The laws regarding express warranties can be complicated, and it is nearly impossible to describe it briefly. California lemon law is within the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, which discusses the laws regarding warranties in California.
California Lemon Law Coverage for New Vehicles: Overview of Rights
The Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, which begins with Civil Code section 1790, provides consumers with protection when they buy or lease new motor vehicles. The law, which is more casually called the California lemon law, requires that if a manufacturer or the representative in the state of California, for example an authorized dealer, is not able to repair or service a new motor vehicle in order to meet the explicit terms of an express written warranty after a sensible amount of repair attempts, the manufacturer is then required to promptly replace the motor vehicle or return the purchase price of the vehicle to the buyer lessee.
The purchase price that must has to be returned includes the amount paid for manufacturer-installed items and its transportation but the price does not include the amount paid for non-manufacturer items that were installed by the dealer. The buyer or lessee is completely free to decide whether to accept the refund or the replacement. Regardless of this choice, the manufacturer is equally responsible to pay for use or sales tax, licensing, vehicle registration, and any other official fees as well as incidental damages that the buyer or lessee may have incurred as a result of the finance charges, towing, repair, and rental car costs.
The buyer or lessee can be charged for the use of the motor vehicle regardless of whether the motor vehicle is replaced or the vehicle’s purchase price is refunded. The amount that can be charged for the vehicle’s use is calculated by taking the actual price of the new vehicle and multiplying it by a fraction having as its denominator 120,000 and its numerator the amount of miles traveled by the motor vehicle before it was first purchased in for correction of the issue. For example, if the car had traveled 12,000 miles before it was brought in for the first time for correction of the problem, the buyer or lessee could be charged 10% (12,000/120,000 = 10%) of the actual purchase price for usage.
The California lemon law applies for the full period of your vehicle warranty. For example, if your motor vehicle is covered under a 3-year warranty and you find a defect after 2 years, the manufacturer is responsible for replacing the vehicle or reimbursing you if the manufacturer or a representative is not able to satisfy the vehicle’s condition to the express warranty even after a reasonable amount of attempts to do so.
The California lemon law is not applicable if the vehicle’s problem was the result of abuse after the motor vehicle was delivered. You must follow the terms of the vehicle’s warranty for maintenance and proper use of the motor vehicle in order to be covered under the California lemon law.
Although there is a 4-year statute of limitations under the California lemon law to bring a lawsuit for the manufacturer’s breach of warranty or for any violations of the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, you should act quickly to try to resolve the vehicle’s problem fairly and without legal action if it is possible.
California Lemon Law Coverage for New Vehicles: Reasonable Amount of Repairs
What is thought to be a reasonable number of repair attempts for your vehicle under the California lemon law will depend on the situation and the seriousness of the vehicle’s defect. For example, two attempts to repair may be thought of as reasonable for certain serious safety defects like brake.
The California lemon law helps determine what exactly is a reasonable amount of repair attempts for a problem that significantly impair the value, use, or safety of the motor vehicle. The California lemon law applies to these issues if they come up during the first 18 months after the buyer or lessee receives delivery of the motor vehicle or in the first 18,000 miles on the vehicle’s odometer, whichever one happens first. During this period, California lemon law presumes that a manufacturer has had an adequate number of tries to repair the motor vehicle if one of the following occurs:
• The same issue results in a vehicle condition that is likely to result in death or some serious bodily injury if the motor vehicle is driven and the vehicle problem has been subject to two or more repair attempts by the manufacturer or its representatives, and the buyer or lessee has directly notified the motor vehicle’s manufacturer at least once of the necessity for the repair as provided in the owner’s manual or warranty.
• The same issue has been subject to repair 4 or more times by either the manufacturer or its representatives and the vehicle’s buyer has directly notified the manufacturer at least once of the need to repair the problem as stated in the vehicle’s owner’s manual or warranty.
• The motor vehicle is out of service due to the repair of any amount of problems by the manufacturer or its representatives for a total (cumulative) of more than thirty days since the delivery of the motor vehicle.
The California lemon law assumption is more of a guide rather than an absolute rule, so it is possible for a judge or arbitrator to assume that the manufacturer or its agents has had a reasonable number of attempts to repair the motor vehicle if all of the right conditions are met. However, the manufacturer has the right to attempt to prove that it should be provided with additional attempts to repair the problem, and the vehicle consumer has the right to prove that less repair attempts are reasonable under the specific circumstances.
It is important that you make sure check your owner’s manual and warranty for further instructions in order to be covered under the California lemon law. You might be required to notify the manufacturer directly of your motor vehicle’s problem or problems. It is a very good idea to also send your written notice regarding the issue to the motor vehicle’s manufacturer at the address shown in the owner’s manual or warranty by certified mail and request a return receipt so that you have written proof that your letter was received by the manufacturer. You should also keep a copy of all correspondence with the manufacturer in case you need it later for legal proceedings.
If the motor vehicle’s manufacturer has a state-certified arbitration program, you as the consumer must submit the dispute of the warranty to the state-certified arbitration program before you can take advantage of the presumption in the court system. Arbitration is an alternative to taking your case through court proceedings. The consumer can assert the presumption during the arbitration process. If your manufacturer has a state-certified arbitration program, he or she will discuss in further detail in the owner’s manual of the vehicle or the warranty of the vehicle.
However, not every vehicle manufacturer maintains a state-certified program to handle arbitration. If you wish to find out whether your particular vehicle’s manufacturer has one that can be utilized instead of dealing with court proceedings, you can check with the California Department of Consumer Affairs’ Arbitration Certification Program. You can get more information either by calling (800) 952-5210 or by visiting their website at www.dca.ca.gov/acp. Not only will they provide you with information regarding state-certified arbitration programs, but you can also get more information by asking them for the department’s free pamphlet which explains more about the arbitration process called “Lemon Aid for Consumers.”
The following are the state-certified arbitration programs that you can use for the specific make of your vehicle instead of pursuing your California lemon law rights in the California court system:
• Better Business Bureau Auto Line: (800) 955-5100
o AM General, Aston Martin, Audi/Volkswagen, Bentley, BMW (Mini Cooper), Ferrari, Ford (Lincoln, Mercury, and RV Chassis), General Motors (Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Geo, GMC, H2, Pontiac, Saab, Saturn), Honda (Acura), Hyundai, Infiniti/Nissan, Isuzu, Kia, Lamborghini, Land Rover, Lotus Cars, Maserati, Mazda.
• California Dispute Settlement Program: (888) 300-6237
o Toyota (Scion)
• Consumer Arbitration Program – Motor Vehicles: (800) 279-5343
o Porsche and Workhorse Custom Chassis
• Consumer Arbitration Program – Recreational Vehicles: (800) 279-5343
o Airstream Incorporated, Thor Motor Coach Incorporated, and Winnebago (this includes all models with the exception of those placed on a GM or Ford chassis and towables).
If there is no state-certified arbitration program for your motor vehicle, you can pursue your California lemon law rights through the court. Alternatively, you may try pursue mediation for your California lemon law rights through the New Motor Vehicle Board. If you wish to this, you can visit their website at www.nmvb.ca.gov or call them at (916) 445-1888.
California Lemon Law Coverage for New Vehicles: Coverage
The California lemon law applies to all new motor vehicles that are bought or used mainly for personal, household, or family purposes. The California lemon law also applies to all new motor vehicles that have a gross vehicle weight that does not exceed 10,000 pounds that is used or bought mainly for business purposes by an individual, including a limited liability company, association, corporation, partnership, or some other legal entity, to which there are no more than five vehicles registered to in the state of California.
California Lemon Law Coverage for New Vehicles: Definition of a New Vehicle
The California lemon law looks at new motor vehicles. Under the California lemon law, the term new motor vehicle not only includes new motor vehicles but demonstrators as well. This includes the propulsion system, chassis, and chassis cab of a new motor home. The California lemon law also covers other motor vehicles that are sold with the manufacturer’s new car warranty. For example, a one-year old used car that is sold with the remaining two year portion of the manufacturer’s three-year new car warranty is thought of as a new motor vehicle under the California lemon law. The phrase “new motor vehicle,” however, does not cover motorcycles or vehicles that are used exclusively off-road.
California Lemon Law Coverage for Vehicles That Are Not Considered New
Although the normal provisions of the California lemon law that are discussed above are applicable to new motor vehicles, the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act has many overall rules and regulations that are applicable to vehicles and any consumer product that are sold with an express written warranty. As a result, despite the California lemon law not explicitly covering certain other vehicles, there is still important coverage for the living quarters of a mobile home, motorcycles, any used vehicles that are sold with an express written warranty from a dealer, any lemon vehicles which are repurchased by a manufacturer and resold to consumers with an express written warranty that covers the defect, and all motor vehicles that are sold with a service contract.
While a full description of consumer warranty rights is beyond the scope of the California lemon law, you should be very aware that the coverage under the California lemon law of used cars is not completely identical to the coverage for new motor vehicles under the California lemon law. For example, a warrantor who is not able to adapt a motor vehicle or a consumer product to the express warranty of the product within a reasonable amount of attempts is then required to replace the product or good, or refund the consumer purchase price or less than an amount based to the consumer’s use of the product. Unlike the special regulation son new motor vehicles, there are no set regulations for calculating the charge for the consumer’s use of a product before the discovery of the product defect, and the California lemon law presumption does not apply to used vehicles.