What is the California (CA) Lemon Law?
The so-called “Lemon Law” is a State law which is defines when a manufacturer has breached its written warranty and what the victim is entitled to for such a breach of warranty. Additionally, there are various other warranty laws (or Lemon Laws) in California and on the Federal level which can be used to recover money for consumers who do not meet the strict definitions contained in the California Lemon Law. In California, the State Lemon Law provides for a Full Refund or a Replacement Vehicle (less a reasonable allowance for use) and Attorney’s Fees and Costs if the consumer prevails.
What is a Lemon?
The American Heritage Dictionary defines a lemon as: “One that is or proves to be unsatisfactory…” (Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 2nd College Ed., © 1985). However, in an effort to further define such a broad term, the Lemon Law attempts to define certain situations which entitle consumers to their money back or a new vehicle. In a nutshell, any defect or nonconformity, or combination of defects, which is/are not repaired within a reasonable number of attempts or a reasonable amount of time, may entitle you to Lemon Law relief. Your vehicle does NOT have to be breaking down to be considered a lemon. In short, if you are aggravated enough to be reading this you may have a lemon.
What types of products are covered by the Lemon Law?
Almost any type of passenger vehicle is covered by the California Lemon Law. This means that Cars, Trucks, Vans, Motorcycles and many other types of motor vehicles are all covered under the Lemon Law. For Boats, ATVs, RVs and items not covered by the strict definitions of the State Lemon Law, other State and Federal Lemon Laws are available which do cover these products.
What if I Do Not have a Motor Vehicle?
If your product came with a warranty and you are having problems getting defects repaired within a reasonable amount of time and/or a reasonable number of repair attempts, you may be covered under a Federal Warranty Law. This law is similar to the California Lemon Law in that it provides for cash award to the consumer, in addition to attorney’s fees and costs if you are successful.
Are leased vehicles covered?
Yes. The California Lemon Law specifically includes leased vehicles within its coverage.
I Have Heard that I Only Have Eighteen (18) Months to Bring a Case under the Lemon Law, is that True?
In a word – NO! There is a misconception (sometimes spread by uninformed individuals at your authorized dealer) that you must bring your case within the first year because the State Lemon Law requires that you first report the problem within eighteen months of delivery of the vehicle to you. However, this does NOT mean you have to bring your lawsuit within that time frame. First, the California lemon law does not specify a time frame within which you have to bring a case. However, the sooner you do so the better. Second, there are other Lemon Laws (both State and Federal) which can be used to obtain compensation for your problems which may give you even more time.
What if I do not Qualify?
You may still be entitled to Lemon Law relief. There are various State and Federal laws which can be used to help you obtain relief for purchasing a defective product. (Also see “When does my vehicle Qualify?”).
When Does my Vehicle Qualify?
The California Lemon Law is triggered when the vehicle been in the shop for four (4) times or more for the same symptom (what you experienced), for thirty (30) calendar days or more for repairs, or two (2) or more times for a serious nonconformity.
BUT, there is really no such thing as “Qualifying” for Lemon Law help. This is because there are other laws which can be used to help you receive compensation in the event that you do not have a case for technical reasons under the State Lemon Law. (Also see “What if I do not Qualify?”).
What if I Start having Problems After Eighteen Months?
You may still be entitled to compensation. There are various State and Federal laws which can be used to help you obtain relief for purchasing a defective product.
Should I Take it in Again?
The answer to that question depends on the facts and circumstances of each case. Therefore, at this point, the best thing to do is maintain the status quo until you have the chance to speak with a qualified attorney. In other words, do not allow the condition of the vehicle to change by having any repair work done to it. However, if your vehicle is dangerous and you continue to use it, you do so at your own risk. It is important to remember that if you decide to go forward many of the manufacturers will want to inspect your vehicle. You have a much better chance of obtaining the relief you seek if you can demonstrate a defect. If you cannot, you may still be entitled to compensation, but the chances of you getting what you want may be reduced somewhat.
What if they Refuse to Repair?
If the dealer refuses to repair your vehicle, you may also have a claim. The manufacturer has given a warranty, which in most circumstances, requires the dealer to do repair work. If the dealer and/or the manufacturer then refuse to do the repair work, you may have a claim under the Lemon Law, Federal Warranty Law and/or other laws.
What is a Breach of Warranty Case?
Basically, it is the same as a Lemon Law case, however, with two notable differences. First, the standards or requirements for breach of warranty are not as clearly defined. Second, the remedies for breach of warranty are also not as clearly defined. Therefore, you should consult a qualified attorney to discuss whether you may have a breach of warranty case.
What Documents do I Need to Prove a Lemon Law or a Breach of Warranty Case?
The most important documents that you should have are the repair orders that you are given after your vehicle has been in for repair. Each time you take your vehicle in for repair you should make sure that all the information contained on these documents is correct. For example, you should be sure that all the complaints are written up EXACTLY as you have stated them; that ALL of your complaints on that visit are included; that the “dates in” and the “dates out” are correct; that the mileage is correct; etc.
You should be able to get your repair history directly from the authorized dealer(s). If you cannot get them yourself, a qualified attorney may be able to issue a subpoena to the dealership to obtain all the documents on your vehicle. Also, if you keep a calendar of appointments which shows when you took the vehicle in to the dealer, this can be helpful in lieu of or in addition to the repair orders.
What Can I Get for a Lemon Law Case?
The ultimate relief in a Lemon Law Case is your money back or a new car. This is known as a “buy back” or a “repurchase.” In California, the State Lemon Law provides for a Full Refund or a Replacement Vehicle (less a reasonable allowance for use) and mandatory Attorney’s Fees and Costs if the consumer prevails. When that occurs, the defective vehicle is returned to the manufacturer. This is usually done by returning it locally to one of their authorized dealers.
How will my Attorney Get Paid?
Should we agree to represent you, your case will be handled on a contingency basis, whereby our office will not get paid unless you get paid. You will not have to come out-of-pocket to pay our fee! Furthermore, the Law Office of Bill Landsidel may advance all usual and reasonable costs as a part of our representation on certain cases.
What are my Chances?
The law office of Bill Landsiedel will fight for you and your rights, I am committed to high quality aggressive representation for consumers every year with defective vehicles. As with most cases, over 97% of these cases settle to the satisfaction of both parties. Remember, the manufacturer would rather pay less now than risk paying a much larger amount to you, your attorney and their attorneys later.
Can I Resolve This Myself?
You probably should avoid aggravating yourself further and wasting time.
First, there is a reason that all 50 States have some form of a Lemon Law. Laws are passed to remedy problems which have become widespread. However, the mere fact that there is a Lemon Law does not mean that you will be treated differently if you represent yourself. It still costs a manufacturer less to drag it out with an unrepresented consumer and hope you will either go away or take little or nothing, than it would cost them to buy back everyone’s vehicle who made a complaint.
Second, if you fail, you will have wasted precious time if you then have to hire an attorney.
Third, the right law Firm does NOT charge YOU an hourly attorney’s fee! By being represented by the right law Firm you lend legitimacy to your case. If you select a law office that limits their practice to consumer law, the manufacturer will most likely already know your law Firm. If your law Firm has successfully handled multiple Lemon Law claims, the manufacturer will know that you have someone on your side who knows what they are doing. Furthermore, if the manufacturer knows that if you do not get what you want, you have the ability and the will to file a lawsuit, you will be treated with more respect. This is because it costs the manufacturer money just to defend a lawsuit (starting from the moment you file the Complaint) as they have to send it to a qualified local law Firm to defend it.
Can the Attorney General (or other Governmental Sounding Organizations) Help Me?
Not very effectively, if at all. The Attorney General’s Office is an administrative agency, which is part of our State Government. The government cannot act as your private attorney in a civil matter. The most the Attorney General can do is write a letter to the company you are complaining about and ask for their help in resolving your complaint. They cannot file a lawsuit on your behalf. In our experience, the company will usually respond by saying they are doing everything they are obligated to do. Then, the Attorney General will write you a letter explaining that they have done everything they can and that you may want to seek the assistance of a private attorney. You will save yourself precious time by seeking the assistance of a private attorney right away.
You will know when you are dealing with a law Firm as the name(s) of one or more of the lawyers must appear in the title of the Firm. In most States, law Firms are not allowed to practice under a trade name (or other misleading name). Therefore, you can see that Kahn & Associates, L.L.C. is a law Firm of private attorneys, not a governmental agency.
What is Arbitration?
The California Lemon Law provides that manufacturers may set up arbitration programs. These programs receive consumers’ complaints and are supposed to attempt to resolve the legitimate ones prior to a lawsuit being filed with a Court of Law. If the manufacturer has properly set up such a program and it is certified by the State of California, then the consumer’s case may proceed through such a program before a Complaint is filed with a Court of Law. However, not all the manufacturers have such certified arbitration programs and many times the vehicle is ineligible for arbitration due to age or mileage, per the arbitration programs’ own rules. In those cases, the consumer may file a Complaint with a Court of Law without resorting to the arbitration procedure first.
Should I go through Arbitration before Hiring an Attorney?
There is no requirement that you go through arbitration prior to seeking the assistance of a lawyer. First of all, not all of the manufacturers have “State certified” arbitration programs in California. This means that arbitration is optional for those consumers who have vehicles manufactured by companies who do not.
Second, for those who have gone to arbitration prior to seeking an attorney, many have informed us that they were treated with great disrespect and made to feel inferior because they were unfamiliar with the law and the manufacturer knew much more about the process and the mechanics of the vehicle. Therefore, The Law Office of Bill Landsiedel assists most of our clients by going through this arbitration procedure with them. Also,The Law office of Bill Landsiedel believes that having a law Firm’s letterhead on your file gives your case more credibility.
Whatever the arbitrator(s) decide, the consumer is not bound by the decision and can file a Complaint in a court of law requesting a jury trial. This is usually your best chance for a positive recovery and is usually done by a lawyer. This does not mean that your case will not settle prior to trial however. Most cases do settle prior to trial.
What if I Bought my Vehicle Used?
First, if you still had any warranty left from the manufacturer when you purchased your vehicle (or your vehicle was “Certified” by the manufacturer or dealer), and you made at least one unsuccessful warranty claim before the warranty ended, you may be entitled to compensation for breach of warranty. If not, your case may raise a whole host of issues which are beyond the scope of this “Frequently Asked Questions” section. However, you may be entitled to compensation for violations of various laws which you may not even be aware of. The following is a list of some of the problems and/or issues which may be present in your vehicle.
Your vehicle may be/have a: Laundered lemon (or prior history of mechanical problems known to the seller); Salvaged or wrecked; Rolled back odometer; Rental car, police car, taxi, etc.; Stolen, stripped and rebuilt; and/or Involved in a flood.
What should I do if I have purchased a Used Car with problems?
If you are having problems with a used car that are not covered by a manufacturer’s warranty or manufacturer’s extended warranty, one or more of the following procedures may prove to be useful in discovering whether there is something about your vehicle that you were not told:
- Call 1-888-4-Car Fax;
- Do a Title Search;
- See a body shop mechanic to determine if your vehicle was wrecked;
- Have your Insurance Company run your Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) on their computer (may be called a C.L.U.E. report) to see if an accident claim was ever made with another insurance company; and/or
- Go to an authorized dealer and have them check the computer to see if it was wrecked or to let you know what the mileage was every time the vehicle was in for repair.
What if I was Lied To, Misled or Taken Advantage of in Connection with the Purchase of my Vehicle?
Again, your case may raise a whole host of issues which are beyond the scope of this “Frequently Asked Questions” section. However, there are many State and Federal laws to protect you which can be used to assist victims of fraudulent and deceptive sales practices.
A great reference site to help you answer you questions is the California Department of Consumer Affairs. www.dca.ca.gov
A great source for further Consumer Law information is: www.Lawyers.com, which has a very complete information data base.