Lemon Law Questions

There are a number of legal and factual issues that regularly arise in various California lemon law cases. Below are some Frequently Asked Questions we routinely encounter during our Lemon Law litigation and advocacy. Keep in mind that the following information is based on general California law, which is continually subject to change and dependent on the facts of each individual case.

Iif you believe you have a potential Lemon Law claim, contact an attorney at the Auto Fraud Legal Center for a free consultation. We litigate throughout the state of California, including but not limited to, San Diego, Los Angeles, Orange County, Imperial, San Bernardino, Riverside, Ventura, Fresno, and the Bay Area. Please contact our law firm with any additional questions.

The Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act (of which the Lemon Law is a subset) actually applies to all consumer products sold in California and covered by a manufacturer’s or retail seller’s warranty. A consumer product is defined as a product that is purchased or used primarily for personal, family or household purposes. Examples of vehicles covered by the law are automobiles, trucks, recreational vehicles, boats, personal watercraft and motorcycles.

There has been a recent amendment to the Lemon Law that provides protection for vehicles purchased for business use if the business in question has no more than five vehicles, weighing less than 10,000 pounds each, registered in its name in California. Vehicles used for driving to and from work typically aren’t subject to any “business” restrictions laid out by the Lemon Law provided that they were also purchased for personal, family or household uses.

Another common misconception is that the California Lemon Law only applies to new motor vehicles or products. This is not true. The Lemon Law applies to any consumer product, new or used, with a problem that started while still under warranty, including extended warranties.

There is a common misconception that the Lemon Law only applies for one year. But in fact the Lemon Law covers problems that started during the warranty period (even with 10-year warranties), as long as the vehicle was brought in for repair during the warranty period for the specified complaint. The actual suit can be filed after the warranty has expired (see the following question).

As a general rule, a vehicle that suffers from a material defect(s) is a lemon if it remains unrepaired after a “reasonable number” of repair opportunities (as little as two repair opportunities in the case of safety defects). A material defect or “nonconformity” to the warranty is defined as a defect that “substantially impairs the use, value or safety” of the vehicle. Serious safety defects such as brake or steering failure or stalling easily meet this standard, and most mechanical or driveability problems will qualify under this standard. Many other problems, however, may also qualify as material defects, including problems related to cosmetics and comfort. An unacceptable number of “little problems” also affects the issue of whether the use, value or safety of your vehicle has been substantially impaired.

What constitutes a “reasonable number” of repair opportunities is a question that can best be answered on a case-by-case basis. With over 20 years of experience, our firm can provide a quick, cost-free evaluation as to whether your vehicle qualifies for protection under the California Lemon Law.

If your vehicle or other consumer product is a lemon, you are entitled to have it repurchased or, if the manufacturer or retailer is willing, to have it replaced. In other words, if they are unwilling to replace a lemon product they must repurchase the product. If you choose a replacement vehicle, you’re entitled to a motor vehicle “substantially identical” to the vehicle being replaced. The manufacturer or retailer is responsible for paying all taxes and licensing fees.

If you choose to have your vehicle repurchased, you’re entitled to a refund of all monies invested in the lemon, including down payment, monthly finance payments and payoff of the finance contract. In either the case of a replacement or repurchase, you are also entitled to recover expenses such as towing costs, rental car fees and repair costs.

The manufacturer or retailer is entitled to deduct from your recovery (or charge you in the case of a replacement vehicle) an amount for your use of the lemon vehicle prior to the first repair opportunity. The Lemon Law provides a formula that calculates the so-called “mileage deduction” as follows: mileage at the time of the first repair opportunity of the defect, divided by 120,000, times the actual price paid or payable by the buyer. So, for example, if your vehicle had 12,000 miles the first time the manufacturer’s representative tried to fix the vehicle, and you paid $20,000 for the vehicle, there would be a $2,000 deduction from your recovery under the Lemon Law.

The CA Lemon Law contains another strong enforcement mechanism to deter manufacturers and retail sellers from violating consumers’ rights: Defendants who willfully fail to comply with their obligations to repurchase or replace lemon products are subject to a civil penalty of up to two times the buyer’s actual damages.