Few things are more exciting than purchasing a new (or new to you) vehicle. For many in California, buying a car is the result of extensive saving, planning, researching, and test driving. For some buyers, however, bringing home a new vehicle is the beginning of a cascade of problems.
If your new car purchase begins to feel more like a burden than a benefit, California law offers protections known as “lemon laws.” As with all legal matters, each lemon law case is unique and requires careful consideration of the details. But you can rest assured that if an individual or business selling you a vehicle that is not in proper condition, you have an avenue of legal recourse.
What is the California lemon law?
The California lemon law is legislation that seeks to protect car buyers from getting stuck with a vehicle that fails to meet certain standards. In general, this includes vehicles that don’t meet safety or performance expectations.
It’s important to understand that not every vehicle falls under the protection of California lemon laws. The law is intended to cover vehicles that are still covered under the manufacturer’s new vehicle warranty. This includes used cars that are still covered under the initial new car warranty.
California residents who are also full-time, active-duty members of the United States Armed Forces receive lemon law protection for vehicles purchased or registered outside of the state of California. All others must purchase or lease the vehicle in California to receive these protections.
Under the California lemon law, vehicle manufacturers are required to buy back any vehicle that has a problem that cannot be adequately addressed within a reasonable effort to repair the issue.
How do I know when to file a California lemon law case?
The protections allowed under the California lemon law kick in after the owner has made a “reasonable” attempt to repair the vehicle. The guidelines for what constitutes a “reasonable” attempt include taking the car to an auto repair shop registered with the California Bureau of Automotive Repair four or more times for the same issue, with no resolution.
Your car might also be considered a lemon if the problem is serious enough that it could lead to a fatal or devastating accident and is not properly repaired after two visits to the mechanic. If your car is out of service for more than 30 days, and not necessarily consecutive days, then you have a good chance of being covered under the lemon law.
If the problem develops within the first 18 months after delivery of the vehicle, or within the first 18,000 miles, the vehicle will likely be considered a lemon. However, any problems that arise within the manufacturer’s warranty period and cannot be repaired within a reasonable amount of time can fall under the lemon law.
What kinds of issues could prevent my case from being covered under the California lemon law?
It’s important to understand various circumstances that might preclude you from being protected under the California lemon law. This can help you make well-informed choices and know when to seek legal recourse.
If your vehicle manufacturer’s warranty requires you to notify the manufacturer about your car’s issue, you must do so as soon as possible. Vehicles that are no longer covered under the manufacturer’s warranty are not protected by California lemon laws.
If the problem was brought on by unauthorized or unreasonable use of the vehicle after purchase, that can also reduce or preclude protection.
How long does it take for lemon law cases to be resolved in California?
It’s understandable to want to know what to expect when you move forward with a lemon law case. After all, most people need their vehicles to get to school, work, and to take care of household needs.
As with most legal matters, the specific details of your case will determine how long it takes to fully resolve things. In many cases, the issues are straightforward and be resolved through a settlement. Usually, the manufacturer offers to purchase the car from you in a buyback. Once you agree on an amount the transaction takes place relatively quickly.
In other cases a manufacturer might want to argue certain points in your lemon law claim. This can increase the amount of time it takes to resolve the case. The discovery process can also take time to complete as both sides gather and share information about the case and argue various motions in court. Cases where the defects are complex can also take longer to resolve than ones where the mechanical or safety issue is simple or is already known to be a problem with that specific make or model.
Arbitration offers a path to a swifter resolution for many cases. Under this approach you agree to work with the manufacturer to resolve the case outside of court. While this option can yield results in as little as 30-40 days, there is a risk that the outcome will not be as favorable as it might be if you pursue other options. Arbitration often yields the best results for the manufacturer, not the consumer who is stuck with an unsafe or inoperable vehicle.
How can I resolve my California lemon law case as quickly as possible?
It helps to begin by working with a skilled lemon law attorney. Legal professionals who specialize in this area of practice understand that each lemon law case is unique and work with you to learn the full details of your circumstances. That allows them to advise you on the best course of action to secure a good outcome.
You can speed the process along by being responsive to requests for more information. It also helps to provide as much documentation as possible in the early stages of the case. Of course, you should also take action to move forward with a lemon law case as soon as it becomes clear that there is a serious problem with the vehicle. The sooner you begin, the sooner the matter can be resolved either through settlement or in a court of law.