California lemon law is full of gray areas and misinformation. Lemon law exists to protect consumers who have been sold a faulty vehicle. The Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act – known a CA lemon law – holds manufacturers accountable and requires them to refund buyers of defective vehicles.
Returning a defective vehicle isn’t like returning something to Walmart. There is a long legal process involved in earning the full compensation. Unfortunately, lemon law is a field that is jam-packed with misinformation online. Most consumers are experiencing a lemon for the first time. Automakers and dealerships have no problem leading them astray to get out of a refund.
In this post, we want to debunk six of the biggest myths we hear about California lemon law.
Let’s get going.
1. A Defect Immediately Rules a Vehicle a Lemon
This one isn’t so much of a myth as it is a common question.
Many consumers reach out to a lemon law lawyer as soon as they notice something is wrong with the vehicle they purchased. Make no mistake – there is NOTHING wrong with doing this. Most lemon attorneys are happy to point consumers in the right direction, even if they don’t have a case.
The first sign of a defect does not automatically deem a vehicle a lemon. For a vehicle to be legally ruled a lemon in California, there are some qualifications it needs to meet before you can file a claim, including:
- The vehicle has a substantial defect – covered under the warranty – that impairs its safety, functionality or value.
- The defect was not a result of driver abuse.
- The manufacturer or dealer has been given a reasonable number of repair attempts to fix the warranty-covered defect (usually at least two)
- The vehicle has been out of service for warranty-covered repairs for 30 or more days.
In short, once you can prove the manufacturer isn’t able to repair the defect, you can begin the process of pursuing a claim.
2. The Defect Must Occur in the First 18 Months/18K Miles
This is by far the biggest myth surrounding California lemon law.
There are so many resources out there telling consumers they cannot seek a lemon law claim if it’s been more than 18 months after the purchase date or there are more than 18,000 miles accrued on the odometer. This is not true.
The 18 months/18K miles limitations merely refer to lemon law presumption. This just means your case will be much stronger if the vehicle is within these confines.
The truth is you can pursue a lemon law claim as long as the defect was first reported to the manufacturer within the terms of the warranty. Manufacturer warranties are usually good for three years or before 36,000 miles accrue on the odometer – but these numbers can vary based on the brand.
Even if the warranty expires after you reported it – and the automaker isn’t able to repair it – your claim is still valid.
3. Used Vehicles Don’t Apply Under California Lemon Law
This is an easy myth to get confused. Lemon law exists across the USA – but the details vary based on the state you’re in. Most states only have lemon law in place for new vehicles, of which are covered under the manufacturer warranty.
However, there are seven states with lemon laws protecting used vehicles – California being one of them.
Vehicles sold at dealerships are either sold with a dealer warranty or an implied warranty of merchantability.
Dealer warranties are usually good for 30 days after purchase or before 1,000 miles accrue on the odometer. Implied warranties are in place if a) there is no dealer warranty specified on the buyer’s guide and b) the vehicle is not being sold “as is” – which must also be displayed on the buyer’s guide. Implied warranties are usually good for at least 60 days.
If you report the defect to the dealership within the terms of the warranty, the lemon law process functions the same as a new vehicle.
4. Arbitration is a Better Alternative to Court
This is a terrible myth we see perpetuated by manufacturers.
Keep in mind, it will be extremely difficult to win a full buyback for a defective vehicle without a California lemon law attorney on your side. That said, manufacturers will try to convince you not to hire one. The most common method of doing this is by telling you arbitration is a “cheaper”, “easier” alternative to going to court.
In reality, it’s only cheaper and easier for them.
Arbitration – and the arbitrators – are paid for by the manufacturer. More often than not, arbitration ends in the consumer getting a low-ball cash settlement, rather than a full buyback. Imagine playing a game of basketball, only the referees have been hired by the other team. Chances are, they won’t call a fair game. The same applies to lemon law arbitration.
You ALWAYS want to hire a lemon law attorney and use the court system your tax dollars pay for. While it may take longer, your chances of earning proper compensation are significantly greater.
5. Lemon Law Lawyers Will Drag Out the Process to Drive Up Costs
This is another one of the lemon law myths we see manufacturers perpetuate to discourage consumers from seeking a lemon attorney.
Big name automakers have little intention of providing a buyback (refund) to customers after selling them a faulty vehicle. Not only are buybacks expensive, these companies have a global brand reputation to preserve. They know their chances of having to pay for a buyback go significantly up if the consumer hires an attorney. It’s in their best interests to steer consumers away from this option.
So, the notion that lemon lawyers purposely drag out the process to run their fees up is complete nonsense. It’s actually the opposite. Manufacturers have all sorts of tricks to prolong the buyback process – in hopes the consumer will give up and take a cash settlement.
Lemon law attorneys do not get paid until they win the case. That said, speedy buybacks are the top priority in most lemon law firms.
6. Lemon Law Lawyers Are Expensive
Before we dive too deep into this myth, it’s important to know that no good legal defense comes cheap. But in regards to lemon law, attorneys work on a contingency fee agreement. This means consumers don’t have to pay a penny out-of-pocket upfront.
The attorney makes a percentage of the buyback recovery after they win the case. Additionally, good lemon lawyers will not take your case unless they think they can win. In other words, ANYONE can afford to hire a lemon law attorney.
There is no shortage of myths and misconceptions in California lemon law. Following the wrong information can potentially ruin your lemon law claim and leave you stuck with a defective vehicle.
Keep in mind, the manufacturer is NOT on your side at any point in the process. As soon as your vehicle meets the criteria of CA lemon law, don’t even bother speaking with them anymore. They are now your opponent to earning justice. Reach out to a lemon attorney and begin the process of filing a claim.
Hopefully, this post cleared up some confusion or misinformation you had about the state’s law.
Brian K. Cline’s Lemon Law Legal Group provides premier legal services. Our California lemon law lawyers aggressively and ethically force vehicle manufacturers to buy back defective and dangerous vehicles. Our team includes experienced trial lawyers with over 40 years of combined trial experience.