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California Lemon Law Handbook


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California Lemon Law – Quick Reference Guide

The California lemon law offers protection for buyers of new cars, trucks, motorhomes, and motorcycles. The California lemon law provides different options to the consumer and manufacturer.

For cars and trucks that qualify under the California lemon law, the manufacturer must offer to replace or repurchase the offending “lemon” vehicle, however, the consumer cannot be forced to accept a replacement. The California lemon law treats motorhomes and motorcycles differently in that it allows the manufacturer to repurchase or replace the product, at its discretion.

Automobile manufacturers will print warranty books that contain “instructions” for consumers who think they may have a lemon vehicle that qualifies under California lemon law. Consumers must remember that these lemon law “instructions” or “steps to follow” are what the automobile manufacturer wants you to do, and is NOT the California lemon law. For example, many manufacturers warranty books will attempt to direct the consumer with a California lemon law claim to attend an arbitration hearing. Arbitration is NOT required under the California Lemon Law to pursue a lemon law claim. Nor is there any requirement under the California Lemon Law to bring a lemon law claim within 18 months or 18,000 miles. You as the consumer have the entire new vehicle limited warranty period (usually 3 years/36,000 miles or 4 years/50,000 miles) to bring your California lemon law claim. If the repeated problem continues to occur after the expiration of the new car warranty, you may still be entitled to protection under the California lemon law. The California lemon law also uses the manufacturer’s “extra power-train warranty coverage” as lemon law protection for consumers. These extended “power-train” warranties often provide for coverage as long as 100,000 miles, and can be utilized to qualify a vehicle as a “lemon” under the California lemon law.

When our California lemon law was passed many years ago, the automobile manufacturers were allowed to set up non-binding arbitration as an OPTION for the consumer to utilize in an attempt to settle their lemon law dispute. Consumers in California must realize that these dispute resolution mediums are often nothing more than a way for automobile manufacturers to be given “another chance” at fixing the consumers vehicle. One of the potential decisions that can be handed down at an arbitration hearing is “the repair decision.” The automobile manufacturer’s representative argues to the arbitrator that the manufacturer should be given an additional attempt to repair the vehicle, or argues that they (coincidentally) “now have a fix developed” for the consumer’s repeated defective condition. The consumer often goes into a arbitration hearing expecting a “win” or “lose” decision, but becomes stunned when finding out that the outcome of the arbitration for their lemon law claim is simply to return back to the dealer for more repair attempts! The arbitrators are not lawyers. Participation in an arbitration is NOT required to pursue a legal claim in California under the lemon law.

“Customer Assistance Centers”. Consumers can call the manufacturer’s toll-free “assistance center” (this phone number is usually contained in the manufacture’s warranty booklet) and explain that they feel they have a vehicle that qualifies under the California lemon law. The manufacturer’s representative will typically assign a “case number” to the consumer’s complaint. Often times the unknowing consumer thinks this “case number” means that something will be done, especially when followed by the potential language of “we are opening a case number for you.” Consumers can be mislead that this is the “opening” or “start” of a legal California lemon law case. It is NOT. A “case number” is often nothing more than a reference number to the consumer that allows the automobile manufacturer to establish a numerical file on the consumer which can be used to index any future calls.

“Dealer Trade Assist”. Consumers need to be VERY aware of this “trick of the automobile trade.” Consumers who have been having repeated problems with their vehicle will often seek lemon law relief by asking their car dealer to “buy back” or replace their vehicle. What the consumer does NOT know is that the dealer does not have the responsibility under the California lemon law to repurchase or replace the offending vehicle. This is where “opportunity knocks” for the car dealer in many instances. The car dealer “responds” to the consumer’s request by “offering” to resolve the consumer’s dreadful car problem by offering “to take them out of their car” or “get you out of this car and into a new one” or similar verbiage. This is NOT the California lemon law. This is an example of an opportunistic dealer sales tactic of making the consumer believe that they are getting California lemon law relief, but in reality the car dealer is taking the offending vehicle in trade, and simply selling the consumer another vehicle at a handsome profit to the dealer! The dealer often hears consumers say, “You have to get me out of this vehicle.” They are simply taking the customers grief and turning it into profit, while the consumer loses part of or all of their earned equity in their vehicle, often resulting in the loss of thousands of dollars. This “dealer trade assist” can often result in the dealer inflating the price of the “replacement” car and putting the consumer further into debt. Consumers should be very aware that the car dealership is in business to make a profit and to sell cars. The “dealer trade assist” is another example of how a consumer in California can unknowingly THINK they are getting relief from the California lemon law, but are simply being taken advantage of.

What is the consumer to do? Consumers can simplify the entire California lemon law process by utilizing the services of a specialized lemon law attorney. We are California Lemon Law Attorneys, California’s largest lemon law firm. You can call us toll-free at 1-800-647-8127 for a free consultation or review of your repair documents to see if you qualify for protection and relief under the California lemon law. The California lemon law has a provision for attorney’s fees, making the automobile manufacturer pay the attorney for time spent on a lemon law claim.