Lemon Law FAQs: What Is My Responsibility as the Vehicle Owner?

What Is a Lemon?

When a vehicle is defective, California consumers are protected under the Tanner Consumer Protection Act, or California Civile Code § 1793.22. This is a subdivision of the larger Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act. Vehicles that are considered lemons are those that have a manufacturing defect that the manufacturer/dealer is unable to repair after a reasonable number of attempts. According to the statutes above, the manufacturer is still required to fulfill the express and implied warranties associated with the vehicle. They may do so by repairing the car, replacing the vehicle, or buying it back from the consumer. When a manufacturer fails to do so, the consumer has the option to file a civil suit.

Common manufacturing problems that result in Lemon Law claims include:

  • Airbags
  • Air conditioning systems
  • Brakes
  • Electrical systems
  • Engines
  • EV batteries
  • Seat belts
  • Steering issues
  • Transmissions

New, used, and leased vehicles are all protected under California's Lemon Law, but some limitations exist. Generally speaking, a vehicle must still be under warranty (or the defect must have been discovered and reported while the vehicle was still under warranty) to qualify for a Lemon Law claim. Similarly, a used car that is still under warranty (or sold with a written warranty) will likely be eligible, but if you purchased a used vehicle "as is," it will not qualify for a Lemon Law claim.

To learn more about determining if your car is a lemon, review our blog post here.

What Is Expected of Me as the Consumer?

While California's Lemon Law protects consumers, consumers do also bear some responsibility in the process. The primary responsibility of the consumer is to notify the manufacturer of the problem and give them a reasonable opportunity to resolve the issue. If you have a vehicle that is still under warranty and are having problems with it, you should contact the manufacturer or dealer right away to notify them of the issue. It is important you do this as soon as you discover the problem, and do not wait until your warranty expires.

As the consumer, you are also expected to demonstrate that the vehicle's defect was significant.

Keep Record of All Repair Attempts

Also, as the owner or lessee of the vehicle, you should keep a clear record of all repair attempts and communications between yourself and the manufacturer. Further, take note of the problems you are having, when they started, how they manifested, and anything else that may be relevant. You may also wish to take pictures.

You should keep a record of the following:

  • All maintenance work done on the vehicle
  • All repair work performed on the vehicle
  • Your communications with the manufacturer or dealer
  • When and for how long the car was inoperable because of the problem
  • How long the dealer kept the vehicle while attempting to repair it
  • Any expenses you incurred related to the problem, including towing fees, rental car expenses, etc.

If your car is a lemon and you need to file a claim, all this information is crucial to resolve your suit successfully.

Understand Your Warranty

Because Lemon Law claims are tied to manufacturer's warranties, it's important that you review and thoroughly understand your warranty when purchasing or leasing a vehicle. You want to make sure you know the warranty terms, what is covered, and what period after purchase the warranty covers. Typically, Lemon Law eligibility applies to the first 18 months or 18,000 miles, but some dealerships may sell extended warranties. Lemon Laws do not typically apply to extended repair warranties, and claims can only be filed under the manufacturer's original warranty. Understanding your warranty can help you determine if you have grounds for a Lemon Law claim or if you should file a breach of warranty claim instead.

Work with an Experienced Attorney

If you believe you have a lemon and need to file a suit, you should consult with an experienced attorney like ours at Norman Taylor & Associates. Lemon Law claims can be complicated, but working with a skilled lawyer can help you increase your chances of a successful, smooth resolution.