What you need to know about the California car lemon law.

The Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, commonly referred to as the automobile lemon law in California, provides protections for consumers of motor vehicles. This law addresses problem vehicles, or “lemons” that despite being new, do not function as they should and are in constant need of repair. The lemon law gives both the manufacturer and consumer guidelines for making repair attempts and for consumer reimbursement should those repairs not correct the problem.

California Lemon Law Applies to New and Used Cars

California’s lemon law applies to both purchased and leased cars that are new or used, but only if the car is still covered under the manufacturer’s original warranty.  This means that the automobile lemon law applies only to cars that are still within the manufacturer’s warranty that came with the car when it was purchased as new. For example, if your car had a 3 year, 36,000 mile warranty, then the lemon law applies during this time only. If the original warranty has expired, the lemon law in California does not apply to that car.

Repair Attempts Under the Car Lemon Law

Understand that the manufacturer is allowed to make “a reasonable number of repair attempts” before further action can be taken. “A reasonable number” is subjective and open to interpretation by both the manufacturer and the consumer.

For brand new cars, there are additional and more specific repair guidelines. If a manufacturer has made four or more attempts to repair the same defect within the first 18 months or 18,000 miles (whichever comes first) of the car’s life, then the vehicle can be declared a lemon.

Reimbursement Under the Automobile Lemon Law

If the manufacturer is unable to make the needed repairs, you are then entitled to a vehicle replacement or refund. Under the law, you can choose which offer to take, the replacement car or the refund.

Although you are entitled to a refund of the purchase price of the car and associated fees, the depreciation value of the car can be deducted from your refund. For example, if drove the car for 10,000 miles before bringing it in for service, the manufacturer can apply a depreciation formula to that 10,000 miles reducing your refund.  In this case, you would not be reimbursed for the full purchase price of the car.

The Disclaimer

This article is for informational purposes only and should not be taken as legal advice. Contact an attorney specializing in consumer law for legal advice.  Consumer lawyers may advertise themselves as California lemon law attorney specialists. Check references before retaining a lawyer.