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When Life Gives You Lemons: California Lemon Law & Car Buying Tips


Bought a Lemon? CA Lemon Law Tips For Buying A New Car

Buying a new car is exciting; the fresh car smell, the shiny new dashboard, the spotless carpet covers. But what happens if something goes terribly wrong and you find yourself at the car shop more often than on the road? In other words, what if you’ve bought a lemon? The information below will help you to navigate your next steps after realizing your new car is a lemon.


Tip 1: Do not wait to take the car into the dealership for repairs

New cars should not have problems. Don’t worry about seeming overly cautious, you have a right to the quality of your investment. Be specific about what your concerns and issues are. Do not assume the dealership will be able to blindly identify issues without the clues you have. If you have gotten your car repaired and the issue resurfaces, don’t wait to bring it in. Also, remember that the dealership is not the party responsible, the car manufacturer is. The more patience you have with the dealership, the more willing they will be to help get you any information you need and to assist in holding the dealership responsible.


Tip 2: Make sure to keep all records

Don’t be afraid to ask for a print out after each visit to the repair shop. In the case that the issue is not resolvable, it is very important to be able to prove how many times you have attempted to fix the problem. Have the mechanic verify the mileage each time the car is seen. In the case that your car is a lemon, the manufacturer will use mileage to figure how many “good miles” you were able to get out of the car before and between problems arose. Keep in mind that car add-ons and upgrades will not be included in any buy-back situation, so don’t invest in any alarm or stereo systems until all problems with the vehicle have been sorted.


Does Lemon Law Apply To Used Cars? Lemon Law & Used Car Buying Tips

Many people may wonder “is there a lemon law for used cars?” Under California used car lemon law, used cars still under warranty and certified pre-owned cars are included under the used car lemon law in California. However, understand that because the California lemon law is specific to the State of California (lemon laws have various differences depending on the state), the vehicle must have been purchased in the State of California to qualify.

Another important consideration is that lemon laws do not apply to vehicles bought “as-is.”


Tips 1 & 2 (from above):

The above new car buying tips also apply to buying a used car: be sure to bring up any issues with the vehicle sooner rather than later and keep all paperwork and any service records.


Tip 3: Have a professional examine the vehicle on your behalf

Another tip for buying a used car is that prior to actually purchasing the vehicle, have a trusted mechanic or otherwise qualified and disinterested third party perform an examination of the vehicle’s condition. Understand that if you are not a mechanic by trade, there could be issues with the car that you just don’t know to look for and may not notice during a test drive, or even several test drives. Even if you have to pay someone to perform a thorough examination, it’s worth it as a qualified professional’s opinion may save you a lot of heartache (and money) in the long run.


Tip 4: Know the vehicle’s history

It also pays to know the car’s history. Was it stolen? Wrecked? Flooded? These are all valid questions and you wouldn’t necessarily know the answer to any of them just by test driving a car. While many mechanics may be able to spot a wrecked vehicle during an examination, this isn’t always the case. A thorough mechanical evaluation also won’t tell you anything about the title history or if the car is actually stolen. The good news is that this information is relatively easy to obtain and only requires that you know the vehicle’s VIN number (and possibly that you pay a fee depending on the resource(s) that you choose). One of the best used car buying tips is to obtain a Vehicle History Report in an effort to ascertain whether a vehicle:

  • Has been in any severe accidents
  • Has an odometer that’s been rolled back
  • Has “lemon history”
  • Has been stolen
  • Has been in a flood

Some resources for obtaining information on a vehicle’s history include:

That’s Great, But How Does The Lemon Law Work?

Whether or not you followed the above advice, let’s say that you still ended up with a lemon. Much like other matters of civil law are often solved through mediation (in lieu of actually going to court), resolving a problem with a lemon can often be achieved through arbitration. Understand that arbitration is not required prior to filing a lemon law case, but it can often yield the desired results for the plaintiff and will cost nothing but the required time and energy.

While arbitration is completely free and voluntary (not to mention a great first step to consider), many who file and are unsuccessful in their arbitration hearings still go on to file a lemon law case. Most dealerships include an arbitration clause in the paperwork for a car, but don’t let it scare you. Here are some helpful links about what arbitration is:

Arbitration of Lemon Law Claims


Filing a Lemon Law Case in California

If you find yourself in the position of actually having to file a case, the State of California has helpful information about the California lemon law whether you’re dealing with a new or used car. In any case, you will need an attorney to sort through the nuances of your particular case and to properly represent your interests in court. Per the California Department of Justice:

“A purchaser or lessee of a motor vehicle has various rights under both state and federal law if the vehicle does not perform as provided under an express warranty. Warranty law can be complex, and it is impossible to describe comprehensively all of the law in a brief space…

The “Lemon Law” applies to these problems if they arise during the first 18 months after the consumer received delivery of the vehicle or within the first 18,000 miles on the odometer, whichever occurs first. During the first 18 months or 18,000 miles, the “Lemon Law” presumes that a manufacturer has had a reasonable number of attempts to repair the vehicle if either (1) the same problem results in a condition that is likely to cause death or serious bodily injury if the vehicle is driven and the problem has been subject to repair two or more times by the manufacturer or its agents, and the buyer or lessee has at least once directly notified the manufacturer of the need for the repair of the problem as provided in the warranty or owner’s manual or (2) the same problem has been subject to repair four or more times by the manufacturer or its agents and the buyer has at least once directly notified the manufacturer of the need for the repair of the problem as provided in the warranty or owner’s manual or (3) the vehicle is out of service because of the repair of any number of problems by the manufacturer or its agents for a cumulative total of more than 30 days since delivery of the vehicle. The “Lemon Law” presumption is a guide, not an absolute rule.”

The information linked above will fill in many of the blanks for you, but each case is unique and so it’s really impossible to get any more good advice without consulting an attorney.

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