Navigating Lemon Law: Tips for Hiring a Skilled Attorney in Dana Point, CA

The point of a lemon law for vehicles is to protect consumers from being defrauded in a car sale. Vehicles have the high-risk combination of requiring a sizable sum of money to purchase, involving technical qualities and performance that a consumer can’t evaluate easily from simply looking at the product, and it can literally affect a person’s life when being used. As a result of a long history of problems with unscrupulous sales, especially in the used car market, lemon laws are passed in various states to protect consumers accordingly. However, the laws alone don’t automatically produce protection; a party stuck with a bad car or product needs to hire a Dana Point lemon law attorney to proactively enforce a lemon law case.

How it Works

A lemon law provides a consumer with a time window to reverse a purchase of a vehicle that is obviously defective or not what was advertised and marketed for sale. With new cars, this is a fairly easy concept; the vehicle should perform reliably and operate as if the driver is the first one to ever use it. For used cars and trucks, however, this expectation becomes a bit more challenging. The lemon law is triggered by a repeated need for repairs and fixes immediately after the car or truck has been bought or the discovery of a clearly failing issue that should have been disclosed at purchase.

The California lemon law applies specifically to durable consumer goods that are bought outright or leased for personal use. It doesn’t apply to commercial purchases. Generally, the manufacturer or provider has a certain number of opportunities to make things right with repairs before the lemon law kicks in. If the manufacturer can’t make things right, or can’t effect a proper repair, then that seller has a choice: refund the sale or replace it with a like product. California’s lemon law is used as consumer protection on vehicles, motorcycles, trucks, and vans. It applies to both new and used vehicles sold in working order, especially where there are sales under warranty.

Manufacturers and sellers don’t just see the impact of the law at the point of sale. The lemon law requires specific product sellers to have sufficient and adequate resources for repairs available so a consumer can bring the product to that location easily for a remedy. The repair can’t take longer than 30 days either. Repairs are limited to a set number of attempts before a refund or replacement has to be provided, and if needed, the manufacturer or seller has to cover the consumer’s attorney expenses involved as well. Manufacturers and sellers can also end up being responsible for any damages suffered by a consumer who bought the defective vehicle as well. A lemon law lawyer allows a victim to enforce the law as described.

Confusion About What Qualifies as a “Lemon”

Not every car automatically passes the bill as a “lemon,” even when bought by a consumer and doesn’t work correctly. A couple of criteria have to be met under the law to qualify.

First, the most telling criteria involve a warranty or protection already provided with the vehicle when sold, used, or new. A common example would be a car warranty or a used car certification of operation warranty that everything is checked and working correctly. This has a huge influence on people being willing to buy a given vehicle, so it stands to reason the law protects them from fraud.

Second, the vehicle is bought from a manufacturer or licensed dealer. Private-party sales do not count as covered consumer sales.

Third, the dealer or manufacturer has been given a reasonable number of chances to fix the vehicle before a recovery decision has to be made.

Finally, the problem with the vehicle must be material, i.e., serious to its operation. Wear and tear changes don’t count. Conditions that typically qualify include the car engine not running correctly, the tires having irregular, immediate wear from failing alignment, the transmission thunking and jumping during speed changes, etc. Even then, it’s still a good idea to work with a California lemon law attorney versed in vehicle and product warranty to know for sure what is considered “material” to a car’s function.

Remedy and Replacement

As noted above, when a repair option doesn’t work after multiple tries, the consumer is entitled under California lemon law to a refund or replacement. The most direct remedy, of course, is repayment of what the consumer originally paid for the vehicle. If the consumer had to hire an attorney to enforce this right, then the manufacturer or dealer has to pay those costs as well. However, the manufacturer or seller can always try to reach a mutual cash settlement, or it has the option of replacing the defective vehicle with a like replacement. Sometimes, however, the vehicle had some genuine use before it became defective; in these cases, a refund less the value of genuine good use would apply.

Additionally, where it is clear that the dealer or manufacturer intentionally tried or succeeded in defrauding consumers with a clearly defective vehicle, and they knew it was defective, that seller can be held accountable under civil law for related damages. California has a very significant civil punishment for intentional fraud, with penalties adding up to twice the practical damages that apply. Again, a lemon law attorney provides key guidance on how to pursue such a case if it applies.

New Cars Are Not An Exception

Again, as long as the car was sold by a manufacturer or dealer with a warranty, even now, the vehicle falls under the state’s lemon law. Many times, a dealership will direct to the warranty program and then may create a number of delays or simple fixes to potentially avoid the real repair needed. This type of strategy is focused on “burning down” the warranty coverage period, usually one year or 30,000 miles, whichever comes first. Once the warranty is expired, the vehicle has been used so much additional repairs fall under wear and tear and are no longer covered. If a consumer feels they are getting the run around with simple responses to a warranty request when the real issue remains a serious problem, a lemon law attorney can potentially provide significant clarity and a better response with serious repairs.

What Happens if a Used Car is Sold With No Warranty?

The Lemon law requires that a warranty is sold with the car being bought, new, or used. Otherwise, there is no lemon law protection. A used car is then essentially bought as-is. The lemon law applies to used cars, where:

  • A prior existing or original warranty is still valid and has not yet expired
  • The warranty that applies can be an extended warranty that was added to the original, which otherwise would have expired.
  • The used vehicle is certified working and has inadequate operational order. Certification counts as a warranty.

Further, even with California’s lemon law providing as much protection as it does, the consumer protection is time-limited. Again, anything outside an existing warranty period doesn’t count. Additionally, anything claimed after the normal legal statute of limitations also doesn’t have any protection either (consumers have four years to file in court from the time a defect is identified and discovered).

Don’t Accept Poor Products or Vehicles

A Dana Point, lemon law attorney, can definitely provide professional guidance on how a lemon law case can be applied. Don’t hesitate to bring in this skillset. Not doing so only allows companies that sell bad vehicles or products to continue doing so, thinking they’ve gotten away with their behavior.

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