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#309 Lemon Law

mp3 #309 California Automobile Lemon Law (mp3 file)

When you buy or lease a new car, used car, truck, recreational vehicle, or motorcycle, you may expect that if serious defects develop during the new car warranty or guarantee period, the manufacturer or his agent will either make the repairs, give you a refund, or replace your vehicle.

Some new car owners and lessees get stuck with what are called "lemons" -- new cars that either cannot be properly repaired, or require so many time-consuming and costly repairs that an unfair and unreasonable burden is placed on you, the new car buyer or lessee.

California law in the form of the song-Beverly consumer warranty act requires manufacturers to replace your car, or to give you a refund, if your car has not been properly repaired after a reasonable number of attempts. The song-Beverly consumer warranty act provides that the manufacturer must prove your vehicle was not returned for repair a reasonable number of times and that the defect is not a substantial one.

What is commonly referred to as the lemon law is actually only a part of the song-Beverly consumer warranty act, starting at section 1790 of the California civil code, which deals with "all goods" which consumers have repeatedly returned for warranty repair to no avail, including recreational vehicles, motorcycles, blenders, microwaves, stereo systems, and boats.

Section 1793.2(D)(1) describes refunds and replacement provisions, while presumption provisions related to reasonable number of attempts at repair are dealt with under section 1793.22. Section 1795.5 of the consumer warranty act applies to used cars sold with a warranty, or still covered by the manufacturer's "new motor vehicle warranty" at the time of sale. This section entitles the purchaser to the same right of refund or replacement as new car buyers.

The consumer warranty act protects you during the lifetime of the warranty, but any request for refund or replacement entitles the manufacturer to a mileage offset. The mileage offset is based on the number of miles placed on the vehicle up to the time it is first brought to the manufacturer through its dealer representative for repair of the defect which is forcing the refund.

The song-Beverly consumer warranty act has four qualifiers that must be met in cases where there is a request for refund or replacement vehicle. 1) The vehicle must have been purchased primarily for personal, family or household purposes. Commercial vehicles or vehicles used for commercial purposes are not covered. 2) The defect or problem must have first occurred when the vehicle was under the manufacturer's written warranty, which may be specified by time or mileage. Also, vehicles covered under any implied warranty of merchantability which guarantees the vehicle is fit for the ordinary purposes for which it is used up to a warranty lifetime of up to one year, also qualify. Extended warranties and service plans do not apply to the refund or replacement provision. 3) The defect or problem must substantially impair the use, value or safety of the vehicle to the buyer. 4) The consumer must have allowed the manufacturer a reasonable number of repair attempts.

In the case of new cars, it is safe to estimate that a minimum of four repair attempts for the same defect or problem constitutes a "reasonable number of repair attempts". However, if your car has a serious safety defect that cannot be properly repaired, such as wheels falling off, brake failure, or steering wheel locking, you may not be required to risk waiting for four attempts, because of danger to your life and the lives of others.

If you question the safety of your car, contact the national highway traffic safety administration auto safety hotline at 400 Seventh Street Southwest, Washington, D.C. 20590. Their telephone number is 1-800-424-9393. Through this hotline you may learn of current auto company safety recalls, report a safety problem with your vehicle or find out about other auto safety information.

The consumer warranty act does not protect you if you abuse or neglect your car, such as driving it in an off-road race, or by failing to keep your car properly serviced. Also, non-dealer warranty repairs, defects caused by alterations or modifications to the car, and defects caused by accidents or damages may void your warranty. Read your car warranty and owner's manual carefully, to find out what it covers, and what your responsibilities are. Usually, if a defect develops and you report it during the warranty period, but it is not properly repaired during the warranty period, your warranty is extended to cover that defect.

If you have uncorrected problems with your new car, that are covered by the consumer warranty act, what procedures do you need to follow, to get a refund or a replacement of your new car?

1. Return your car for repairs only at authorized dealers. Repairs at non-dealer repair facilities may void your warranty. If your dealer refuses to continue repairs, go to another authorized dealer. When you take your car in to be repaired, be sure that the problem you are having with your car is clearly stated on the work order that is filled out by the service writer as the agent of the manufacturer. Remember to give only the symptoms of the problems you are having with your car; don't try to diagnose the problem yourself. When you pick up your car always ask for and keep a copy of this completed invoice for your records.

2. You should notify the manufacturer in writing immediately, describing your uncorrected problem. Send your letter by certified mail, return receipt requested. Keep a copy of your letter and the receipt for your records.

3. Keep written records of all contacts you have with the dealer, the manufacturer and its agent. This includes personal contacts, as well as those on the telephone and by mail. Send a letter to confirm any agreements or promises which are made, and send the letter by certified mail, return receipt requested. Keep a copy of your letter and the receipt for your records. When meeting in person, it is a good idea to take notes, including the name of the person to whom you have spoken, and perhaps take someone along as a witness.

4. In order to use the consumer warranty act standard in court, you may be required to use what is called a "third party dispute resolution program", if you are notified by the manufacturer in writing that such a program is available (usually stated in the warranty) and if the program is "qualified". Such programs must comply with standards set up by the California consumer warranty act, and by the federal trade commission.

The dispute resolution organization will consider your case, and will give you a written decision within 40 days. You may accept or reject the program's decision. If you accept the decision, the decision is binding on the manufacturer of the car, and the manufacturer must carry out the terms of the decision within 30 days after the decision. But if you do not agree with the decision, you may then file a court action. Contact an attorney who is familiar with warranty law. If you go to court and win, the court will award you reasonable attorney's fees as well as a money amount of twice your actual losses, if there is a violation of the state warranty law.

If your car's manufacturer voluntarily agrees to give you a refund, or if a court orders a manufacturer to give you one, how much money are you entitled to receive for your actual losses?

If the consumer chooses a refund, the vehicle must be returned to the manufacturer in good condition allowing for normal wear. The consumer is then entitled to the following: 1) the down payment or full payment, 2) all payments made, 3) discharge of any loan balance, 4) rental car and towing charges incurred from warranty repairs, and 5) sales tax and registration fees. The value of the use of the car before the defect was discovered is deducted from the refund amount. The date on which you made your first complaint about the uncorrected defect will be used to determine the break-off point. Your carefully kept records are very important in determining the date of your first complaint.

If the consumer chooses a replacement vehicle, the original vehicle must be returned to the manufacturer in good condition allowing for normal wear, and the consumer is entitled to the following: 1) a new, replacement vehicle substantially identical, allowing for the deduction of the value of use of the returned car before the defect was discovered, 2) refund of sales tax and registration fees on the replacement vehicle, 3) rental car and towing charges incurred from warranty repairs.

In order for a vehicle which has been returned to a dealer or a manufacturer under the consumer warranty act to be resold as a used car, a potential buyer must be informed in writing before the resale that it had been returned as a lemon, and the vehicle's registration card must also identify it as a lemon.

For further information about California lemon law, the song-Beverly consumer warranty act, you may contact the state department of consumer affairs, complaint assistance unit, 1020 "N" Street, Room 579 Sacramento, CA 95814. The telephone number is (916) 445-0660. Calls are received Mondays through Fridays, from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

The California new motor vehicle board also has a dispute resolution process you may wish to consider prior to filing a court action. The new motor vehicle board regulates new vehicle manufacturers and dealers and is charged with resolving disputes between manufacturers/dealers and consumers. The address of the new motor vehicle board is 1507 21 Street, Suite 330, Sacramento, California, 95814. Their telephone number is area code (916) 445-1888.

A free 14 page booklet called, "lemon-aid for new car buyers", is published by the state department of consumer affairs. You may obtain your free copy by calling (916) 323-7239 or toll free at 800-952-5210 or by visiting

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