How To Know When You Have A Lemon Law Case

miniature car

Does the lemon law apply to your vehicle? Lawyers that handle lemon laws in San Francisco, and across California, will note that it may be confusing for someone unfamiliar with the laws to wrap their heads around at first. This short guide should help provide a bit of insight into how lemon laws generally work and when they might apply to your situation so that you can take the appropriate action if need be. Here’s what you need to know.

How Lemon Law Works

First, a bit of background. There are various federal and state laws that protect consumers in the event that they purchase defective products from a manufacturer. They obligate the manufacturer, in cases where a product (like your car) has been deemed a lemon, to repair the vehicle, replace it, or refund you, the customer. In order to qualify, though, the vehicle has to be deemed a “lemon,” and there are a few criteria an automobile will need to meet.

First, it usually has to be a “new” vehicle to qualify as a lemon (though there are exceptions) and it has to have a “substantial” defect that’s covered by warranty. Substantial means that it impacts the safety of operating the vehicle or severely decreases the value of the vehicle. So, minor issues—like a loose knob or a handle that’s slightly out of place—don’t meet the standard for “substantial”. Meanwhile, something like non-functional brakes or faulty steering would be much more likely to fall under the definition of “substantial” as they could pose a risk.

This doesn’t mean that every substantial defect is necessarily going to be obvious, however. Sometimes, something that you wouldn’t have expected, like a strange odor or similarly invisible issue may meet the qualifications, so it’s important to understand that this definition isn’t one with clearly defined edges.

Next, that substantial defect will need to have occurred within a specific time window from the point of initial purchase or a certain number of miles and not have been caused by abuse of the vehicle. Speaking broadly, that time window is about two years, and the distance range could be anywhere from 12,000 to 24,000 miles. These are generalizations, however, so you’ll want to check up on the specifics that apply in your state.

Finally, the dealer or manufacturer of the vehicle will have needed to make a “reasonable” number of attempts to fix this substantial defect if the vehicle is to be considered a lemon. What constitutes “reasonable” is another fuzzy definition, but the following standards generally apply to state-level lemon laws:

  • Serious safety defects (brakes, steering, etc.) that remain unfixed after a single repair attempt will often qualify a vehicle as a lemon.
  • Less serious safety defects that remain unfixed after roughly four attempts often qualify a vehicle as a lemon, but again, this can vary by state.
  • Staying in the shop for longer than a month during a one-year period can qualify a vehicle as a lemon, as that might equate to multiple repair attempts on less and more serious defects.

If it fits these criteria, then your vehicle will, in many locales, qualify as a lemon. To be certain, though, you’ll probably want to consult with an expert who is familiar with your state’s laws and can help you navigate the specifics.