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Avoiding A Sour Deal: How California Lemon Law Safeguards Used Car Purchases

May 30

Purchasing a used car can be a daunting experience, filled with the fear of ending up with a vehicle that has hidden defects or undisclosed issues. Fortunately, in California, consumers are protected by the state’s Lemon Law, which extends its reach beyond new cars to cover certain used vehicles as well. This article delves into how the California Lemon Law safeguards used car purchases, providing a safety net for buyers and ensuring they receive fair value for their investment.


Understanding California Lemon Law


The California Lemon Law, formally known as the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, was enacted to protect consumers who purchase or lease new vehicles that turn out to be defective. The law requires manufacturers to repair, replace, or refund the cost of a vehicle that has substantial defects which affect its use, value, or safety, and that cannot be fixed after a reasonable number of attempts.


While initially focused on new vehicles, amendments and legal interpretations have expanded the scope of the law to include certain used cars, particularly those that come with a dealer warranty or are sold as certified pre-owned vehicles. This extension ensures that buyers of used cars also have recourse if they end up with a lemon.



Criteria for Protection Under the Lemon Law


To be eligible for protection under the California Lemon Law, several conditions must be met:


  • Warranty Coverage: The used car must still be covered by the manufacturer’s original warranty or a dealer’s written warranty. This means that if the vehicle is sold with an explicit warranty, the protections of the Lemon Law apply.
  • Substantial Defects: The vehicle must have significant defects that impair its use, value, or safety. Minor issues or normal wear and tear do not qualify. 
  • Reasonable Repair Attempts: The dealer or manufacturer must have been given a reasonable number of attempts to fix the defects. Generally, this is presumed to be at least two attempts for serious safety defects and four or more for other substantial issues. 
  • Notification: The consumer must notify the manufacturer or dealer of the defect and allow them the opportunity to repair it.


The Process of a Lemon Law Claim


If you suspect your used car might qualify as a lemon, the following steps outline the typical process for making a claim under California Lemon Law:


Document Everything: 

Keep detailed records of all repairs, including dates, nature of the problem, and the dealership’s or mechanic’s notes. This documentation is crucial for proving that the defect persists despite multiple repair attempts.


Notify the Dealer or Manufacturer: 

Inform the dealer or manufacturer in writing about the persistent defect and request repairs under the warranty. This notification should be clear and specific about the issues and previous repair attempts.


Allow for Repairs: 

Give the dealer or manufacturer the opportunity to fix the problem. If the defect is not resolved after a reasonable number of attempts, you can proceed with a Lemon Law claim.


Seek Legal Advice: 

Consult with a Lemon Law attorney to evaluate your case. An experienced attorney can help navigate the complexities of the law, ensuring you meet all procedural requirements and maximize your chances of a successful claim.


File a Claim: 

If the manufacturer or dealer fails to resolve the issue, your attorney can help you file a Lemon Law claim. This might involve arbitration or litigation to seek a replacement vehicle, a refund, or monetary compensation.


Benefits of California Lemon Law for Used Car Buyers


The California Lemon Law provides several significant benefits to used car buyers:


  • Financial Protection: The law ensures that consumers are not financially burdened by a defective vehicle. If a car qualifies as a lemon, buyers can receive a replacement vehicle or a refund, including the purchase price, registration fees, and other related costs
  • Consumer Confidence: Knowing that legal protections are in place gives buyers confidence when purchasing a used car. This can encourage more informed and confident purchasing decisions, contributing to a healthier used car market. 
  • Accountability for Dealers: The Lemon Law holds dealers accountable for the quality of the vehicles they sell. This incentivizes dealers to thoroughly inspect and repair vehicles before selling them, reducing the chances of defects and increasing overall consumer satisfaction
  • Speedy Resolution: The Lemon Law provides a structured process for resolving disputes, often leading to quicker settlements compared to other legal avenues. This is crucial for consumers who need a reliable vehicle for daily use.



Common Misconceptions About the Lemon Law


Only New Cars Qualify: 

Many consumers mistakenly believe that the Lemon Law only applies to new cars. In reality, used cars sold with a warranty are also covered, offering significant protection to second-hand buyers.


Excessive Repair Attempts Are Needed: 

Some think that an excessive number of repair attempts are required before a car can be declared a lemon. However, the law stipulates that even two unsuccessful attempts to fix a serious safety defect can suffice.


Complex and Costly Process: 

Another common myth is that filing a Lemon Law claim is too complex and expensive. While legal representation can be beneficial, many Lemon Law attorneys work on a contingency basis, meaning they only get paid if you win your case.


Tips for Avoiding a Lemon


While the Lemon Law provides essential protections, it’s always better to avoid purchasing a lemon in the first place. Here are some tips to help you steer clear of defective used cars:


  • Research the Vehicle’s History: Obtain a vehicle history report to check for past accidents, repairs, and ownership changes. This can reveal potential red flags.
  • Have the Car Inspected: Before purchasing, have the car inspected by a trusted mechanic. This can uncover hidden issues that might not be apparent during a test drive. 
  • Review the Warranty: Carefully read the warranty terms to understand what is covered and for how long. Ensure that you have written documentation of the warranty at the time of purchase. 
  • Buy from Reputable Dealers: Choose reputable dealers with positive reviews and a history of good customer service. Certified pre-owned programs from major manufacturers often provide additional peace of mind.



McMillan Law Group

4655 Cass St, San Diego, CA 92109, United States. 

Phone: +1 619-795-9430