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What Qualifies a Car as a Lemon?

| by Michelle Yang, Esq.

If your car under warranty has been having problems, you may be entitled to compensation. Vehicles that don’t meet the standards set by their manufacturers or simply don’t function properly often get the title of “lemon”.

In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know to determine what qualifies a car as a lemon and what steps you should take to get a refund or replacement vehicle. Give us a call or fill out the form below to quickly see if your car qualifies.

With a thorough understanding of car lemon law qualifications and how to properly document your visits to the mechanic, you’ll be able to file a claim

What Qualifies a Car as a Lemon?

According to California Lemon Law, a car is considered a lemon if it has severe defects that cannot be repaired by a certified repair shop after a reasonable number of attempts, while the car is still under warranty. In addition, if the car is new and was serviced by an authorized mechanic or the original manufacturer, it is more likely to qualify as a lemon. Understanding what qualifies a car as a lemon under California Lemon Law can help consumers make informed decisions when it comes to purchasing or leasing a vehicle.

Below we define “severe defects”, “reasonable number of attempts” and “warranty” to give you a clearer picture.

Serious Defects

serious car defects

According to California Lemon Law, a “serious defect” is a defect or condition that substantially impairs the use, value, or safety of a vehicle, and that is covered by the vehicle’s warranty. The defect or condition must be one that the manufacturer or dealer is unable to repair after a reasonable number of attempts, or that is likely to cause death or serious injury if it is not repaired.

Examples of serious defects might include problems with the engine, transmission, braking system, or electrical system that make the vehicle unsafe to drive, or render it inoperable. Additionally, the defect must be reported within a certain time frame after delivery of the vehicle, usually 18 months or 18,000 miles whichever comes first for the Lemon Law protection in California.

Reasonable Attempts To Fix It

reasonable attempts to fix the car

The manufacturer must be given an opportunity to fix this issue. In California, this is typically 2 or more repair attempts depending on the seriousness of the issue. If the vehicle has been to the manufacturer two or more times and the issue is still not fixed, it will likely qualify as a lemon. A repair from from an unlicensed mechanic, would not qualify as an attempt.

Pro Tip: Keep paperwork from every visit, even if the problem seems fixed

A reasonable number of mechanic visits can vary depending on the situation and the severity of the issue. Some claims are valid after two repairs, while others need more or less. Talk to a lemon lawyer or law firm about your particular situation. 

Warranty Period

warranty period

In order for a car to qualify as a lemon, it must have had these sever issues and repair attempts during the warranty period.  Used cars do not qualify because they are not sold by the vehicle manufacturer directly. 

Of course, not all warranties are fair. Most written warranties are worded so that you can apply for a lemon law claim—it’s illegal for car companies to write grossly unfair warranties or create situations in which you can’t exchange your car. If you feel your contract doesn’t cover enough, talk to a lemon law attorney about it. 

30 Days or More

Another lemon law qualification is the amount of time it has been our for repair.  If you have a new car and it’s been in the shop for more than thirty days, you can receive a replacement or refund. 

What Prevents a Car From Qualifying as a Lemon?

There are certain key factors to be aware of. As soon as you buy your vehicle, you should ensure that you understand what’s covered under warranty and how long the warranty period is. If your new vehicle ends up being a lemon, you’ll be grateful you understand this. 

Used Cars

Most state lemon laws protect new cars, whether leased or sold. This is because lemon laws exist to encourage manufacturers to aim for the highest quality standards in their cars. Once resold, the vehicle cannot qualify for a lemon law claim unless a dealer warranty was included in the sale. 

Broken Warranties

If you break the warranty in any way, your car won’t qualify. This rule is to protect manufacturers from fraudulent claims and help law firms decide which claims will be legitimate in a court of law. When you buy a car with a warranty, ensure that you read it carefully and agree to it before signing. 

Repossessed Cars

repossessed car

If you’ve lost your vehicle to repossession, you won’t be able to apply for a lemon law claim, even if the car is a lemon. Cars with outstanding loans are also difficult to qualify for, so ensure that you keep your payments up to date and stay on top of your car finances. This will be helpful if you need to take it in for multiple repairs. 

Alternative Mechanics

Unfortunately, taking a new car to a mechanic other than the manufacturer can void the warranty and make it impossible for your vehicle to qualify. As long as your car is under contract, any significant repairs and maintenance should be free or cost-reduced. Take your car back to the manufacturer or approved mechanic for service. 

Lack of Paperwork

The most frustrating way to disqualify your car from a lemon claim is to not have the correct paperwork. Every time you take your car in for service, keep the paperwork. It may seem redundant, but you’ll have to be able to prove that your vehicle has undergone a reasonable number of repairs for this issue. 

How to File a Lemon Law Claim

The process for filing a lemon law claim is relatively straightforward, and best handled by an attorney. If you think your car qualifies, a find an attorney that will work on a contingency fee basis – meaning they will not get compensated until you win your case. They will help you file and ensure that you have all the necessary proof and paperwork to receive maximum compensation. 

You can file a law claim on your own, but an experienced attorney will increase your chances of success and speed up the entire process. Most state lemon laws require substantial documentation, and California is no exception. Prepare to have all of your paperwork looked at, from your ID to your bill of sale. 

The first step will be contacting your dealer and informing them that you will be filing a lemon law complaint. Dealers receive a set of cars from the manufacturer, and it often isn’t their fault that a lemon ended up on their lot. However, they can be of assistance and offer paperwork to help. 

Once you’ve officially filed a claim, you’ll wait for a court date. The court date will consist of you presenting all your information to the court and awaiting a verdict. With a lawyer’s assistance, you will likely be able to receive damages and get a new car or monetary reimbursement. It is not uncommon to receive a settlement offer from the manufacturer prior to going to court.

Leased Cars

If you don’t own your car, you can still qualify for a claim. The same rules apply to leased cars:

  • Keep track of all your paperwork.
  • Stay up to date on your payments.
  • Don’t break the warranty.

If you do all these things and your car turns out to be a lemon, you can receive a replacement. 

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, this has helped you understand what qualifies a car as a lemon. Save yourself the hassle. Cali Lemon Lawyers can help you file a lemon claim and save you thousands of dollars.

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Consumer protection laws in California and nationwide actively protect buyers of vehicles and other consumer goods. They hold a particular importance when purchasing or leasing a new vehicle. The California Lemon Law grants legal rights to those who find themselves with a vehicle that continually fails to function properly, providing a pathway to seek resolution and potential compensation.

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