What Is the Penalty Under California Lemon Law?

No one is thrilled to find themselves learning about the lemon law.

If you’re reading this article, there is a good chance you have recently purchased or leased a defective vehicle – and are trying to understand your legal recourse.

When you end up with a defective vehicle, you can’t just march back to the dealership and demand a refund. There are a series of legal hurdles you have to navigate to earn fair compensation.

Fortunately, lemon law exists to hold auto manufacturers accountable for selling/leasing faulty vehicles.

While lemon law exists across the country, each state has unique guidelines to seek benefits. In this post, we are going to explain the details of California lemon law – and what penalties automakers may be liable for.

Let’s dive into it.

What is the California Lemon Law?

California lemon law – known as the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act – was enacted to help consumers earn fair compensation after purchasing or leasing a vehicle with manufacturer defects.

Now, the first sign of a manufacturer defect does not automatically trigger a lemon claim.
To be officially ruled a lemon, a vehicle must meet the qualifications of California lemon law, which are:

  • The vehicle was covered under the manufacturer or dealer warranty when the defect was first reported to the auto manufacturer.
  • The defect is ruled “substantial” in that it impairs the safety, usability, or value of the vehicle.
  • The defect was not a result of driver abuse, neglect, or error.
  • The auto manufacturer’s certified repair technicians have been given a reasonable number of attempts to fix the defect (usually at least two); or
  • The vehicle has been out of service for repairs for 30 or more total days.

If you (the consumer) can prove with credible documentation that the vehicle meets the criteria above, you may file a lemon law claim to seek financial compensation.

Lemon Law

What is the Manufacturer’s Obligation Under California Lemon Law?

California lemon law requires auto manufacturers to provide adequate repair facilities throughout the state. This is so consumers do not have to drive or tow a defective vehicle an unreasonable distance to be serviced.

Additionally, (as mentioned above) manufacturers are obligated to complete the repair process – whether successful or not – in 30 days or less.

What Penalties Does the Manufacturer Have to Pay Under California Lemon Law?

If a vehicle meets the requirements of California lemon law – and the claim is successful – the manufacturer is required to compensate the consumer for the following:

  • A refund of the vehicle’s price minus a mileage offset
    • The down payment
    • Any loan payments made on the vehicle
    • The remaining balance of the loan
  • All official costs related to the vehicle
    • Registration
    • Taxes
  • All incidental costs
    • Towing fees
    • Cab/Uber/Lyft fares
    • Hotel stays
    • Meals
    • Etc.
  • All court costs
  • All lemon law attorney fees incurred by the consumer

Consumers must keep all records and documentation related to the costs above.

In terms of fees for a California lemon law lawyer, consumers pay nothing out of pocket.

Because manufacturers are required to cover attorney fees, California lemon law lawyers work on a contingency fee agreement. This means they make a percentage of the total settlement paid out AFTER they win the case. Consumers do not pay a penny upfront.

What to Do if You Have a Lemon?

If your vehicle meets the qualifications of California lemon law, the first step is to reach out to a California lemon law lawyer.

Even if you’re not sure what your legal standing is, scheduling a consultation needs to be the initial move. Keep in mind, nearly all consumers with a lemon are in this unfortunate situation for the first time – lemon attorneys understand this.

Very important: Auto manufacturers will likely try to dissuade you from seeking legal representation. They may advise you to opt for manufacturer-sponsored arbitration as a “quick and inexpensive alternative” to filing a lemon claim. This option almost always ends in the consumer getting a lowball settlement.

If you believe you have a lemon, get in touch with a lemon law lawyer. This is the only way you’ll earn fair compensation.

Most lemon law firms offer free consultations to analyze your situation and determine if there is a valid case.

What to Bring to the Lemon Law Consultation

The validity of your lemon law claim is based on paperwork.

The attorney will likely advise you to bring the following records to the consultation:

  • A copy of the warranty terms
  • Purchase order/leasing agreement for the vehicle
  • Repair orders (all repair orders must be closed to indicate a repair attempt)
  • Any communication with the manufacturer

These are the baseline requirements to prove you have a lemon on your hands. There will be more documentation to gather down the road – including invoices, receipts, and records of any other expense incurred from the lemon.

Your attorney will advise you on this.

The Next Step

Knowing what to do with a defective vehicle is not always clear.
It never hurts to contact a California lemon law firm with questions. To reiterate, most know you’re in the situation for the first time. Most will be happy to point you in the right direction – even if you don’t have a valid claim.

The most important step in the process is finding a good attorney. They are the only party truly on your side in a lemon law case.

Meta Description: Auto manufacturers are required to compensate consumers who purchased or leased a defective vehicle in California. Here are the penalties to be aware of.

Author Bio: Brian K. Cline’s Lemon Law Legal Group provides premier legal services. Our California lemon law lawyers aggressively and ethically force vehicle manufacturers to buy back defective and dangerous vehicles. Our team includes experienced trial lawyers with over 40 years of combined trial experience.


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