Lemon Law 101

Let me begin by saying I ain't no damn lawyer and none helped in the preparation of this site. Therefore, what you're getting is personal information gleaned from one case tried in the state of California. Your mileage may vary.

Has your new car buying experience, which began with such anticipation and excitement, turned to disappointment and frustration as the result of repeated returns to the dealer for repairs which never seem to correct the problem? If this is your experience, the California Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act (the "Lemon Law") may provide a solution to your dilemma.

The Lemon Law commands that if a vehicle manufacturer or its authorized dealers cannot properly repair a "material defect" in your new vehicle while it is under warranty after a "reasonable number of attempts," the manufacturer must either promptly replace your new vehicle or refund your money, at your choice. The Lemon Law applies to all vehicles (including trucks and recreational vehicles) purchased or leased new in the State of California.

A "material defect" is defined under the Lemon Law as something which "substantially impairs the use, value, or safety of the vehicle." Most mechanical or driveability problems will qualify under this standard. The more serious the defect, the fewer number of repair attempts will be necessary to qualify the vehicle as a "Lemon."

What constitutes a "reasonable number of attempts" at repair is a question of fact that can only be answered on a case by case basis. However, as a guideline, the Lemon Law states that if within one year or 12,000 miles of use, whichever occurs first, either the same material defect has been subject to repair four or more times, or the vehicle has been in the shop by reason of repairs for material defects for a cumulative total of more than 30 calendar days, then the vehicle qualifies as a lemon.

Keep in mind, this is only a guideline; any vehicle which is purchased new and which is not properly repaired while still under warranty after a "reasonable number of attempts" may qualify as a lemon, regardless of length of ownership or mileage. Therefore, with today's extended warranties, it is possible that a vehicle will qualify under the Lemon Law even though it may be three or four years old and have been driven 50,000 miles or more.

If your new vehicle qualifies under the Lemon Law, and you choose a replacement vehicle, you are entitled to a new vehicle "substantially identical" to your prior vehicle, and the manufacturer is responsible for all taxes and licensing fees for the new replacement vehicle.

In the event that you choose to have your money refunded, you are entitled to a refund of all moneys invested in the "lemon", including downpayment, trade-in allowance and monthly finance payments. Furthermore, in either the case of a vehicle replacement or cash refund, the manufacturer is also responsible for any incidental expenses which you may have incurred, such as repair costs, towing costs,, rental car expenses and finance charges.

If your vehicle qualifies under the Lemon Law, you are only responsible to a limited extent for the mileage which you have accumulated on your "lemon." Your responsibility is limited only to the number of miles accumulated on the vehicle at t the time of the first unsuccessful repair for a material defect. This is true even if the vehicle has accumulated many thousands of miles following this first unsuccessful repair attempt.

The Lemon Law also provides that the lemon buyer's attorney's fees shall be reimbursed by the manufacturer. Accordingly, a lawyer who specializes in Lemon Law cases and who has confidence in your case can usually offer an attorney's fee agreement that is affordable to the consumer, often requiring no start-up money, anticipating that the vast majority of the attorney's fee will be paid by the manufacturer at the successful conclusion of the case.

Additionally, if you feel you can prove that the manufacturer acted in bad faith, you can also sue for up to three times your out of pocket expenses in civil damages. Bad faith could be as simple as denying your initial written request for replacement and making you file suit when it was obvious the car had major problems or as drastic as ignoring safety issues such as the car's propensity to catch fire.

This is a brief overview of the Lemon Law. The Lemon Law is a detailed statute with many nuances which are best understood by trial lawyers who are experienced in Lemon Law cases.

If the case goes as far as filing suit, depositions, arbitration, or court, it is usually settled for cash. Almost all manufacturers sub their legal work to outside law firms so it is much easier to get a check cut and delivered to them and then you than it is to get a new car. Also, Mazda Motors of America can't really sell a car directly, it must go through a dealer. It's just cleaner and easier to write a check.

Winning a lemon Law case can be easy or complicated, depending on your situation. For free advice on your situation, you might try Got a Lemon? -- Free Lemon Law Advice from a Manufacturer's Rep.

In most states there is a clear-cut definition of a definite lemon, plus the ability to still prove you have a lemon even if you don't meet the clear-cut definition. These definitions vary by state. For example:

Check out Lemon Law USA for each state's individual laws concerning warranty problems with automobiles

The time your car spends in the shop waiting for parts is included in the time considerations. The assumption is that parts which fail frequently should be kept in stock by the dealerships. Other parts should be available within 1 day from regional parts depots.

It is important when considering the Lemon Law to keep accurate records of the dates your car went in and came out of the shop. Keep in mind that the dealer service invoice may NOT be accurate. It is common practice for dealers to fudge the dates on these. Make sure the dates are accurate before you leave the dealership with your car. This can become very important later on if your car is just over the threshold of being declared a Lemon by your state, but the dealer records indicate fewer days.

For a list of attorneys in your area who specialize in Lemon Laws, contact the:

Center for Automotive Safety
2001 S. Street NW Suite 410
Washington, DC 20009
(202) 328-7700

Send a stamped, self-addressed envelope with a note asking for the Lemon Law lawyers in your area. Good luck!

If you do feel you've got a case then I strongly suggest you begin by writing to the manufacturer's customer relations department. Give them a chance to do the right thing.

If you do have to sue, I recommend the following book:

Copyright 1990, The "Lemon Book" by Ralph Nader, Clarence Ditlow, with Laura Polacheck and Tamar Rhode, ISBN 1-55921-020-6 PB (paperback, but it is also in hardback with a different ISBN, I think), Moyer Bell Limited, Third Edition.

You might also want to check out the Lemon Law FAQ.

Back to the RX-7 Lemon Site Main Page

All of the information on these pages is to my knowledge either an accurate summary of events and facts or is my opinion. It doesn't represent the views of Mazda (duh), my employer, my Internet service provider, or anyone else.