Lemon laws are generally designed to protect auto owners from defective vehicles that were bought with a car manufacturer original warranty and where the issue occurred while the car was under the car manufacturers original warranty and bought at retail – this is certainly the case in California. If you happen to be one of those unlucky owners of a defective vehicle, these laws could protect you not only from unplanned expenses and inconveniences but depending on your circumstances may also entitle you to an outright vehicle “buyback.”
Unfortunately, consumers who buy a used vehicle also finance it, and as a consequence, are stuck with a car loan after they’ve signed the sales contract. They continue to make payments on a car that has significant problems. In many cases, the burden of proof lies on the consumer who bought the used vehicle to prove that they purchased a defective vehicle because, almost by definition, a used car is bought after the statutory “presumption” period of 18,000 miles or 18 months.
So, what can you do if you suspect you bought a used car with problems?
Issues regarding used car vehicles can range from simple mechanical problems to those that are outright dangerous and put your life at risk.
Human beings are prone to error, and naturally, car makers inevitably make mistakes in the design and production of their vehicles.
These deficiencies in car production are, of course, not always intentional and not meant to harm the consumer. After all, carmakers want to stay in business. Generally, car makers make good faith efforts to try and correct the problem, especially when the car is still under the original car manufacturer warranty.
But in some cases, dealerships, manufacturers, or both, can intentionally deceive the consumer by hiding a laundry list of preexisting problems with a car. Take for example the VW “Dieselgate” debacle of 2008.
Several states have passed legislation to address the issue of defective, used cars. California’s own lemon law offers protection for buyers of used vehicles under certain circumstances.
The California lemon law has certain requirements when a consumer is to bring a lemon law claim, either for a new or used car. These are three of the major ones: 1) that the problem occurred during the vehicle’s original warranty period, or extended pre-owned warranty, 2) that the car was bought at retail, 3) that the manufacturer has attempted to repair the vehicle a reasonable amount of times. If the problem persists after a reasonable number of attempts, the manufacturer has to provide the consumer a replacement or refund the value of the vehicle plus down payment, payments made to date, pay off the vehicle’s loan balance, and pay the consumer any incidental and consequential damages if the consumer prevails.
The federal government also provides some measure of protection in regards to lemon laws under the Magnuson Moss Warranty Act. A consumer may also avail him/herself of the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC). In California, however, the protection offered by the Song Beverly Consumer Warranty Act and related statutes provide a more expansive remedy to the consumer than the Magnuson Moss Warranty Act or the UCC because of the liberal construction of the statutes.
If you suspect that you bought a used lemon and the dealer fails to do anything, taking the following action can help you build a strong case.
First, check the car warranty and see whether the car is still under the original car warranty.
Run car reports like Carfax and AutoCheck to get a history on the car.
Take your car for an inspection or repair at an approved car repair facility. For example, if you bought a Toyota that is still under the original car warranty, you should take it to a Toyota facility. If necessary, have a car inspector who specializes in lemon law, inspect your car.
There is always a chance that the issues are mechanical, structural, or a combination of both. If you’ve had prior service and repairs, make sure to keep all your records neatly organized. This would include invoices, work repair orders, and any other paperwork related to repairs and maintenance. You should always communicate with the repair facility of the problems you are having with your vehicle. Once you get the work repair order, look through it to see whether the repair facility wrote in the work repair order the problems the car has.
The following steps should be taken, whether a consumer buys a car from a car dealer or a private party. Remember, however, that in order for protection under the California lemon law, you have to have bought the car at “retail,” which has been interpreted that the California lemon law does not apply to private sales. Dagher v. Ford Motors Co. (2015) 238 Cal.App.4th 905.) A consumer may still have a claim for fraud or other applicable statute or law, however.
Assuming one of the first things you’ve done is taken the car for a test drive, the next thing you should do is ask for vehicle maintenance records from the owner or the dealership. Also, it is a good idea to buy a car that is still under the car manufacturer’s original warranty.
You can find the vehicle’s value on websites like Kelley Blue Book, Edmunds, and others by entering the details of the car. Make sure that you’re getting a fair deal on it by comparing the data.
Ask the dealership if any recall notices are pending and find out whether the issue has been resolved. If not, ask them to repair the problem.
If they say the problem has been fixed, ask for proof. You can also find out yourself by going to safecar.gov and searching by the VIN for any recall notices.
Check for additional information on the vehicle. You’ll want to know whether it has a salvage title or whether it has been involved in prior accidents or whether the car has been deemed a lemon. Again this can be done via CarFax and an independent car inspection by a third party car inspector. See more below.
The Department of Justice National Automobile Title Information System can gather information about the car’s history and provide you with this information. Likewise, ask the dealership to provide you with some of these reports. If they are confident they are selling you a car that’s in good condition, there’s no reason they would deny you this information if it means making a sale.
Get the vehicle inspected by a mechanic before you buy it. This allows you to have an independent and neutral party give you their professional advice and opinion on the car.
An excellent lemon-law lawyer can help you figure out whether you have a solid case, especially if it’s a security issue. A lawyer can guide you through the entire legal process so that you don’t have to go at it alone. Let a lemon law expert handle it.
Our Mission Viejo law firm offers free and confidential consultations. If we take your case, you are not responsible for paying us any fees. California’s Song Beverly Consumer Warranty Act provides for attorney fees and costs. Learn more about Luis Aguirre Law by visiting our other online profiles like Foursquare and Chamber of Commerce.