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In the old days, buying a defective product was more or less a “tough luck” situation.
Thankfully, in 1975, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act (known as lemon law) was enacted to protect citizens and ensure that manufacturers honor the warranties sold with their product. The intention is to reduce the chances that buyers are misled about the scope of the warranty.
Lemon law issues are most commonly known to automobiles – as they are generally the consumer products with the highest price tags. While this area of the law may sound relatively straightforward on the surface, every situation is complex in its own way.
Moreover, manufacturers are equipped with the best legal defense money can buy. If you find yourself in possession of a lemon, you need to know exactly what lies ahead.
Understanding the Details of Lemon Law
Lemon law applies across the United States. However, the smaller details vary a bit from state-to-state.
As a lemon law attorney in Los Angeles, I am going to provide the overarching specifications in California.
- The manufacturer has two or more repair attempts to fix a defective part covered under the warranty.
- The manufacturer has four or more repair attempts to fix the same defective part covered under the warranty.
- The vehicle has been out of service for a total of 30 or more days for any number of repairs to fix a defective part covered under the warranty.
- The substantial defect was not caused by driver abuse or user error.
Now, it’s important to note that the specifications above are merely a presumption of the lemon law. Based on the nature of the case, you can potentially receive benefits as long as the vehicle or product is under warranty.
If your vehicle meets the criteria of the lemon law in court, you may be entitled to the following benefits:
- A buyback of the vehicle’s purchase price. Or, a replacement identical to the original vehicle or one of similar values.
- Attorney and legal fees covered by the manufacturer.
- Incidental costs stemming from the defective vehicle covered by the manufacturer.
What is a “Substantial Defect?”
To backtrack a bit, in many cases the defect must be a “substantial defect” to qualify a vehicle for benefits under the lemon law.
What exactly makes a defect “substantial?”
In a nutshell, a substantial defect is one that impairs the vehicle’s use, value, or safety. A substantial defect is most commonly associated with issues in the following parts:
- Braking system
- Electric system
- Wheel axles
- Air conditioning /heating system
You could potentially receive benefits for non-safety related issues – like radio or entertainment features and/or defective paint – as these types of problems may impact the vehicle’s value.
What to Do When Life Hands You a Lemon
If you find yourself with a lemon, there are several key steps you need to take.
Step One: DO NOT let the manufacturer talk you into arbitration!
Lemon law arbitrators are often hired by the big manufacturers to swing their way. Even if the case ends up going to court, the words of the biased-arbitrator will come back to haunt you.
Manufacturers often tell consumers that arbitration is a quicker, cheaper way to handle the process. Don’t take the bait!
You are much better off hiring a specialized lemon law attorney. Remember, if you win the case, the manufacturer must foot the bill for ALL attorney and legal costs.
Step Two: Get records of EVERYTHING
Plain and simple, the better records you have, the better your chances are of getting full justice from the manufacturer.
Here are the major documents you should gather before going any further:
- All service reports from the manufacturer-certified repair shop (including date of service, mileage on the vehicle, customer complaint, dates the vehicle was in the shop, repair attempt, and name of repairer)
- All payments made towards the vehicle (down payment, monthly payments made, and how much remains on the loan).
- All official costs associated with the vehicle (registration, sales tax, licensing, etc.)
- All incidental costs resulting from the lemon (lost wages, towing costs, cab fares, hotel stays, etc.)
These records will come in VERY important when determining the strength of your case.
Step Three: Seek out a local, specialized lemon law attorney
Unsurprisingly, the lemon law lawyer you choose to take your case makes all the difference in the end result.
Many consumers commit the monumental mistake of choosing a lemon law attorney after receiving a postcard or advertisement in the mail. It’s very common you may never actually speak with the principal attorney at these lemon law firms. It is very important to find attorneys with motivations for providing consumer justice and not high client volumes. That said, be very careful of law firms encouraging quick cash settlements – which can be way less than what you originally paid.
Another big mistake is choosing a general practice lawyer with little experience in the lemon law. As a rule of thumb – if they don’t advertise lemon law services, do not choose them to take your case.
When looking for an attorney, you are wise to find one with specialized knowledge (and experience) in the state’s lemon law procedures.
Finding a Good Lemon Law Attorney
Good lemon law attorneys aren’t super difficult to find; you just need to know exactly what you’re looking for.
To reiterate, they should be local and specialized in the lemon law. Otherwise, there is a good chance the manufacturer’s high-powered legal teams will get their way in court.
There are several key indicators of a trustworthy lemon lawyer to keep on your radar.
- They have a clear passion for consumer justice.
- They embrace the challenge of going up against the legal teams of big manufacturers.
- They are committed to quick but excellent resolutions.
- They do not give you bold guarantees – they are cautiously optimistic.
- They insist on a thorough consultation before taking your case.
- They are 100% upfront with you.
- They don’t ask you for any out-of-pocket costs or retainer fees, either upfront or from the buy-back settlement. A trustworthy lemon law attorney knows these costs will be covered if they win the case.
If you’ve got a legitimate claim, a good lemon law lawyer will empathize with you in that your unfortunate situation is through no fault of your own.
Over to You
The most important thing is to educate yourself on the procedure and how your unique situation fits in – before jumping to conclusions. Most subpar results in lemon law are simply caused because of poor prior research. Hopefully, this post has given you a good place to start!