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If your new car is spending more time at the repair shop than it spends with you, you might have a lemon on your hands. Thankfully, California lemon law is in place to protect consumers facing a sour deal.
A problem car's owner can be entitled to a comparable replacement, or a refund of the purchase price (prorated based on the miles driven). Under California lemon law, there are a few qualifications:
- The car must still be under warranty
- The owner must have taken the car in for repair of the same problem four or more times through an authorized dealer
- The car must have been inoperable for a total of 30 days (not necessarily consecutive)
The problem or defect must also substantially impair the use, value, or safety of the vehicle. To qualify, cars must be either purchased or leased in California for personal, family, or business use.
While many car dealerships are great about helping you get a lemon repaired or replaced, don't count on them to keep track of everything related to your problems. Keep records of all the time you've lost from work, time the vehicle has been in the shop, and the exact nature of any problems.
Look over each service write-up when you take your car in. Unscrupulous repair people have been known to switch a problem diagnosis, or attempt to report an ongoing problem as new, in order to buy the dealership more time on a possible lemon.
If the dealer won't help you adequately, turn to the manufacturer. Take these steps:
- Write a letter to the manufacturer asking it to buy back your car. This letter should be sent via certified mail, with a return receipt requested, to the address listed in your vehicle owner's manual.
- If the manufacturer balks at repurchasing your vehicle, you have two options: Hire an attorney that specializes in Lemon Law, or ask the manufacturer if it has an arbitration program.
- Check to see if the manufacturer offers an arbitration program by looking in your owner's manual, or by calling California's Consumer Affairs Hotline at (800) 952-5210. Request an application form and a copy of the manufacturer's arbitration program regulations.
- If you enter into arbitration, the manufacturer must schedule a hearing within 40 days. Now is the time to compile all your documents regarding the car's problem, including service reports, work orders, a copy of your warranty, and your calendar showing downtime for the vehicle.
- If at all possible, attend the arbitration hearing in person. You can either accept or reject the findings of the arbitration panel. Should you decide to reject the offer, or if the panel finds against you, don't despair. If you are not satisfied with the results, you can always file a suit against the manufacturer through the courts.
- If you file a lawsuit, and the court rules in your favor, the manufacturer has 30 days to pay you. If you are uncertain how to proceed with a lawsuit, be sure to hire an attorney who is experienced with this type of action.
Read the legal language on the Lemon Laws of California, or request a copy of the Department of Consumer Affairs publication, "Lemon-Aid for New Car Buyers," by calling (800) 952-5210 or writing to:
- DCA Publications
- 401 S Street, Suite 100
- Sacramento, CA 95814