“When live gives you lemons, make lemonade.” This is all fine and dandy for some things, but for our all-important vehicular transportations needs, this saying has no sensible application. A car buyer has every right to expect their purchase to perform as intended; to give them reliable, safe transportation over a reasonable period of time. In the past, when the vehicle didn’t live up to these expectations, there was little recourse except to resort to calling in a lawyer and filing suit against the dealer, the manufacturer and anyone else in the distribution channel. Many states have enacted consumer protection laws and in California it is the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act that governs vehicular (and some other) purchase made in the Golden State.
The Song-Beverly Act, or California Lemon Law to the general public, provides that the manufacturer has a reasonable number of times to fix, correct or eliminate any flaws in their product. After such attempts, if the flaw isn’t corrected to the owner’s satisfaction, the vehicle is either replaced or the entire purchase price; including ancillary fees like taxes, documentation and licenses and any damage costs like a car rental, must be refunded to the buyer. It sounds simple, doesn’t it . . . but there are a number of other considerations.
- The vehicle must have been purchased or leased by an individual or corporation or other entity that has five or less cars registered in California. This precludes participation by large company fleets, rental car company fleets, taxi cab companies and the like. Those companies have other recourse on flawed vehicles.
- The law applies for the entire warranty period on both new and used vehicles; the latter must have a factory or written dealer warranty to be fully covered.
- The law does not apply if there has been abuse to the vehicle.
There are other aspects to the California Lemon Law that deal with what is a reasonable number of chances for the manufacturer to repair the vehicle before they must replace it or make a refund. The number of chances is arbitrary, but in the case of components that involve safe operation; brakes, steering, seatbelts; the number of chances is a few as two or three. On electrical and mechanical components that don’t involve safety, the number may be five or six. The manufacturer has the right to protest the number, as does the vehicle buyer, such protests are handled by an arbitrator set up by the manufacturer; some unbiased third party like the American Auto Club (AAA) or Chamber of Commerce. Not all manufacturers have set up an arbitration program.
The California Lemon Law is not absolute. A judge may decide what is considered a reasonable number of chances for the manufacturer to correct the problems, and this ruling may be influenced by input from both the manufacturer and the vehicle buyer.
It is also possible that the buyer or lessee may be charged for the use of the vehicle, even if the vehicle is replaced or a refund made by the manufacturer. The amount of this charge is determined by this formula: The percentage of 120,000 that the vehicle traveled before the exchange or refund, times the full purchase price of the vehicle. Example: If the vehicle traveled 12,000 miles (10% of 120,000) and the vehicle purchase price was $36,000, then the owner may have to pay $3,600 for the use of the vehicle. The operative word is “may,” as this is a consideration, not a rule of the law.