For the average American, purchasing a vehicle is one of the largest investments in their lifetime. Because of this, the process can be stressful, confusing, and difficult. Many questions may arise such as: should I buy a new vehicle, used vehicle, or lease a vehicle? Will my new or used car have a warranty? If so, what will that warranty cover? What is the best make and model for me to purchase or lease? How do I avoid a lemon? If you find yourself in this situation, don't fret, keep reading to learn more about the California Lemon Law.

Each state has its own Lemon Law. In California, the law is officially known as the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act. The California Lemon Law provides consumers with protection for goods that are leased or purchased for household, family, or personal use. It not only applies to vehicles, but also to most consumer goods that are sold with a warranty. With regard to vehicles, if a manufacturer is unable to repair a vehicle within a reasonable number of attempts, then the vehicle must be replaced, or the consumer’s money must be refunded.

There are three types of compensation for a valid automotive lemon law claim, which include:

A traditional Buyback, a “Cash and Keep” settlement, or a Replacement Vehicle.

  • A traditional buyback or repurchase is when the consumer relinquishes possession of the vehicle and the manufacturer refunds all the consumers’ monies spent towards the vehicle including the down payment, monthly payments, and the remaining loan balance. The manufacturer is also responsible to reimburse the consumer for any incidental or consequential expenses related to the lemon vehicle such as tow car or rental car expenses.  With a repurchase, the manufacturer is allowed to deduct a usage fee from the refund, which is a value for the time the consumer drove the vehicle without any problems.
  • A “cash and keep” is when the consumer remains in possession of the vehicle but receives cash for the troubles experienced with the vehicle (typically less than the original purchase price).
  • A replacement vehicle, an uncommon lemon law outcome, is when the lemon vehicle is replaced with a vehicle that is substantially similar to the lemon.
  • As a prevailing party, the manufacturer is responsible to pay for the consumer’s attorneys fees and costs.

In general, the California Lemon Car Law only applies to people who purchase or lease vehicles in the state of California. However as of January 1, 2008, the California Lemon Law was extended to provide protection to all active-duty members of the U.S. Armed Forces.

A full-time active duty of the U.S. Armed Forces may qualify for the California Military Lemon Law Exception if:

  • The vehicle was purchased from an auto manufacturer that sells motor vehicles in California; and
  • The active-duty member was stationed in California either at (1) the time the vehicle was purchased, or (2) at the time of filing the lemon law suit.

This means that it is possible for an active-duty member of the U.S. Armed Forces to pursue a California lemon law claim if the vehicle was purchased outside of the State of California before being stationed in the State of California, or if this member purchased a vehicle from a California dealership before being stationed somewhere else.

For example, if you are an active-duty member of the U.S. Armed Forces, and are stationed in California yet purchased a lemon vehicle in the state of, let’s say, Texas, the California Lemon Law can protect you and get you the compensation you deserve for your vehicle troubles.

Remember, however, that the vehicle must still be presented for repeat repairs to an authorized manufacturer dealership for warranty repairs.

A Member of the Armed Forces can be defined as a person on full-time active duty in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, National Guard, or Coast Guard. Full-time active duty also includes active military service at a military service school designated by law, or the Adjutant General of the Military Department concerned.

If you suspect that your vehicle may be a lemon, there are certain steps that you should perform to help your potential lemon law case. You should begin by gathering all your records and documents related to the service department’s repair attempts related to your vehicles. It is of utmost importance to ensure that the issues are explicitly listed in these documents. Next, you should contact an experienced lemon law attorney. It is important to file your claim sooner rather than later as there is a time limit for every type of claim under the law. Keep in mind that issues with your vehicle must have occurred during the warranty and generally, you will have to file the court complaint within four years of discovering the defect.

The lemon law is complex, so it’s important to find counsel who understands the law inside and out. A reputable lemon law attorney can determine whether your vehicle qualifies, ensure that you meet all deadlines for your claim, and fight for the compensation you deserve. Most importantly still, they will ensure that your consumer rights are protected as a Member of the Armed Forces in California.