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California Lemon Law: The Song Beverly Consumer Warranty Act

The Song Beverly Consumer Warranty Act – also known as California’s lemon law – is a statute contained within the California Civil Code, beginning with section 1790. Simply put, it is a law that protects consumers who purchase goods – including but not limited to automobiles — covered by warranty.

The law defines express (i.e. written) and implied (i.e. imposed by law) warranties, and requires manufacturers who provide these warranties to take certain steps, such as maintaining repair facilities in state. The meat of the law, as specifically applied to motor vehicles, begins at California Civil Code section 1793.2.

This section of the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act provides that if the manufacturer or its representative (usually, its authorized dealership) cannot conform the vehicle or other product to an express warranty within a reasonable number of attempts, it must promptly (meaning with little or no delay) replace or repurchase the product.

Section 1793.2 also provides a formula for a reasonable use deduction that is applied to the cost of the repurchase, or as a charge in the case of replacement for miles driven before the onset of the “nonconformity” (i.e., the defect covered by warranty).

Finally, section 1793.2 specifically provides the same lemon law rights to people who lease (as opposed to purchase) vehicles.

The Tanner Consumer Protection Act

The next section of the Song Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, California Civil Code section 1793.22, has its own title: “The Tanner Consumer Protection Act”. This section provides for a legal presumption for a vehicle that is within its first 18 months or 18,000 miles on the odometer, and has of the following occur: a safety issue is subject to repair two or more times, a non-safety related but still substantial issue is subject to repair four or more times, or the vehicle is out of service by reason of repair for 30 or more days.

Many people confuse this presumption for the lemon law itself. In fact, we see this misconception even among “experts.” The truth is, the presumption is rebuttable. Furthermore, it is neither necessary nor sufficient to prove a lemon law claim, which means you can have a qualifying lemon law claim without the presumption criteria, and you can have the presumption criteria but still have your lemon law claim disqualified.

The Tanner Consumer Protection Act also provides certain rules for manufacturers’ arbitration programs, as well as requires prior resort to arbitration by the consumer before asserting the presumption, if the consumer was properly notified. Finally, this section provides the definition of the term “nonconformity.”

The Automotive Consumer Notification Act

California Civil Code section 1793.23 also has its own title: “The Automotive Consumer Notification Act.” This section requires and provides rules for the permanent title branding of vehicles bought back pursuant to the California lemon law.

Title branding is what happens when a vehicle is totaled in an accident, subject to flood damage, etc. The vehicle is said to have a “salvage title,” the purpose of which is the same as a common salvage title: to protect future purchasers of the vehicle from ignorance that it has had problems. A lemon brand is not as devastating to the value of the vehicle as a salvage title, but it is significant. It may reduce the value of the automobile by 25% or more.

California Civil Code Section 1794

The most important section of the Song Beverly Consumer Warranty Act left to discuss is California Civil Code section 1794, which governs the available damages to the product. In addition to the calculation of the repurchase and replacement remedies described above, these available damages include: incidental and consequential damages, attorney’s fees, and the availability under certain conditions of a civil penalty.

The attorney’s fees provision is perhaps the most important provision in the law, because this is what allows law firms like Goldsmith West to represent consumers free of charge. The civil penalty, which can be awarded in an amount of up to two times actual damages, is also significant, as it creates leverage against a manufacturer that attempts to avoid payment on a claim due to stone walling.

Conclusion

The Song Beverly Consumer Warranty Act establishes California’s lemon law. Because the act contains different parts that have different applications, it’s helpful to speak with a lemon law firm to learn how the act applies to a potential lemon law claim. If you have a situation that you feel may be covered by the act, please contact Goldsmith West today to schedule a free consultation.

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