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Myths About Lemon Law

Filing a Lemon Law Claim

How lemon law works is frequently misunderstood. Commonly believed myths surrounding filing a lemon law claim are part of the reason why. To help you understand how lemon law works and whether filing a lemon law claim is an option, we present 14 misconceptions about lemon law.

I need X amount of repairs and Y amount of days in the shop to qualify for lemon law.

This myth is not surprising. Even seemingly reputable sources — including law firms and local government agencies — make errors regarding these two types of lemon law qualifications.  Most of the errors are made in an effort to simplify and explain how lemon law works in terms of a rule of thumb.

The truth is, while here are certain numbers regarding repairs and days in the repair shop that establish a legal presumption that the vehicle is a lemon, there is no hard and fast rule that establishes a judgment that the vehicle is a lemon.

With or without the presumption, your car is a lemon if a reasonable person would find that it has had too many repair attempts or spent too much downtime in the shop. Your car may be deemed a lemon after as few as two repair attempts, or no repair attempts in cases such as a spontaneous fire that burns your car to a total loss before the defect can be repaired. Along this line of reasoning, safety issues generally require fewer repair attempts than non-safety related issues.

The reasonableness standard comes down to the arguments lawyers could make before a jury or judge at trial. If those arguments are persuasive enough, the case will usually be settled instead of going to trial.

I’ve waited too long or put too many miles on my car to file a lemon law claim.

We hear this frequently, and it’s usually untrue. In California, the statute of limitations (SOL) for filing a claim is four years from the date you knew or should have known your car was a lemon. This is a long window, and it requires the application of a reasonableness standard, which means lawyers can make arguments about when the statute of limitations began to run.

With a five-year powertrain warranty and a four-year statute of limitations, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that a car could be 9 years old with 120,000 miles on it and still be competently argued to be a lemon. Don’t make a decision about your vehicle without fully understanding how lemon law works. Let us be the judge of whether you have waited too long.

I can’t file a lemon law claim because I didn’t keep copies of my repair records.

Repair orders are important. In most lemon cases, they are the key evidence in determining how many repair attempts were made, how many days a vehicle spent in the shop, and whether the repair history is reasonable based on the defect.

However, if you didn’t keep copies of your repair records, don’t despair. Because the records are invoices for payment by you — or by the manufacturer, in the case of repairs made under warranty — dealerships keep copies of repair orders for years. They must give you these records at your request.

Filing a lemon law claim is not worth the hassle.

Many consumers are discouraged from filing lemon law claims by the idea that it will be a lot of work. In reality, beyond collecting your documents, your attorneys will do nearly all of the work. If your case lasts awhile, you may have to give a deposition for several hours or go to trial for several days. However, most cases settle before they get that far.

Filing a lemon law claim is not worth the time.

Some lemon law cases settle in a few weeks, while others are litigated for months. This can be frustrating for consumers, and manufacturers know it. However, keep in mind that the situation cuts both ways. Motor vehicles are depreciating assets. If a vehicle will likely be deemed a lemon, the manufacturer, who will eventually buy back and liquidate the vehicle, increases its own downside by failing to repurchase it in a timely manner.

Meanwhile, if the car is safe and functional besides the defect(s) — or even if they have been repaired after an unreasonable number of attempts — you can continue using the vehicle, even though the manufacturer will ultimately owe you reimbursement for the vehicle, including the payments you continue to make if the vehicle was purchased or leased.

Because I sold or traded in my vehicle, I missed my chance to file a lemon law claim.

California case law has established that getting rid of a lemon vehicle does not end your lemon law rights. Therefore, even if you have disposed of your lemon, you can file a lemon law claim according to the same four-year statute of limitations that applies to lemons that haven’t been disposed of.

I’m better off speaking to customer service than going to a lawyer.

Customer service claims managers often play the “good cop, bad cop” angle, saying something to the effect of, “You’re better off dealing with me. If you go to an attorney, it’s out of my hands, and you may not get what I’m offering you.” This is almost never the case. What they offer initially is almost always the minimum that is available later, regardless of whether you seek legal counsel.

However, if you are not working with an attorney, customer service will almost always offer you less than a full statutory lemon law remedy. This has been our observation throughout over a decade of experience working on lemon law cases from both sides: the plaintiff and the defense.

We have seen cases where a prospective client was hesitant to seek a lawyer’s help and endured months of stone walling, only to eventually ask our firm for assistance, and subsequently receive double the compensation originally offered after a single letter was sent to the manufacturer.

I can’t bring a claim because the dealer wrote “no problem found” on the repair orders.

You owe the manufacturer a reasonable repair opportunity, but the point of the lemon law is that manufacturers don’t get to arbitrarily decide that your vehicle is not a lemon. Even if the dealer fails to make the repair, or fails to attempt to repair the vehicle, it is still considered a repair opportunity.

Unfortunately, some consumers get discouraged by the “no problem found” response and stop bringing their vehicle in for repair opportunities. You are better off continuing to bring the vehicle in for diagnosis and repair while it is under warranty. If the dealer finally repairs the vehicle, that is great. But if not, you have strengthened your lemon law case.

I can prove my car is a Lemon by showing what a terrible experience I had.

This isn’t true. You may have told your friends and family about how defective your car is, it may be a running joke among your coworkers, and your significant other may refuse to go out on a date in the vehicle for fear of it breaking down. However, in most cases, the vehicle is not legally a lemon until you have given the dealer reasonable repair opportunities.

The best way to do this is to take the car to the dealership early and often within the warranty period for any problems you experience, and make sure that the dealer accurately records your concerns on the repair order. Hopefully, this will lead them to fix the vehicle. If not, you have documented that you gave them the chance, which can only strengthen your lemon law claim. Too often, we hear from people who suffer car problems in silence, and only realize later that they have lost lemon law rights by not wanting to be seen as a “complainer”.

My dealership is trying to help me resolve my lemon law claim.

Lemon law is usually an obligation of the manufacturer and not the dealership. Furthermore, lemon law buybacks and trades may even benefit dealers by allowing them to make money by selling a second car to the same customer. However, it’s usually not safe to assume that a car dealership is on your side. Our experience is that car dealers are usually trying to help themselves sell a car or get out of a legal jam. Be wary of “good samaritan” car dealers.

People that file lawsuits are greedy.

While this is obviously true in some cases, it’s not true generally, and it’s a harmful assumption. Most of our clients have never filed a lawsuit before, and most never will again. In fact, many of them never have to file a lawsuit, because we reach settlement without litigation.

What people sometimes misunderstand is that manufacturers can only spread costs associated with their lemon vehicles across their business if enough lemon owners don’t pursue lemon law claims. If every consumer required manufacturers to take back their lemons under the law, they would stop selling lemons.

My car has had recalls, so it’s a Lemon.

Recalls play an important role in many lemon law cases, but they do not by themselves establish that your car is a lemon. Strictly speaking, you need to make legal arguments about your own vehicle and your own experiences to establish a lemon law claim.

I have had problems, but I don’t think they rise to the level of lemon law.

Don’t be so sure. Our years of legal experience inform our firm’s opinion of what a lemon law claim looks like. We will give you an in-depth analysis for free, and we have no interest in encouraging claims that are unlikely to make a recovery. Why not listen to our fast, free, and confidential analysis of how lemon law works before deciding how to proceed?

Arbitration is always good (or always bad) for my lemon law case.

Deciding whether to proceed and how to proceed if a manufacturer invites you to its arbitration program is an important decision. It is true that consumers lose more often at arbitration than in court (which shouldn’t be surprising, considering that Manufacturers fund their own arbitration programs). However, this doesn’t mean that arbitration should always be avoided.

Choosing not to participate can actually deactivate certain portions of the Lemon Law. The language around arbitration in the statutes is highly discrete and not well understood, even by some lemon law attorneys. You should always take caution to make sure you make an informed decision about arbitration.

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Our firm specializes in helping consumers understand how lemon law works and pursue compensation for lemons when a legal claim is justified. To learn more about filing a lemon law claim and how lemon law works, contact Goldsmith West today to schedule a free consultation.

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