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Vehicle Lemon Law: How Many Repair Attempts Do I Need?

Generally speaking, most vehicle lemon law cases hinge on three specific elements:

  1. There must be a defect covered by warranty.
  2. The defect must create a substantial impairment of use, value, or safety.
  3. The defect must have been subject to a reasonable number of repair attempts.

There is case law that says because vehicle lemon law uses the plural term “attempts”, there must be more than one repair attempt. See Silvio v. Ford Motor Company, 109 Cal.App.4th 1205 (2003). This means that, in a breach of express (written) warranty case, the consumer must bring the car to the auto dealer for repair on at least two occasions.

Other than that, there is no set number of “reasonable” repair attempts. What is reasonable depends on legal argument. This is why it’s a good idea to consult a car lemon law attorney before reaching conclusions about your case regarding repair attempts.

Your lawyer may be able to argue that two varying complaints had the same root cause, and thus meet the minimum two repair attempts required by vehicle lemon law. Or, the attorney may be able to argue that an issue that the manufacturer doesn’t consider “substantial” actually has an effect on safety, and so should require fewer repair attempts to qualify the vehicle as a lemon.

The Lemon Law Presumption

Consumers often believe that there are a set number of repair attempts required for a vehicle to be considered a lemon. This error may come from a misunderstanding of the Tanner Consumer Protection Act amendment to the Song Beverly Consumer Warranty Act (the California state lemon law) which provides a legal presumption that a vehicle is a lemon if any of the following exist within the first 18 months / 18,000 odometer miles:

  1. Two or more repair attempts for a safety defect;
  2. Four or more repair attempts for a substantial non-safety defect; or
  3. 30 or more total days out of service by reason of repair.

If any of these requirements are met, it is no longer the consumer’s responsibility to prove the car is lemon. Rather, it becomes the manufacturer’s responsibility to disprove that the automobile is a lemon. This distinction may seem subtle, because the manufacturer can still prove the vehicle is not a lemon. In practice, however, doing so is difficult, and manufacturers often opt to settle rather than fight a solidly presumed car lemon law case.

Presumption is a powerful tool in lemon law, but it has different procedural requirements than non-presumption lemon law, further reinforcing the value of consulting a lemon law attorney.

Exception to the Rule: Implied Warranty Cases

Despite the discussion above, it is possible to have a vehicle lemon law case with fewer than two repair attempts. In fact, it is even possible to have a case with fewer than one repair attempt.

Both state and federal lemon laws can be invoked under breaches of the implied warranty, as well as under express (written) warranties. “Implied” means created by law, though not written down, such as in a warranty manual. It is usually used within the context of “implied warranty of merchantability,” which basically states that a product must be fit for the ordinary purposes for which it is purchased.

Cases where a breach of implied warranty of merchantability may exist, even without repeat repair attempts, would include a catastrophic failure of the vehicle and a series of one-off failures, which — taken together — show evidence that the vehicle was not built to merchantable standards.

To use a real world example, our firm has taken cases based on allegations that a 2012 Toyota Camry was destroyed by a spontaneous fire, that a 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee rollaway incident was caused by a defective gear selector, and that numerous leaks and failed parts in 2013 – 2016 Chevrolet Cruze vehicles establish that those vehicles were not built and distributed in a merchantable condition.

Need Legal Advice About Repair Attempts?

The number of times a vehicle is repaired for a persistent problem often plays a role in establishing lemon cases. However not all vehicle lemon law cases entail counting up repair attempts. If you need advice about whether repair attempts could be an element in a car lemon law case, contact Goldsmith West for a free consultation. We look forward to providing helpful guidance.

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