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What motorists should know about California's auto lemon law

The California lemon law is designed to protect consumers who discover a serious, unfixable flaw in a vehicle they've purchased or leased.

September 30, 2012|By Scott J. Wilson, Los Angeles Times
  • California's lemon law applies to any problem that “substantially impairs the use, value or safety” of a car covered by a manufacturer’s new vehicle warranty, provided the problem is discovered within 18 months or 18,000 miles of purchase or lease. Above, cars for sale at a Toyota dealership in Richmond, Calif.
California's lemon law applies to any problem that “substantially… (David Paul Morris, Bloomberg )

California's lemon law is designed to protect consumers who discover a serious, unfixable flaw in a vehicle they've purchased or leased. Here are key things to know about the law, according to the state Department of Consumer Affairs:

• The law applies to any problem that "substantially impairs the use, value or safety" of a car covered by a manufacturer's new vehicle warranty, provided the problem is discovered within 18 months or 18,000 miles of purchase or lease. Even if you bought the car used, the lemon law applies to the vehicle if the original warranty is still in effect.

• If the manufacturer cannot fix the problem, it must replace your car with a new one that is "substantially identical" or refund your money — your choice. The manufacturer can charge you for the mileage you've put on the flawed vehicle. If you've driven the car 6,000 miles, for example, the carmaker can deduct 5% of the original price before giving you a refund.

• Manufacturers are allowed a "reasonable" number of repair attempts before a car is branded a lemon. This is generally defined as four attempts, but in the case of potentially life-threatening problems, such as faulty brakes, they get only two tries. Also, if the vehicle has been in the shop for more than 30 days (not necessarily in a row) and is still not fixed you're entitled to seek a replacement or refund.

• Don't be surprised if the manufacturer, through its dealer, pushes back. The dealer may argue that the problem was caused by "abuse," in which case the lemon law doesn't apply. The dealer may also contend that the problem is not covered by the warranty, or that it has not had enough opportunities to fix the problem. Be sure to keep careful records of all work on the vehicle.

• To settle lemon law disputes, many manufacturers participate in the state-certified arbitration program. If you choose to go to arbitration, you have the right to accept or reject the arbitrator's decision. If you accept it, the manufacturer must also accept it. If you reject it, you can still take your case to court.

scott.wilson@latimes.com

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