California Lemon Laws: Guide to the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act

by Aaron Fhima on Aug. 16, 2017

Motor Vehicle Defect and Lemon Law Consumer Rights  Consumer Protection 

Summary: Lemon laws are designed to protect consumers who buy vehicles under warranty. These laws make sure that manufacturers are held accountable for the costs of a defective vehicle.

Lemon laws are designed to protect consumers who buy vehicles under warranty. These laws make sure that manufacturers are held accountable for the costs of a defective vehicle. Lemon laws vary considerably from state to state. California lemon law, for example, is one of the strongest in the nation.

In California, vehicle manufacturers must abide by the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act. Found in Section 1790-1795.8 of the California Civil Code, the Act applies not only to vehicles, but also to other consumer goods covered by written or implied warranties. Its most common use, however, is in relation to new vehicle purchases, which typically have stronger warranties than other products and used vehicles.

Essentially, the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act provides consumers a legal path towards repayment or replacement if a product doesn’t meet the promises given by the manufacturer. California’s lemon law is extremely important for consumer protection, but it doesn’t apply to every vehicle purchase. Let’s look at what is covered by the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act…

Types of Vehicles Covered

California's lemon law covers a variety of new and used vehicles, including:

  • Cars, vans, SUVs, and pickup trucks
  • Drivetrain, chassis, and chassis cabs on motorhomes
  • Vehicles purchased for family or household use
  • Most vehicles leased or purchased specifically for business purposes.

When Do Lemon Laws Apply?

In California, the Lemon Law applies for the full duration of the manufacturer's warranty, unless the vehicle is expressly sold 'as is.' If a vehicle is sold ‘as is,’ the purchaser waives all implied warranties. The time limit for filing a claim might occasionally extend past the original warranty period, but a four-year statute of limitations applies to all claims.

Lemon Law Presumption

California manufacturers are given the opportunity to make a "reasonable number" of attempts at repairing malfunctioning vehicles, but "reasonable" is not clearly defined in the law. However, the state's Lemon Law Presumption includes guidelines that make it easier to determine if a reasonable number of attempts have been made. For example, if the defect is safety related, meaning that it is likely to lead to death or extreme injury, the manufacturer must refund or replace the vehicle following two attempts at repair.

Restitution Versus Replacement

If reasonable attempts at repair fail to resolve vehicle issues, the manufacturer can choose to either replace the vehicle or offer the consumer restitution (repayment). Any replacement vehicle must be "substantially identical to the problematic vehicle." The replacement vehicle must also be covered by express and implied warranties that ordinarily cover the same make and model. The manufacturer must cover taxes, license and registration, and other fees. 

The Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act allows consumers to choose restitution instead of repayment, and prevents manufacturers from forcing consumers to accept replacement vehicles. If the driver opts for restitution, the manufacturer must cover the actual amount paid for the vehicle, plus the following expenses:

  • Applicable taxes
  • License and registration
  • Reasonable repair 
  • Towing
  • Rental car costs incurred due to the faulty vehicle.

Mileage may be deducted from the restitution value, reflecting the period between purchase and when the consumer first delivered the vehicle to the manufacturer or an authorized service center for repair. That’s why it is important to take your vehicle in for repair as soon as you discover a defect.

Lemon Law Cases at Neale & Fhima

If you suspect you've been sold a lemon, call Neale & Fhima at (949) 661-1007 to learn more about the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act and to schedule a free case consultation.

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