When you buy a new or used car, the warranty is your security blanket, promising free or low-cost repairs under specified circumstances.
If the manufacturer is not able to repair your vehicle’s defect, you have the option to file a lemon law claim to seek a buyback (refund). Lemon laws and warranty terms go hand-in-hand.
But what happens if the warranty is expired – can you still file a lemon law claim?
Yes and no.
It all comes down to timing. In this post, we’re going to explain the basics of lemon law, your options, and whether or not you can pursue a case. Let’s get moving.
1. What Defines a “Lemon” Vehicle?
Lemon law is a foreign concept to most consumers. In the grand scheme of things, ending up with a lemon is rare. A lemon is a vehicle that was sold with defects – which were not caused by consumer error.
Now, having a vehicle with manufacturer defects does not automatically qualify it as a lemon.
Each state has distinct laws that define a lemon. In the state of California, a vehicle must meet the following criteria to be eligible for a lemon law case:
- The vehicle’s original or dealer warranty was valid when the defect was reported to the manufacturer’s representatives (more on this later)
- The defect impacts the vehicle’s safety, functionality, and usability in a substantial way
- The defect was not in any way caused by driver abuse, neglect, or error
- The manufacturer’s certified repair facility has made a reasonable number of attempts to repair the specified defect – all of which were unsuccessful; or
- The vehicle has been in the certified repair facility for 30 or more total days or repairs covered n the warranty
Consumers need to have clear and organized documentation that their vehicle meets these qualifications – in addition to their warranty terms. If the consumer has records to prove their vehicle meets their state’s qualifications of a lemon, they are eligible to pursue a suit – but that’s just the beginning.
The next step would be to hire a lemon law attorney in California to manage the claim.
2. What if the Warranty is Expired?
To reiterate, lemon law suits are all about timing.
The most important factor in a lemon case is when you report the defect to the manufacturer.
When you report a suspected defect to the manufacturer’s representatives, they will direct you to a certified facility to carry out repairs under the warranty terms. Do not, under any circumstance, take your vehicle to a third-party mechanic to work on the defect. This can potentially void your warranty – making it nearly impossible to file a lemon suit.
If the warranty was valid when you initially reported the defect to the manufacturer, you may be eligible for a lemon law case if the vehicle ends up meeting the state’s qualifications.
3. What if the Warranty Expires During the Repair Process?
You may be surprised to learn that you may still be eligible for lemon law benefits if the warranty expires while the vehicle is being repaired. Assuming the defect in question was reported to the manufacturer while the warranty was still in effect, it doesn’t matter if the terms expire during the repair process.
4. What Types of Warranties Are Eligible for Lemon Law Cases?
In California, there are generally three types of warranties that come with vehicles sold at dealerships.
5. The Original Manufacturer’s Warranty
This is the most widely accepted warranty sold with new vehicles. The terms of original warranties very from brand to brand. Most are good for three years or before 36,000 miles accrue on the odometer. These terms will be specified before the purchase is completed.
6. The Dealer Warranty
California is one of the few states that extends lemon law benefits to used vehicles. Used car dealerships are required to sell vehicles with a “dealer warranty” or specify that the vehicle is being sold “as is” – or with no warranty in place. The terms of the dealer warranty or “as is” clause must be shown on the vehicle’s buyer’s guide while it’s on display.
Dealer warranties are much shorter than original warranties, typically lasting 30 days after purchase or before 1,000 miles accrue on the odometer. If the used vehicle meets the state’s criteria for a lemon, it will be processed in the same way as a new vehicle.
7. Implied Warranty of Merchantability
Implied warranties are somewhat of a gray area.
To reiterate, dealerships must specify if a used vehicle is being sold with a dealer warranty or “as is” agreement. But this doesn’t always happen. In this scenario, the vehicle may have an implied warranty in effect. Implied warranties are generally good for 60 days up to a year and cover the essential components of the vehicle.
Seeking lemon law benefits with an implied warranty can be very difficult; you will need an experienced lemon law lawyer to manage the claim.
8. What About Extended Warranties and Lemon Law?
The lemon law in California only applies to original manufacturer warranties, dealer warranties, and in some cases, implied warranties. Extended warranties do not make the consumer eligible for lemon law benefits.
Now, extended warranties look very similar to original manufacturer warranties, but they are very different in the eyes of lemon law. Vehicles under an extended warranty are only eligible for the repairs specified in the original warranty. If the technicians are not successful in repairing a defect, consumers cannot file a lemon law claim.
9. What is the Next Step?
If you believe your vehicle may be a lemon or a victim of manufacturer defects, the first step is to contact a lemon law attorney in your area. Most offer free consultations to assess your situation, warranty terms, and more to determine if you have a valid claim.
Now, in California, manufacturers are required to pay for lawyer expenses and court costs as part of the settlement. That being said, most lemon attorneys work on a contingency fee agreement. This means you pay nothing out-of-pocket for them to take your case.
In other words, everyone can afford to hire a skilled lemon law attorney.
The most important aspect of any lemon law case is timing. You need to report the defect to the manufacturer as soon as you notice something is off. If you wait too long to report it and the warranty expires, you may be out of luck.
Author Bio: Brian K. Cline’s Lemon Law Legal Group provides premier legal services. Our California lemon law lawyers aggressively and ethically force vehicle manufacturers to buy back defective and dangerous vehicles. Our team includes experienced trial lawyers with over 40 years of combined trial experience.