California’s Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, also known as the “Lemon Law” requires manufacturers and other warrantors to honor their own warranties. This means that if a vehicle or other consumer product is defective and covered under an express warranty, then they have to repair. And if they cannot repair it after a reasonable number of attempts, then they have to either replace it or give you your money back.

While most of the “lemon” cases that we see deal with cars, almost any consumer product can be a lemon. This includes motorcycles, RVs, boats, pianos, or almost anything you can think of. The Conn Law, PC team has even brought “Lemon Law” claims for defective faucets!

Song-Beverly provides special rules for vehicles. In order to bring a Song-Beverly “Lemon Law” car case in California, you generally have to show that:

1. You bought or leased the motor vehicle in California;
2. The vehicle came with a written express warranty;
3. The vehicle had defects covered under the written warranty that substantially impaired the use, value, or safety of the vehicle to you;
4. You brought the vehicle in for repair to an authorized repair facility;
5. The manufacturer or its representative were unable to repair the defects after a reasonable number of attempts; and
6. The manufacturer did not offer to repurchase or replace the defective vehicle.

So what does this mean?

Bought or Leased in California

The text of Song-Beverly suggests that the statute only applies to consumer goods purchased in California. This interpretation was confirmed by the California Supreme Court in 2005 in the case Cummins, Inc. v. Superior Court, 36 Cal.4th 478. There are some exceptions to this rule. For example, Song-Beverly was amended in 2008 to allow active duty service members to bring Song-Beverly lawsuits if they are stationed in or reside in California at the time that they bring the lawsuit, even if they did not buy the car in California.

And even if you cannot bring a Song-Beverly claim, you may be able to bring a claim under the Federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, the Federal lemon law. One of the biggest differences between Magnuson-Moss and Song-Beverly is that under Magnuson-Moss, the consumer may first have to go through a non-binding arbitration process before bringing a lawsuit. Under Song-Beverly, pre-suit arbitration is not mandatory.

Written Express Warranty

Song-Beverly’s lemon law “repurchase or replace” requirement is triggered by the manufacturer’s breach of their express warranty. While Song-Beverly also provides for relief for breaches of implied warranties and breaches of service contracts, the appropriate relief provided is not as clear. While this is presents an interesting legal question, with new cars and cars covered under the new car warranty, it usually is not an issue and consumers are able to pursue their lemon law repurchase or replacement rights.

Substantial Nonconformity/Defect

While a manufacturer has a warranty obligation to repair all “nonconformities” covered by warranty, no matter how minor the complaints, it only has an obligation to offer a repurchase/replacement vehicle if it is unable to repair “substantial” defects after a reasonable number of attempts.

So what constitutes a “substantial” defect or nonconformity?

Only you can answer that question. Song-Beverly defines “nonconformities” as “a nonconformity which substantially impairs the use, value, or safety of the new motor vehicle to the buyer or lessee.” Civil Code Section 1793.22(e). That means that the defect has to be substantial to you. The nonconformity has to substantially impact your experience with the vehicle. Some defects, like a broken engine, probably apply to everyone. Some are more “substantial” to certain people than they are to others. For example, a broken Bluetooth would be a more substantial defect for someone with a multi-hour daily commute who uses Bluetooth to field work calls while driving than it would be for someone who doesn’t like to talk on the phone while driving. Again, only you can tell if the nonconformity is substantial.

Brought the Vehicle in for Repair

Before you can ask for a repurchase or replacement vehicle under the lemon law, you almost always have to give the manufacturer the opportunity to repair the vehicle. This means that you have to present the vehicle directly to the manufacturer or one of their “authorized service and repair facilities.” This usually means taking the vehicle to a franchised dealership (one with the manufacturer listed in the dealerships name). You do not have to take the car back to the dealership that you bought it from; any authorized repair facility is sufficient. Just don’t take the vehicle to your local independent mechanic, they usually are not authorized to perform warranty work.

Reasonable Number of Repair Opportunities

The manufacturer (or its authorized repair facility) is entitled to a “reasonable number of attempts” to repair the nonconformity before they have to offer a repurchase or replacement vehicle under the California lemon law. So how many attempts is reasonable? It depends. Generally, you have to give the manufacturer at least two repair opportunities; the word "attempts" means more than one.

Under specific situations, a certain number of attempts is presumed to be reasonable. For example, if within the earlier of the first 18,000 miles or 18 months of use, you bring the vehicle in for repair at two times for the same serious safety issue, and the manufacturer cannot fix it, then there is a presumption that there has been a reasonable number of repair attempts. This same presumption applies if you bring the vehicle in at least four times within this time period for a non-safety nonconformity. It also applies if the vehicle has been out of service for repair for more than 30 days within the first 18,000 miles/18 months of use.

If your situation does not fall within the “presumption,” don’t worry! The vast majority of lemon law cases we see are not “presumption” cases.

As a note of caution, before you sign any repair invoice, make sure that your concerns are accurately written down. And make sure that the dealer generates a repair order for every repair attempt! If it isn’t written down, it can be hard to prove it happened.

And if the dealership hasn’t fixed the vehicle, bring it back right away.

The bottom line is, how many times you have to take the car in before you’ve given the manufacturer a “reasonable number of attempts” depends on the circumstances. But more is always better!

Failure to Offer a Repurchase or a Replacement Vehicle

If a manufacturer cannot repair a vehicle after a reasonable number of attempts, it has an affirmative obligation under Song-Beverly to promptly offer to repurchase the vehicle or offer the consumer a replacement vehicle. While the manufacturer can always just offer a refund, it cannot force the consumer to accept a replacement vehicle.

While it never hurts to do so, the consumer does not even have to ask the manufacturer for a refund/replacement. The manufacturer has to offer this relief on its own.

Most lemon law claims arise when the manufacturer fails to comply with its refund/replace obligation.

If you have any more questions about the lemon law or think your car might be a lemon, give us a call or fill out our intake form to talk to one of our lemon law lawyers.

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