On the surface, lemon law sounds like a relatively simple concept: you buy a defective vehicle, and the manufacturer/dealer gives you a refund or a replacement. In a perfect world, this would be a seamless process that can be resolved in a few hours or less.
Unfortunately, the lemon law process is a bit more complicated than bringing a return item back to Walmart.
Once you get into the nitty gritty details of what the process entails, you’ll quickly understand that there are all kinds of little details and variables that influence the resolution. While every situation will come with its own unique set of circumstances, there are a handful of common hurdles that many are faced with in the lemon law process. Let’s talk about three of the big ones and how to push past them.
- Filing a Claim for a Used Vehicle
Knowing where and how used vehicles fit in the lemon law process can certainly be tricky. As lemon law varies across the country, regulations are specific to your location. The truth of the matter is used vehicles simply cannot qualify as lemons in many states. But, if you are in a state like California, you might be entitled to benefits.
Now, there is no denying that getting a buyback or a replacement is a bit more difficult with a used vehicle. Using California lemon law as an example, there must be a dealer or manufacturer warranty in place for it to apply. Keep in mind, if you bought the car with an “as is” label, you agreed to take full responsibility for any faults the vehicle may have, and therefore, would not be eligible for benefits. When you purchase a used vehicle, it should come with a buyer’s guide – which will tell you whether it is covered under warranty.
In the case that the used vehicle iscovered, you are potentially eligible for a California lemon law buyback. If the substantial defect you noticed compromises the safety, value, or functionality, it would be processed similarly to a new vehicle. This would require the dealership to fix the problem within a reasonable number of repair attempts. If they are unable to remedy the issue, they would be required to offer you a buyback.
From a consumer standpoint, claims for used vehicles can get very complicated. Lemon law attorneys in California deal with them every day; if you have a hunch the used vehicle you recently bought has a substantial defect, you need to reach out immediately. The window of opportunity closes very quickly on lemons.
- Tallying Up ALL Incidental Costs
When you win a lemon law case and receive a buyback (the typical outcome), there are several key costs the manufacturer must cover. This includes the full cost of the vehicle (if applicable: the down payment, monthly payments made, remainder of the loan) as well as all legal expenses. In addition to the main costs, the manufacturer/dealership must cover the incidental costs stemming from the lemon. These can stretch surprisingly far – as long as you hold onto all the paperwork.
Incidental costs can include everything like a rental car, cab rides, towing, hotel stays, meals, repairs, lost wages, etc. Additionally, the manufacturer must cover the official costs you paid with the lemon – registration, sales tax, etc.
The most important thing here is that you keep records of EVERYTHING related to the defective vehicle and give them to your lemon law attorney. If you win the case, not holding onto these records is essentially leaving money on the table.
- Pinpointing Red Flags When Choosing a Lemon Law Lawyer
Choosing the right lawyer is the most crucial part of any legal proceeding. The harsh reality is that the world is filled with sketchy lawyers who prey on uninformed clients. In the realm of lemon law, there are several key red flags you need to watch out for.
First and foremost, if the lawyer assures you they can handle your case, yet isn’t specialized in lemon law, keep searching. Remember, you are going up against the high-powered legal teams of big auto manufacturers. An unspecialized lawyer will get chewed up and spat out. As a rule of thumb, if a lawyer doesn’t advertise lemon law services, don’t let them handle your case.
Second, if the lawyer immediately agrees to take your case without a consultation or detailed analysis of the situation, there is a good chance they are simply trying to gain a client and aren’t overly concerned with you getting full justice. A good lemon law lawyer won’t take your case unless they think they can win.
A third red flag is if you have very little (if any) face time with the attorney after the initial meeting and most communication is with assistants or paralegals. This is another sign they are simply trying to drive up their client volume. In many cases, these lawyers will encourage you to take a cash settlement – which can be much less than what you originally paid for the vehicle.
Lastly, be very skeptical of lemon lawyers who demand retainer or arbitration fees upfront. A good lemon attorney knows that if they win, the manufacturer will cover all legal costs and won’t pressure the consumer to pay them in the early stages.
As you could imagine, the lemon lawyer you choose makes all the difference in the outcome of the case. Choose wisely.
As you can see, the lemon law process is not as easy as it might seem. If you believe the vehicle you recently purchased or leased has a substantial defect, educate yourself as much as possible before you get the wheels turning on filing a claim.
Most importantly, you need to understand the common challenges and how to overcome them. In the legal world, ignorance is NOT bliss; it’s basically an open door to get taken advantage of.
Author Bio: Brian K. Cline is the founding partner at Cline APC, A California Lemon Law Legal Group. His firm represents clients throughout California. Their Los Angeles lemon law lawyersaggressively and ethically force vehicle manufacturers to buy back defective and dangerous vehicles.