California Lemon Law Protection for Leased Cars

Does California Lemon Law Apply to Leased Cars?

Lemon Law Protects Leased and Purchased Vehicles

Many people who call my lemon law office ask: Can You Lemon a Lease Car? The answer is yes. California’s lemon law protects consumers who lease new cars and motorcycles, not just those who purchase them. So if you are having repeated issues with your leased car or motorcycle, you may have rights under the lemon law.

The California Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act and the Tanner Consumer Rights Act, commonly known as the California Lemon Law, provides powerful protections for consumers against defective new vehicles. But what exactly constitutes a “lemon” under the law? And how does it apply to leased vehicles specifically? Let’s break it down.

How Does a Car Qualify as a Lemon Under California Law?

For both purchased and leased vehicles, the lemon law requirements are the same. A vehicle qualifies as a lemon if it meets the following three conditions:

  1. It is still under the manufacturer’s original new car warranty. This is usually 3 years or 36,000 miles, but can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. Also, Certified Pre-Owned Cars may extend the original manufacturer warranty. 
  2. It has a defect or defects that substantially impair the use, value, or safety of the vehicle. The problems must relate to the same issue that the manufacturer or its authorized repair facilities have been unable to fix after multiple repair attempts. 
  3. The manufacturer or its authorized repair facilities have made at least four repair attempts for the same defect; or two repair attempts if the defect relates to a serious safety issue. 

The Tanner Consumer Protection Act also creates a presumption that a car is a lemon if within 18 months from delivery to the buyer or lessee, the car has been out of service for more than 30 calendar days for any number of problems. Essentially this is what we call California’s Lemon Law Presumption

Some common lemon law defects include engine issues, transmission problems, electrical malfunctions, brake failures, and chronic oil leaks. Remember, the defect or non-conformity must substantially affect the car’s safety, use, or value to potentially qualify under lemon law. Minor cosmetic flaws don’t count. 

How to File a California Lemon Law Claim for a Leased Car

The process to file a lemon law claim for a leased car is the same as for purchased cars. Here are the key steps:

  1. Document everything. Keep detailed records of all repair attempts, days out of service, conversations with the dealership and manufacturer, and any correspondence related to the defects. Thorough documentation is critical. And here is a pro tip: make sure the repair center accurately documents your problem or issue with the car. I had a case where the client was having constant transmission issues, but the repair center requested an “inspection” and never wrote about the problem she was having with her car. Unfortunately, the client’s car did not qualify for a lemon. 
  2. Give the manufacturer a reasonable number of tries to fix the problem with the car. If the defect is one which relates to the car’s safety, usually 2 repair attempts is sufficient. However, if it’s a non-safety defect or conformity, there has to be 4 or more repair attempts. The point is this: you can’t lemon your car just after one or two service attempts. Under California lemon law, the authorized repair facility must be given a “reasonable number” of attempts to repair the vehicle. Again, I get calls from potential clients that have taken their cars in for service 1 or 2 times and expect it to be a lemon. Unfortunately, that never qualifies. 
  3. If the manufacturer is not able to fix the problem after a reasonable number of repair attempts, speak with a qualified lemon law attorney near you. Make sure to send the following documents to the attorney: (1) lease agreement, (2) all service or repair orders, (3) any communications between you and the repair center, i.e., emails or text messages. The attorney will review all the information and then assess if your car meets the lemon law requirements in California.

How Much Can You Get Back Under California Lemon Law for a Leased Car?

It is important to remember that no two cases are alike and so no two settlements will ever be alike. With that said, California Lemon Law gives the lessees of cars, motorcycles, RVs, trucks, vans, and any other vehicle the following legal protections: 

California Lemon Law Replacement Vehicle

The car maker will provide a replacement vehicle of the same model and accessories if one is reasonably available. Any costs resulting from the swap (registration, sales tax, license fees, etc.) must be paid by the manufacturer. This is a good option for lease holders who are driving a specialty car or a very high-end car because those are extremely difficult to find in the marketplace.

California Lemon Law Buyback

Under the lemon law buyback, the manufacturer will repurchase the car and provide a full refund of all the lease payments made to date, the down payment, car registration and license fees. But the manufacturer may deduct a reasonable allowance for vehicle use prior to the first repair attempt. The car maker will also reimburse the lessee for rentals, towing charges, finance charges, or any other out of pocket expenses that were incurred because of the lemon car.

California Lemon Law “Cash-and-Keep”

In some instances, the car manufacturer may offer what we call a cash-and-keep option to the lessee. In these cases, what happens is that the dealership will fix the car and at the same time provide a lump sum cash settlement to the lessee. So the lessee gets to keep the car and also get cash compensation. This is an attractive option for some but not all people who lease their cars. We usually see this option with people who have purchased their cars, not leased them.

The lemon law aims to put the consumer back to where they would have been had they never leased the defective car.

How Much Does a Lemon Law Attorney Cost for a Leased Car

Here’s great news about California’s lemon law. Consumers usually will never have to pay any upfront costs or fees to an attorney to handle their case. The reason for this is because under California’s Song-Beverly Warranty Act, there is a provision which allows the attorney to recover actual time and expenses spent on litigating the case. 

So what does this mean for the consumer? This means that attorneys on lemon law cases, whether it’s a lease or purchase, work on a contingency fee basis. This means that if the attorney does not win, they will not recover anything. But it’s always a good idea to check with the attorney to make sure they are working on a contingency fee basis. 

In the case that the attorney is able to prevail on your case, then the attorney will submit a bill to the car manufacturer for the time expended on your case and the car manufacturer will pay the reasonable attorneys fees for your case. 

So rest assured, even if you lease a car you do not have to pay anything out of pocket to make a lemon law claim for your vehicle.

The lemon law provides important protections for California consumers who end up with defective vehicles, whether purchased or leased. But exercising your rights requires tenacity and legal expertise. If your leased car has left you with a sour taste due to chronic defects, don’t hesitate to contact an experienced lemon law attorney who can help you get the relief you deserve under the law. Understanding your consumer rights is key – so don’t delay in seeking legal assistance.

Tips for Finding the Best Lemon Law Attorney

If your leased vehicle qualifies under California lemon law, having an experienced attorney on your side can make all the difference in getting the relief you deserve. Here are some tips for finding the right lawyer:

– Search online for “lemon law attorney near me” or “best lemon law lawyer in Los Angeles” and browse the listings. Focus your search on firms that specialize in lemon law and consumer protection. 

– Check reviews and ratings sites to see what other clients have said about their experience with the lawyer. Look for consistent positive feedback.

– Call or email the law firm to ask about a free case evaluation. A genuine lemon law lawyer will be happy to discuss your situation and options at no charge.

– Talk with the prospective attorneys before signing a contract. A good lawyer will answer all your questions thoroughly and address your concerns. ALWAYS talk with the lawyer before you hire them. If the attorney does not talk to you and you’re only talking with a case manager or a paralegal, think twice before hiring that law firm. 

– Choose a lawyer you feel comfortable with and who is responsive to you. If you can’t reach your attorney or get clear answers now, it likely won’t improve after you hire them.

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