Does Lemon Law Protect Leased Cars in California?

Leased Car Qualify for “Lemon Law” Protection in California

Many drivers opt to lease their cars in California rather than buy them outright. This is a smart choice because it limits your out-of-pocket costs and gives you the opportunity to upgrade your car after 3 to 4 years. But what happens when the car you lease is defective and constantly at the dealership for repairs?

Many who lease their cars in California unfortunately are not aware of their rights when they end up with a defective vehicle. Many others simply don’t believe that California consumer protection laws extend to them because they have opted to lease their car instead of buying it. But the reality is that defective and faulty vehicles can leave lessees just as frustrated as owners. Thankfully, California’s Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, better known as the “lemon law”, also protects people who lease a car. 

If your leased car meets the defective criteria to qualify as a “lemon”, you have all the same legal rights as if you purchased the defective vehicle. This guide examines how the law provides recourse for lessees struggling with repetitive defects and repairs.

What Vehicles Are Covered Under California's Lemon Law?

California’s lemon law covers new vehicles leased or purchased for personal, family or household use including:

– Cars

– SUVs 

– Pickup Trucks

– Vans

– Hybrids

How Does a Leased Car Qualify as a Lemon Under California Song-Beverly Act?

For a leased vehicle to qualify as a lemon, it must have:

– A substantial defect covered by the manufacturer’s original warranty

– The defect continues to exist after a reasonable number of repair attempts by an authorized service center, such as the dealership, and 

– The defect substantially impairs the vehicle’s use, value or safety (unfortunately minor defects do not qualify). 

What Is a Reasonable Number of Repair Attempts for Leased Cars in California?

Generally speaking, if a leased car is in the repair facility 4 or more times, then it may be considered a lemon. However, if the defect is serious that it is life threatening, then simply 2 repair attempts may make the car a lemon. It is important to remember that every case is different and sometimes what may constitute a lemon in one particular situation in California, may not qualify as a lemon car in other situations. 

It is important to note that California’s Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act does have a lemon law presumption. Simply put, if within 18 months or 18,000 miles after you have leased your vehicle in California, one of the following occurs, then it may be considered a lemon: 

  1. The car has a serious safety defect which the repair center has tried to fix on at least 2 occasions, but the defect or problem has not been fixed. Generally, these types of defects have to be serious enough to cause death or severe bodily injury.
  2. Now in cases where the car’s defects or problems are not that serious, i.e., life threatening, the lemon law presumption may still apply if there have been 4 repair attempts for the same problem but the car is still not fixed. 
  3. Perhaps the most important lemon law presumption is if your car has been sitting at a repair shop for more than 30 days. This is a powerful tool in California for people who lease their cars because these 30 days do not have to be consecutive, meaning that you could add up all the days in the shop for different repair attempts in the first 18 months or 18,000 miles after purchase. And also, the repairs don’t even have to be for the same defects – the repairs could be for different problems with the car as long as they are covered under the warranty. 

Examples of Common Car Defects in California

Here is a common list of problems with leased cars in California that may make them a lemon: 

– Transmission problems 

– Electrical issues, especially with the car’s infotainment system 

– Constant engine stalling

– Major electrical malfunctions

– Dangerous steering wheel vibrations

– Noxious exhaust odors entering cabin

– Airbag or SRS issues

– Brake issues or ghost breaking (where the car automatically stops without anything being in front of it)

– Major oil leaks

– Heating and air conditioning issues

It is important to remember that the above list is not an exhaustive list of problems with leased cars in California that will make them a lemon. There are many other car issues that will cause a vehicle to be a lemon in California. If your vehicle is having specific problems that are not listed, please contact our law firm and speak with one of our lemon law attorneys about your rights in California. 

What Are Your Compensation Rights if Your Leased Car is Found To Be a Lemon in California?

If your leased vehicle qualifies as a lemon, California law remedies gives you the right to: 

– A replacement new vehicle of the same make, model and features.

– A refund calculated based on lease payments made to date from the date of first repair attempt. You are also entitled to registration fees, towing fees, and any other out of pocket expense related to the lemon car. However, unlike claims for car accidents, you are not entitled to pain and suffering or lost wages in lemon law claims. 

– In some cases, you may be offered a cash and keep option. This is where the car maker offers to fix your car and give you a lump sum cash to settle any lemon law claims while you get to keep the car. While these offers are often enticing, they need to be carefully considered and reviewed by an attorney to ensure that your future lemon law rights are preserved. 

How To Document Your Repair Attempts For Your Leased Car in California?

If you believe your car is a lemon, there are important things you need to do in order to preserve your rights and establish a record to be successful on your Song-Beverly Act claim. 

First, make sure to take your car into an authorized service center. These are usually repair centers at the dealership or other specialized repair shops designated by the manufacturer. Taking your vehicle to an unauthorized repair facility may not give the same rights to lemon your defective car. 

Second, make sure the service technician clearly understands and documents the problems with your vehicle. We have seen many cases where the service center associates vaguely describe the problem without going into the details. For example, in one instance our client was having constant transmission problems, but the service orders simply stated “customer requests inspection.” Unfortunately, it becomes very difficult in these situations to establish that the car had experienced repeated transmission problems. 

Third, keep all records related to your service, such as repair orders, rental car receipts and related paperwork. Thorough documentation strengthens your claim legitimacy.

Who Pays Your Attorney For a Lemon Law Claim in California?

California law contains a statutory attorney’s fee provision for lemon law cases. This basically means that if you hire an attorney to file a claim and your attorney ultimate prevails and establishes that the car is a lemon, the car manufacturer must then pay your attorney the reasonable amount of time spent on litigating the claim. The car manufacturers must also pay for all the reasonable expenses which your attorney incurred in bringing the claim, such as filing fees, expert fees, inspection fees, to name a few. 

California’s Lemon Law Statute of Limitations

Lemon law rights have strict time limitations. To qualify for a California lemon law refund or replacement vehicle, you must file legal action within specified time limits from the date of purchase or defect. These time limits are often complex and require a thorough review of the records. If you believe your car is a lemon and you are concerned about the statute of limitations, contact our law firm to speak with one of our lemon law attorneys. 

Don’t struggle needlessly with a defective leased car. Call Los Angeles lemon law attorney Shervin Behnam for dedicated legal support. Our consultations are always free and confidential – so there is no pressure or obligation to hire us.

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