Lemon law is an interesting sector of the legal system. Enacted in 1975 as the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, or Federal lemon law, it was created to protect consumers from defective vehicles covered by a manufacturer’s warranty.
Generally speaking, when a consumer is faced with a lemon, it is a completely new concept in which they have absolutely no experience. Lemon law cases tend to involve an extensive amount of factors. While some are obvious, many are not.
Unfortunately, auto manufacturers and their defense attorneys prey on the fact that most consumers are experiencing this sticky situation for the first time and have next to no knowledge about the process. As a result, many people have to learn several lessons the hard way in lemon law. Thankfully, you don’t have to fall into this category.
If you strongly believe your new or used purchased or leased vehicle is a lemon, you need to do your due diligence before reaching out to a lawyer. In addition to learning the basics of how the process works, you need to educate yourself on how to get the most from the manufacturer. Here are four key lessons in lemon law you shouldn’t have to learn in hindsight.
- Get the Ball Rolling as Soon as Possible
If you are hearing weird sounds coming from under the hood or something isn’t working right when you are driving, the worst thing you can do is wait and hope it goes away. Cars do not fix themselves! If you continue to drive a defective vehicle, you are putting yourself and other drivers at a greater risk. If something goes wrong and you get in an accident, you’ve got another legal process to deal with.
Additionally, there may be a relatively short window in which you can make a lemon law claim. This window will vary based on the state you are located. In bigger states, the strength of your case may depend on when the claim is brought. For instance, in California, you may have a very strong case if the lemon car exhibits a substantial defect (of which compromises the vehicle’s use, value or safety) within the first 18 months of the purchase date or before 18,000 miles accrue on the odometer, whichever comes first. Regardless, in California, even If you miss this window of opportunity, the consumer may still bring the lemon law case. The two basic elements in California require the defect element [see above], and that the consumer give the manufacturer, through its authorized repair facility, a reasonable opportunity to repair the defective condition.
Bottom line, if you have a hunch that your newly purchased or leased vehicle is defective, get yourself to an authorized repair facility and have it inspected. Most importantly, be sure to hold onto the repair orders. These repair orders (your evidence) will show what they find and how long the vehicle was in the shop.
- Finding a Trustworthy Lemon Law Lawyer in Requires Good Research
Whether you are living in a big city with a large pool of lawyers to choose from or a small town with limited resources, picking the right lawyer is the first step to a successful lemon law case. Since this is likely your first experience with a lemon, finding a good lawyer will require a bit of research. One of the biggest (and lesser known) red flags to look out for is the amount of individualized attention an attorney gives you.
For instance, in a big city like Los Angeles with some of the heaviest traffic in the country, it might seem like a given that California lemon lawyers are constantly swamped with cases and need to litigate them out as efficiently as possible. While there is definitely some truth to this, being swamped should not compromise the level of personalized service or thoroughness an attorney provides. While a good lemon law lawyer in Los Angeles should be committed to speedy buybacks and quick turnaround times, they should work to break the “always swamped” stigma and give you individualized service you deserve. If they are passing much of your communication off to assistants or paralegals, this is a sign you should look elsewhere for counsel.
Always remember, the best lawyers (regardless of their niche) let testimonials, word-of-mouth, and online reviews do the talking for them. Be sure you look into these factors first when making your selection.
- Arbitration is a Trap
Towards the beginning, the manufacturer might try to get you to sign an arbitration agreement and/or what is called a “Release Agreement.” Falling for the dreaded “arbitration trap” is perhaps the worst possible lesson you can learn the hard way in a lemon law case. Arbitration is almost always a bad thing for a consumer. In many situations, it’s exactly what the manufacturer wants you to do. Arbitration limits the manufacturer’s exposure and puts your case in front of a potentially big business friendly arbitrator. On the contrary, a jury of your peers is made up of 12 people. This will help insulate your case from the potential biases of one individual.
With a lemon law claim, arbitration can easily give the manufacturer an unfair advantage. This is because automakers and dealerships often times get to choose which arbitration firms are used in the proceedings. It’s very common that these firms rely on repeat business from the same auto manufacturer defense law firms. Moreover, they place heavy emphasis on documentation and records. As this is likely your first brush with lemon law, you are fighting a VERY steep uphill battle during arbitration against seasoned experts.
It’s very common that the outcome consumers end up getting is a cash settlement that is far less than what they originally paid for the vehicle. Do yourself a favor and NEVER sign any arbitration agreement from the manufacturer. If you win a lemon case, the manufacturer must pay for all your legal expenses, so hiring a specialized lawyer is the way to go.
- Incidental Costs Can Extend VERY Far
Lemon law is all about holding the vehicle manufacturer accountable for every single penny you had to spend as a result of buying a defective vehicle.
A big rookie mistake that many consumers make is not holding onto all receipts, records, and documentation related to their lemon law claim. A good attorney will argue these expenses in court and get the manufacturer to reimburse you for all of it. As you will quickly learn when you dig in, these costs can reach pretty far. In addition to the obvious ones like the actual cost of the vehicle, loan payments, sales tax, legal fees, repairs, registration, and other official costs affiliated with the faulty vehicle, there are all sorts of incidental costs you can claim.
These could include towing expenses, cab fares, Uber/Lyft rides, hotel if you got stranded, food, lost wages, etc. Be sure you are holding onto every piece of paperwork related to your lemon vehicle. If you tally all the costs up, the number can be pretty large.
Lemon law cases are a drag. Not even the greatest lemon law lawyer in the world will try to convince you otherwise. However, if you do it right, the process can be relatively quick and pain free.
All too often, consumers end up getting taken advantage of by either the manufacturer or warrantor and end up losing out on a good deal of their hard earned money. As you will hopefully never be faced with a lemon vehicle more than once, you need to be aware of these harsh realities beforehand and not fall victim to the common missteps.