California Lemon Law Time Limit: Don't Wait

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Dealing with a car that has problems can cause considerable inconvenience. You should be able to depend on your vehicle to get you to work, school, or anywhere else you may need to go. Not only can an unreliable car disrupt your daily life, but it can also result in your incurring substantial costs for repairs.

California Lemon Law protects consumers from the financial strain and burden that can come with owning a vehicle that doesn't conform to its warranty — and the aggravation of having to bring it back to the dealership repeatedly for repairs. But if you think your car is a lemon, you mustn't delay taking action. Missing the time limit to file a lemon law claim might mean that you're forever barred from receiving the refund or replacement vehicle you’re entitled under the statute.

How Can You Tell if Your Car is a Lemon?

If you recently purchased a new or preowned vehicle in California, it should run well and be without any recurring problems. Unfortunately, a car may sometimes be sold with a defect that substantially impairs its safety or value and cannot be repaired, making it rise to the level of a lemon. If you can establish that your car satisfies the lemon law criteria, you may be eligible to receive a refund or replacement vehicle from the manufacturer.

A car might be a lemon due to any number of issues, including:

  • Transmission problems
  • Bad brakes
  • Software malfunctions
  • Mechanical defects
  • Electrical problems
  • Faulty airbags

In order for your vehicle to legally qualify as a lemon in California, several reasonable attempts to repair its defect must be made. Usually, four unsuccessful repair attempts are enough to show your vehicle is a lemon. Only two trips to the repair shop may be necessary if the defect could cause a serious safety issue resulting in injury or fatality. A car may also satisfy the California Lemon Law criteria if it was in the repair shop for a total of 30 days or more.

Although there isn't a specific time limit on repairing the vehicle, you must have found out about the defect while it was still under the manufacturer’s warranty to assert your rights under the lemon law.

How Long Do You Have to File a Lemon Law Claim?

It may be a hassle to bring your car to the shop for repairs, but it can be even more troublesome to be stuck with a lemon. This is why it’s essential to be aware of the crucial California lemon law time limits that are involved in a case. Significantly, once the nonconformity is discovered, you only have a certain amount of time to raise your claim. In California, the statute of limitations for a lemon law claim is four years — any lawsuit based on the grounds that your car is a lemon must be filed within this time frame.

Critically, even though there is a strict four-year timeline, there are many nuances involved in determining when the statute of limitations starts and ends — and you mustn't wait until the last minute to file.

When Does the California Lemon Law Time Limit Start?

Many consumers have the misconception that the statute of limitations begins on the date you purchase the lemon vehicle — this is incorrect. The California Lemon Law time limit starts once you should have known the defect in your vehicle made it a lemon. In other words, the clock starts ticking when you realize the nonconformity was not repairable.

Since the start time for the lemon law statute of limitations is not always straightforward, it can often leave room for interpretation — and litigation. In some cases, a manufacturer may try to get your case thrown out on a technicality by arguing you didn't raise your claim before the statute of limitations expired. It's critical to keep repair receipts, copies of correspondence with the authorized dealership, and detailed records so the timeliness of your claim cannot be disputed.

It's also important to note that there is a presumption that a car is a lemon if the nonconformity arose within the first 18 months of the car's delivery — or 18,000 miles driven. In this case, no further proof is needed to establish your car is a lemon other than showing the defect arose within that time frame. Rather, the burden is on the manufacturer or authorized dealership to rebut your claim. However, even if a vehicle might be presumed to be a lemon, the case must still be commenced before the four-year California Lemon Law time limit is up.

What Happens if You Delay Making a Lemon Law Claim?

If you fail to raise your lemon law claim before the statute of limitations expires, you may be precluded from invoking the statute to obtain a refund or replacement vehicle. For the manufacturer, a statute of limitations defense can serve as a strong argument to get your case dismissed.

While you have four years to file, delaying your lemon law case could potentially affect the outcome. For instance, the manufacturer may try to dispute your claim by shifting the blame to you. They may contend that any mileage you put on the vehicle between the time you discovered the nonconformity and commenced your case caused wear and tear that contributed to the vehicle's problems. Additionally, by waiting until the last minute to file — and continuing to drive the car in the meantime — proving the seriousness of your vehicle's defect can become more difficult.

Contact an Experienced Southern California Lemon Law Attorney

If you purchased a new or preowned vehicle that doesn't conform to the manufacturer's warranty, you may have a lemon. As soon as you realize your car has a defect that can’t be repaired, it's essential to contact a skilled California Lemon Law attorney who can advise you of your legal rights and remedies. The attorneys at the Ledbetter Law Firm are dedicated to fighting for the rights of those who purchased lemons to ensure they receive the maximum compensation they're entitled under California’s lemon law.

The Ledbetter Law Firm helps people in Southern California who have experienced lemon law issues with their vehicles obtain the refund or the replacement vehicle that they deserve from the manufacturer. With offices conveniently located in San Diego and Torrance, California, telephone and video conferencing options are also available. Call (619) 374-0252 to schedule a consultation with a California Lemon Law attorney today.