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A vehicle is a major purchase and a significant investment. When you spend a substantial amount of money on a vehicle, you may wonder what type of legal protections you have if a problem arises that can't be repaired. California Lemon Law provides strong consumer safeguards and relief for those who have bought cars, SUVs, trucks, and RVs that fail to conform to their warranties. But there's also another law that may offer you a remedy if you purchased a lemon — the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act.
Sometimes referred to as the "federal lemon law," the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act was enacted in 1975 and governs warranties for consumer products, including vehicles. Similar to the California Lemon Law, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act entitles the owner of a new or used defective vehicle that is covered by warranty to a legal remedy if the problem cannot be fixed. Although California Lemon Law offers statewide protection concerning defective vehicles, there can be specific instances in which it would be appropriate to apply the federal lemon law instead.
The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act allows consumers who have purchased vehicles that don’t conform to their warranties the option to commence a lawsuit under federal law to recover their damages. Notably, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act doesn't actually require that vehicle manufacturers give consumers written warranties. Instead, it mandates that the terms within the document are clearly described when a warranty is provided. Under the Act, manufacturers or dealerships who provide written warranties must:
Critically, the Act doesn't allow implied warranties to be disclaimed or modified by a written warranty. In other words, a written warranty cannot provide less protection than an implied warranty of merchantability. In addition, deceptive warranty terms are strictly prohibited by federal law.
Under California Lemon Law, a consumer who purchased a lemon car may be entitled to a replacement vehicle or a buyback from the manufacturer. In many lemon law cases, it’s best to assert a claim under California law, rather than the federal law, as it generally provides stronger protections.
For instance, under California's lemon law, there is a presumption that a car is a lemon if a defect substantially impairing its value or safety arose within 18 months of the vehicle's delivery — or the first 18,000 miles were driven. The lemon law presumption often makes it easier for a consumer to bring a lemon law claim. No further proof is needed to establish that the vehicle is a lemon, other than showing a reasonable number of attempts were made to repair the defect. Instead, the burden is on the manufacturer to prove that the car is not a lemon.
Even if the defect didn't arise during the presumption period, a consumer can bring a claim for an issue that was discovered at any time while the vehicle was covered by the original manufacturer's warranty. Generally, four repair attempts are enough to file a lawsuit under California Lemon Law. But, if the problem could result in injury or fatality, only two repair attempts must be made. A vehicle might also meet the state's lemon law criteria if it was in the shop for 30 days or more for a defect that could not be fixed.
By bringing a claim under the California Lemon Law, as opposed to the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, a consumer can maximize the allowable compensation for their damages. Specifically, under state law, a consumer may be able to recover a monetary civil penalty up to double the amount of damages incurred. Although this remedy isn't available in every case, the amount of compensation awarded can be substantial if the manufacturer willfully violated California's lemon law.
Critically, legal fees may be awarded under either law — this means that the manufacturer would be responsible for paying attorney's fees and court costs to a prevailing plaintiff, in addition to providing them with a refund or replacement vehicle.
While it's usually best in most cases to pursue a claim under California Lemon Law, the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act may provide an option for consumers who are unable to raise a claim under state law. For example, California's lemon law only provides a remedy for those who bought their vehicle within the state. The federal statute allows consumers to bring a claim in a California court regardless of the state in which they purchased the car.
The federal lemon law might also be applicable in situations where the vehicle was brought to a facility other than an authorized dealership for repairs. Under state law, the attempts to repair the nonconformity must have been made by an authorized dealership — or the manufacturer — in order to bring a lemon law claim. However, under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, a manufacturer cannot refuse to honor a warranty if someone else performed maintenance or repairs on the vehicle.
Importantly, a warranty cannot be voided under federal law if the parts used for repairs were produced by a company other than the vehicle's manufacturer. California's lemon law does not cover aftermarket car parts — if repairs were made using replacement parts that the original vehicle manufacturer did not produce, a state lemon law case could be adversely affected. A better outcome might be achieved in these cases by bringing a claim under the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act.
If you don't satisfy the criteria to bring a claim under California Lemon Law, it's essential to understand that you may still have the option to pursue a legal remedy under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act. An experienced lemon law attorney can advise you concerning your legal rights and remedies based on the facts of your case. The attorneys at The Ledbetter Law Firm are committed to advocating for the rights of consumers who have purchased lemon vehicles to help ensure they receive the maximum amount of recovery to which they're entitled.
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 Torrance and San Diego, California, telephone and video conferencing options are also available. Call (310) 507-7022 to schedule a consultation with a California Lemon Law attorney today.