What is Considered a Substantial Defect in California Lemon Law?

car defect

If you purchased a new or used vehicle in California with issues that can’t be repaired, you may be protected by the lemon law. However, there are specific criteria that must be met to assert your right to a refund or replacement vehicle. Importantly, to invoke the lemon law, the problem with the car cannot be a minor issue — it must be a substantial defect that significantly impairs the value or safety of the vehicle.

What is a Substantial Defect?

Whether a defect is one that is “substantial” is measured objectively under California’s Lemon Law. In other words, the owner’s opinion regarding the vehicle’s problem is irrelevant. To rise to the level of a lemon, the defect must be one that a reasonable person believes would make the vehicle unsafe or impair the car’s value.

A substantial defect is also one that would make a vehicle fail to conform to the manufacturer’s warranty. While many types of defects may be annoyances for a consumer — such as noisy windshield wipers or an air conditioner that blows too cold — these issues would not make a car a lemon. Similarly, defects arising from owner negligence or poor repairs would not qualify under the lemon law.

Examples of Substantial Defects

There are many types of defects that may make your car a lemon. While the law doesn’t require that a safety defect places the driver or their passengers at risk of foreseeable harm, it is enough to show that the defect could pose a hazard in the future. There are also numerous substantial defects that can diminish the market value of a vehicle, which may be determined with the help of an appraiser.

Some common examples of substantial defects in lemon law claims include:

  • Transmission problems
  • Brake issues
  • Steering malfunctions
  • Check engine light issues
  • Acceleration defects
  • Stalling
  • Malfunctioning headlights or taillights
  • Bad power steering pumps
  • Faulty airbags
  • Software problems
  • Electrical issues

In one recent case, a consumer was able to obtain a buy back from Hyundai for a Hyundai Palisade due to a persistent pungent odor. According to reports from consumers, the smell has affected a number of Palisades and emanates from the foam inside the vehicle’s headrests. Critically, some owners reported going back to an authorized dealership several times before the problem could be remedied. While smells and bad odors aren’t typically considered substantial defects, the Hyundai Palisade case shows that this could change in the future.

In order to qualify for a remedy under California’s Lemon Law, you must allow the manufacturer to make a reasonable number of repair attempts. Usually, four attempts will suffice to establish your right to invoke the lemon law. However, only two repair attempts are generally necessary if the defect is one that puts the driver, passengers, and others on the road at risk of injury or fatality.

What Can You Do if You Purchased a Defective New Car?

It’s important to understand that if you purchase a defective new car, the lemon law may offer you a legal remedy. If your vehicle was purchased in the state of California — and was under the original manufacturer’s warranty when the defect was discovered — you may be able to file a lawsuit if the problem can’t be fixed after reasonable repair attempts are made. You may also be eligible to pursue a legal claim if the defect arose within the first 18 months of delivery or the initial 18,000 miles driven. In such cases, the law presumes a vehicle is a lemon.

If the manufacturer refuses to settle your case and offer you a replacement vehicle or refund for your lemon, it may be necessary to pursue litigation. While manufacturers often encourage arbitration, it is not required. Although you may still be able to file a lawsuit if you arbitrate your case and do not prevail, it’s essential to be aware that an unfavorable decision can be entered as evidence in litigation. An experienced lemon law attorney can best advise you regarding the best course of action in your case.

Contact a Knowledgeable Southern California Lemon Law Attorney

Purchasing a defective vehicle can be a financial hassle and a considerable inconvenience. If you bought a new or used car in California that did not comply with its warranty, you might be able to assert your rights under the lemon law. A skilled lemon law attorney will be able to determine whether the defect in your vehicle is substantial and rises to the level of a lemon. The lemon law attorneys at The Ledbetter Law Firm have extensive experience negotiating and litigating lemon law claims and achieving positive outcomes for clients.

The Ledbetter Law Firm assists people in Southern California who have experienced lemon law issues with their vehicles in obtaining favorable outcomes in their cases. With offices conveniently located in Torrance and San Diego, California, telephone and video conferencing options are also available. Call (424) 407-3487 to schedule a consultation with a California Lemon Law attorney today.