When Transmission Problems Rise to the Level of a Lemon

Auto mechanics talking while working on a car engine in a workshop.

If you bought or leased a new car that was still under warranty and began noticing transmission problems, you may have purchased a "lemon." Lemon cars are not only a hassle to deal with — they can be unsafe and place you and your passengers at risk of serious injury.

The kinds of problems that are associated with lemon cars can vary. Still, there are several specific issues in new vehicles that may invoke the California Lemon Law. Persistent problems with the transmission are among the most common.

What's a Lemon Car?

If you just purchased a new vehicle that has problems, you might be wondering: what's a lemon car?

Not every malfunctioning transmission or defective vehicle rises to the kinds of problems necessary to pursue a California Lemon Law claim. According to California law, a "lemon" is a new or used vehicle that doesn't conform to its warranty. In other words, these are vehicles that have a defect that substantially impairs the vehicle’s use, safety, or value.

Vehicle defects must arise during the vehicle’s warranty period to invoke California’s Lemon Law. There is also a presumption that the car is a lemon if you bring the vehicle in four times for the same defect (or two times for a defect that is likely to cause death or serious bodily injury) within 18 months of the vehicle's delivery or before the speedometer hits 18,000 miles — whichever occurs first.

California Lemon Law won't apply to defects after the warranty expired.

Does the California Lemon Law Protect Consumers From Transmission Problems?

The Tanner Consumer Protection Act provision of California's Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act — also known as the Lemon Law — is meant to protect consumers from the financial harm they could suffer from being sold a car with a defective transmission or other unrepairable and persistent issues. The law covers anyone who purchased or leased a vehicle in California that is still under warranty.

Generally, a manufacturer is allowed a reasonable number of attempts to repair a car's defect — including problems with the transmission. If it is not repairable, you may be entitled to a replacement vehicle or refund under California's Lemon Law. Lemons aren't limited to just cars — it applies to most vehicle types, including SUVs, vans, trucks, and RVs.

Signs of Transmission Problems in Vehicles

When you buy a new car, you expect it to run perfectly — it shouldn't have any transmission problems, computer malfunctions, or mechanical defects. Unfortunately, transmission issues are common in lemon vehicles and can be both costly and dangerous. Millions of vehicles have been recalled for transmission problems over the years.

There are certain tell-tale signs in both automatic transmission and stick-shift cars that can reveal a transmission is defective. Some common signs that there’s a problem with your transmission include:

  • Automatic transmission problems
  • Delayed or rough shifting
  • Failure to shift gears
  • Leaking transmission fluid
  • Slipping or revving
  • Burning smell and overheating
  • Buzzing or clunking sounds
  • Shaking
  • Stalling

If you suspect that your vehicle has a transmission issue, it's crucial to get it to the manufacturer or an authorized dealer immediately for repairs. If your new car is in the repair shop for over thirty days — in addition to meeting the time frame and mileage requirements —the Lemon Law may apply.

Although the majority of people in the U.S. today drive automatic transmission vehicles, manual transmission — also called stick-shift — cars are still prevalent. Unlike an automatic transmission, a stick-shift car requires using a clutch pedal to manually change gears. Difficulty changing gears, leaking transmission fluid, or a grinding sound while shifting gears in a new manual transmission car might indicate that it's a lemon.

If you already brought the car to the dealership numerous times and the transmission still cannot be repaired, you might be entitled to receive a replacement vehicle or refund under the Lemon Law.

What Does a Transmission Do?

The transmission is one of the most critical components of a vehicle. Without a working transmission, a car cannot run properly or safely.

A transmission is made up of a complex set of gears and serves several purposes. Most importantly, the transmission delivers power from the car's engine to the wheels and regulates speed — these mechanisms function to allow a car to switch speeds, accelerate, decelerate, start, stop, and reverse.

While every type of vehicle has a transmission with a different feel, all should be reliable and switch gears smoothly. Persistent problems with the transmission of a new car after several repair attempts might mean that the vehicle is a lemon.

What Causes a Transmission Issue in a Lemon Car?

There are numerous causes of automatic transmission problems in lemon cars. Wear and tear or low transmission fluid levels are common reasons for transmission issues in older cars. However, a brand new car within the the warranty period will likely not have these kinds of problems, unless there is a defect.

If a new car has a transmission that doesn't function the way it should, there could be an issue with the engine control model — the car's computer system. It may also indicate that the sensors or solenoid pack are defective. Regardless of the cause, a transmission issue can be expensive to repair and should not occur in new vehicles.

It's important that you do not continue to drive a vehicle with a defective transmission and bring it to the authorized dealer for a diagnostic and repairs. Make sure you keep a copy of all receipts and correspondence with the dealership concerning any repair attempts. These documents and evidence can help demonstrate that you made several reasonable attempts to have the car repaired before the final repair effort was made to establish that it is a lemon.

Contact a Southern California Lemon Law Attorney

If you've gone through the hassle and inconvenience of purchasing a vehicle in California that rises to the level of a lemon, you may be entitled to a replacement or refund. A California Lemon Law attorney can advocate for your legal rights and help ensure a positive outcome. If your car shows signs of transmission problems, it’s important to know that you only have a limited amount of time to file a lemon law case. There's a 4-year statute of limitations in California that begins from the date you found out about the defect.

The Ledbetter Law Firm helps people in Southern California who have experienced lemon law issues with their vehicles obtain a vehicle replacement or the refund that they deserve. 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.