January 30, 2016 • By Dennis Beaver
If you been taking your car in repeatedly for warranty service on a substantial problem — such as stalling, brakes, steering — and the dealer just can’t seem to repair it, chances are it is covered by the Lemon Law.
Last week we told you about Sarah, our Central California reader who, tearfully, contacted You and the Law after the dealer could not solve her SUV’s stalling problem. There was an additional, terribly sad dimension, as we learned from a family friend:
“The car was a gift from her husband, Joe. He wanted her to have dependable transportation, and proudly handed Sarah the keys. One week later he died of prostate cancer. Driving home from the cemetery the SUV stalled—the first of many unexplained–and unrepairable stalls. The service manager told her they had found a design defect in a specific part, and recommended that she contact the manufacturer to ask for a buy-back.”
Sarah did just that, but was instructed to take the SUV to a dealer in Visalia, “Who can fix it for sure.” “Should I?” she asked us. “Yes,” we advised, and discovered that she has done an excellent job of preserving her rights under the Lemon Law.
Los Angeles-based attorney Bob Brennan, is regarded as one of the top Lemon Law attorneys in the country. He reviewed Sara’s case, agreed with our recommendation and shared with us the important steps to take in the event that you have a possible lemon law claim.
When we buy a new car, the one ‘option’ that no one wants is a Lemon Law claim down the road. To Brennan, the old saying, ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,’ applies to “the purchase of a car, boat or RV where we need to think pro-actively, and ask two questions:
If this turns out to be a lemon and I make a Lemon Law claim, what documents will be needed to prove my case?”
What if it is not a Lemon Law case, but I still might have to go to court? What is absolutely critical to have kept?
Brennan’s answer to those questions is a solid dose of common sense:
“With any major consumer purchase, it is important to retain all documents related to that sale and put them neatly and chronologically in a folder or binder.
“This includes online/newspaper ads, brochures, loan applications, contracts, receipts, cancelled checks, credit card statements, use and care manuals, warranty booklets and especially work orders,” he underscores.
You might be thinking, “Why is it important to keep ads or brochures?”
The answer goes to the heart of where the Lemon Law can be used, as Brennan describes:
“The Lemon Law covers substantial defects when a vehicle has a warranty and which arise during the time that the warranty is in force, either from the manufacturer or dealership’s warranty, and includes after market as well.
But it does not cover a sale with no warranty.
“For example, you buy a used van ‘AS IS’ from Questionable Motors. If it had a warranty and could not be repaired, you might have a Lemon Law Claim. However, lacking the warranty, there is no Lemon Law protection.
“But, suppose their ad described the car in ‘Excellent Running Condition,’ and the salesman gave you assurances that it was a good buy, safe, in good shape, etc. Then, within days of driving off their lot, you discover evidence of fraud — proof they knew or had to know that it was a piece of junk. You might have a false advertising — fraud — case, but not Lemon Law.”
When asked, “What is the most persuasive piece of evidence that can establish a Lemon Law case?” Brennan replies that most of us have it in our hands: a cell phone.
“Gather the evidence. That’s the key! With all those repair orders, the days your car was at the shop, along with cell phone videos of the car doing the things you’ve been reporting but they cannot verify or repair — all of this will help to establish your claim.”
You’re probably wondering, “Can I present a lemon law case to the auto maker myself, or is a lawyer always necessary?”
While it is possible to handle this yourself, in our opinion, you are far better off with an experienced Lemon Law Attorney. Car makers do not just roll over. Expect a rough, emotional road.
Sarah made an appointment with a Fresno attorney.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.