January 23, 2016 • By Dennis Beaver
Driving a lemon is much more than an inconvenience — constantly taking the car back to the dealer to attempt repairs because, “This time we can fix it, for sure,” as countless owners have been told.
“If your car stalls for no apparent reason while you’re on the freeway or the brakes don’t work correctly, or, in Phoenix, Arizona, during the summer the A/C is blowing hot air on your kids, these are no mere inconveniences; these are potentially life-threatening issues,” Los Angeles-based Lemon Law attorney Bob Brennan points out, adding:
“And let’s not forget the emotional consequences in driving a car that you know is undependable.”
Fully aware that he was terminally ill with prostate cancer that had spread and was no longer treatable, over coffee one morning before leaving to manage his hay hauling crews, Joe had a surprise for Sarah, his wife of 40 years.
Taking her by the hand, they walked outside, to a barn on their 20-acre farm, and parked in front was a new SUV. Beaming with pride, Joe told his wife, “This is an American car with a powerful eight-cylinder engine.” They were both “car people,” and in earlier years were involved in racing.
“This is the last car I will ever purchase and I wanted you to have something really good,” he whispered to Sarah, tears streaming down his face.
One week later, Joe died.
Returning from the cemetery, her son driving the SUV, suddenly all the warning lights came on and the vehicle stalled, the first of many similar episodes punctuated by multiple dealer attempts to fix the problem.
One mechanic admitted that they had done everything, explaining, “We are certain this is a design defect issue. It’s a lemon.” Sarah contacted the manufacturer and asked for a buy-back, but they insisted on her taking the car to a different dealership because “There is no doubt it can be repaired.”
From the sound of her voice on the verge of hysteria, a tearful Sarah contacted You and the Law, asking, “Do I have a Lemon Law case? Should I give them one more chance?”
Key points of the Lemon Law
Analyzing Sarah’s problem, Brennan felt that Sarah would certainly appear to have a Lemon Law case. “Unfortunately, denial is pretty much standard operating procedure for some car manufacturers, and mechanics often know when the problem cannot be remedied, because of a design defect, as your reader discovered.”
We asked Brennan to go over key points of the Lemon Law, which do vary somewhat state to state, and taking California as an example:
(1) Applies to consumers who have a car, boat or RV;
Purchased or leased for personal and most small business use.
Which has any substantial defect starting during the warranty period which impairs its use, value or safety.
You have given reasonable opportunities to fix it and they have not.
(2) As long as the vehicle has been brought in for repair while the warranty was in effect, the fact that it has expired does not matter; you are still protected by the Lemon Law.
(3) A reasonable number of repair attempts must be allowed. Typically, this is three or more repair attempts for the same or similar problem; and, only two times if it is likely to cause serious bodily injury; or if the vehicle has been out of service—in the hands of an authorized dealer—for more than 30 days during the first 18 months or 18,000 miles.
If you’re wondering what constitutes a “Substantial Defect,” then you’ve asked the right question. “It’s hard to define, as there is a large subjective element involved,” Brennan explained.
“Typically this includes stalling, faulty brakes, steering issues, or gasoline leaks, and in some cases, all it requires is two failed attempts to qualify as a lemon. It could also include a navigation system that gave wrong instructions or was ‘off’ by several hundred feet.
“A substantial impairment has to be evaluated against the requirements of a reasonable person. This makes sense as there are some people who are complete hypochondriacs or impossible to please no matter what you do for them,” he notes.
Are you driving a lemon? If so, next time we look at the steps which need to be taken now in order to protect your rights under the Lemon Law. And until then, a visit to www.brennanlaw.com is well worth your time.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.