This weeks question comes from David T. in Marin who asks, “I purchased a new hybrid car in February of this year. Right away it had problems, with all things, its electric systems. This has caused the car to stall out on me twice, on the highway while I commuted to San Jose. It is unreliable and just turns off by itself sometimes. I have brought it back to the dealer three times and they haven’t been able to fix it. I think it is a lemon. What are my rights?”
In California, The Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act (beginning with Civil Code section 1790) protects consumers who lease or buy new motor vehicles. The California Attorney General (Kamala Harris) has a very good explanation of your rights on her web site. The following is a compilation of excerpts from her website:
The law requires that if the manufacturer is unable to fix a new motor vehicle to satisfy the vehicle warranty after a “reasonable” number of repair attempts, the manufacturer is required promptly to replace the vehicle or return the purchase price to the lessee or buyer. “The purchase price that must be returned includes the price paid for manufacturer-installed items and transportation but does not include the price paid for non-manufacturer items installed by the dealer. The lessee or buyer is completely free to choose whether to accept a replacement or a refund. Whatever the choice, the manufacturer is also responsible to pay for sales or use tax; license, registration, and other official fees; and incidental damages that the lessee or buyer may have incurred such as finance charges, repair, towing, and rental car costs.
What is considered a reasonable number of repair attempts will depend on the circumstances including the seriousness of the defect. For example, one or two repair attempts may be considered reasonable for serious safety defects such as brake failure, depending on the exact situation.
The “Lemon Law” applies to these problems if they arise during the first 18 months after the consumer received delivery of the vehicle or within the first 18,000 miles on the odometer, whichever occurs first. During the first 18 months or 18,000 miles, the “Lemon Law” presumes that a manufacturer has had a reasonable number of attempts to repair the vehicle if either (1) The same problem results in a condition that is likely to cause death or serious bodily injury if the vehicle is driven and the problem has been subject to repair two or more times by the manufacturer or its agents, and the buyer or lessee has at least once directly notified the manufacturer of the need for the repair of the problem as provided in the warranty or owner’s manual or (2) The same problem has been subject to repair four or more times by the manufacturer or its agents and the buyer has at least once directly notified the manufacturer of the need for the repair of the problem as provided in the warranty or owner’s manual or (3) The vehicle is out of service because of the repair of any number of problems by the manufacturer or its agents for a cumulative total of more than 30 days since delivery of the vehicle.
The law applies for the entire period of your warranty. For example, if your vehicle is covered by a three-year warranty and you discover a defect after two years, the manufacturer will have to replace the vehicle or reimburse you as outlined above if the manufacturer or its representative is unable to conform the vehicle to the express warranty after a reasonable number of attempts to do so.
Song-Beverly does not apply if the problem was caused by abuse after the vehicle was delivered. Be sure you follow the terms of the warranty for maintenance and proper use of the vehicle.
Although there is a four-year statute of limitations to bring a law suit for breach of warranty or for violations of Song-Beverly, you should act promptly to try to resolve the problem fairly and quickly without legal action if possible. If the dealer will not treat you fairly, contact a trial lawyer to assist you in protecting your rights.
Christopher B. Dolan is owner of the Dolan Law Firm. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.