Qualifying Defects Under California Lemon Law

Qualifying Defects Under California Lemon Law

California’s lemon laws are designed to protect consumers who purchase or lease defective new vehicles covered by a manufacturer’s warranty. However, not all defects will trigger the protections of the lemon law. Understanding what constitutes a qualifying defect is essential for consumers looking to navigate their rights under this legislation.

What Makes a Car Qualify for a Lemon Law Claim?

In California, a defect qualifies for a lemon law claim when it substantially impairs the vehicle’s use, value, or safety. This means the defect must be significant enough to affect the vehicle’s operation, make it unsafe to drive, or significantly decrease its market value. Here are the key factors that determine if a defect qualifies for a Lemon Law claim in California:

1. Substantial Impairment

The defect must significantly impair the vehicle’s use, value, or safety. This criterion excludes minor issues that do not affect the car’s overall functionality or safety. Substantial impairments can include problems with the engine, transmission, electrical systems, and structural integrity that prevent the car from being operated safely and reliably.

Examples of qualifying defects include:

  • Engine Problems: Persistent engine issues that affect the vehicle’s performance, such as stalling, overheating, or failing to start, can qualify. These problems can make the vehicle unreliable or unsafe to drive.
  • Transmission Issues: Transmission problems, including slipping, rough shifting, delayed engagement, or complete failure, can significantly impair the vehicle’s drivability and safety.
  • Electrical System Failures: Major electrical malfunctions that affect critical vehicle operations, such as the failure of the braking system, steering, lights, or other essential electrical components, can be grounds for a lemon claim.
  • Structural Defects: Issues with the vehicle’s structure or integrity, such as leaks leading to water intrusion, significant rusting within the warranty period, or frame problems that compromise the vehicle’s safety or usability.
  • Safety System Failures: Malfunctions in safety systems, including airbags, seatbelts, or braking system failures, that pose a significant risk to the car occupants’ safety.
  • Faulty Steering: Problems with the steering system that make the vehicle difficult or unsafe to control, including loss of power steering, steering lockup, or excessive vibration at normal speeds.
  • Defective Fuel System: Issues with the fuel system, such as leaks or problems that could lead to engine stalling or failure, affecting the car’s performance and safety.
  • Chronic Noises or Vibrations: Unexplained noises or vibrations that affect the use, value, or safety of the vehicle and cannot be fixed after multiple attempts may also qualify. These must be significant enough to impact the overall driving experience.

2. Reasonable Number of Repair Attempts

The law stipulates that the manufacturer or its authorized repair facility must be given a reasonable number of attempts to fix the defect. While “reasonable” is not strictly defined, California Lemon Law presumes it to be:

  • At least two attempts to repair a defect that could cause death or serious bodily injury.
  • At least four attempts to fix the same problem without success.
  • The car has been out of service for more than 30 calendar days for repair since its delivery for any number of issues.

These criteria do not have to be met if the defect is so severe that it poses an immediate danger to the driver or passengers.

3. Warranty Coverage

The defect must have occurred during the warranty period, even if the attempts to repair it happen after the warranty has expired. The vehicle must also be used primarily for personal, family, or household purposes. Commercial vehicles have different provisions under the law.

4. Use of Vehicle

The car must be used primarily for personal, family, or household purposes. Vehicles used mainly for business purposes might have different provisions under the law.

What Doesn’t Qualify?

It’s important to note that defects caused by unauthorized or unreasonable use, such as modifications not approved by the manufacturer or neglect, do not qualify under the Lemon Law. Additionally, issues that do not substantially impair the car’s use, value, or safety are also excluded. Examples of non-qualifying conditions include:

  1. Minor Defects: Issues that do not substantially impair the vehicle’s use, value, or safety, such as minor rattles, cosmetic blemishes, or minor electrical glitches that don’t affect the vehicle’s operation or safety.
  2. Defects Due to Misuse or Unauthorized Modifications: Problems arising from the vehicle owner’s misuse, neglect, or unauthorized modifications or repairs. This includes damage from accidents, improper maintenance, or the installation of aftermarket parts that affect the vehicle’s performance or safety.
  3. Normal Wear and Tear: The natural and inevitable deterioration of a car over time with ordinary use does not qualify. This includes brake pads wearing down, tire tread wear, and similar conditions that are expected to occur as a vehicle ages.
  4. Defects That Have Been Repaired Successfully: If a defect is successfully repaired within a reasonable number of attempts, it does not qualify for a lemon law claim, even if the repair process was inconvenient or time-consuming.
  5. Non-Safety Related Issues: Issues that are purely aesthetic or do not significantly affect the vehicle’s use, value, or safety might not qualify. While frustrating, problems such as paint imperfections or minor squeaks and rattles that don’t impact the car’s overall functionality may not meet the threshold for a lemon claim.
  6. Issues Not Reported During Warranty Period: Defects or conditions that arise after the manufacturer’s warranty has expired generally do not qualify.

If you have questions about whether your car qualifies, you can reach out to experienced attorneys like the team at Johnson & Buxton – The Lemon Law Guys to learn more. 

Get the Help You Need for Your Defective Car

California’s lemon law provides significant protections for consumers dealing with defective vehicles. However, understanding what qualifies as a substantial defect requiring a reasonable number of repair attempts is crucial. Consumers facing persistent problems with their new or leased vehicles should keep detailed records of all repairs and communications with the dealer or manufacturer. 

If you believe your vehicle may qualify under the lemon law, it’s time to get legal help. Get in touch with Johnson & Buxton – The Lemon Law Guys, to discuss your case. We represent owners of defective vehicles around California, and we’re ready to help you fight for fair compensation for your lemon.

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