How Serious Does a Defect Need To Be To Render a Car a “Lemon” Under the California Lemon Law?

MALFUNCTIONS THAT CAUSE A VEHICLE TO BE A “LEMON” UNDER THE CALIFORNIA LEMON LAW

The California lemon law statute (at California Civil Code Section 1793.2(d)) requires vehicle manufacturers to fix any “nonconformities to warranty” within a reasonable number or repair attempts. So what types of vehicle malfunctions qualify as “nonconformities” to the warranty? The answer depends on how serious the defect is, the driving habits of the vehicle owner, and the frequency of the problem.

The Defect Must Impair the “Use, Value, or Safety” of the Vehicle For it to be a “Lemon”

The California lemon law statute (at California Civil Code Section 1793.22(e)(1)) defines a “nonconformity” as any vehicle malfunction that “impairs the use, value, or safety” of the motor vehicle to the owner. In determining whether the use, value, or safety have been diminished, the California lemon law utilizes an objective “reasonable person” test, that takes into account the particular circumstances and characteristics of the vehicle owner.

Explanations of “Use” defects, “Safety” defects, and “Value” defects are discussed below, as well as an explanation of the “Reasonable Person” Test and a discussion of the Importance of the Owner’s Circumstances.

If you have questions about whether your vehicle’s defect qualifies it as a “lemon” under the California lemon law, then call the Law Office of Michael R. Vachon, Esq. at (858) 674-4100. Consultations are always FREE!!

The California Lemon Law Employs an Objective Test of What a “Reasonable” Person Would Consider to be a Defect

In the case of Lundy v. Ford Motor Company, 87 Cal.App. 4th 472 (2001), the California Court of Appeal ruled that the test for what constitutes a defect under the California lemon law is an “objective” test, that is based on what a hypothetical “reasonable person” would consider to be a vehicle defect. This means that a consumer cannot rely on his or her unique likes, dislikes, and preferences establish that a vehicle’s problem amounts to a defect.

For example, under the California lemon law a consumer would have a hard time maintaining that a vehicle’s interior smell amounted to a defect merely because the owner found the smell unpleasant. Similarly, a moderate wind noise that annoyed the owner also would probably not amount to a defect. However, it would be an entirely different story if the interior smell or wind noise was bad enough that it would bother most people, make them nauseous, or give them headaches. The fact that a “reasonable person” would consider them defects (and not just a single complaining owner) would make them “nonconformities to warranty” under the California lemon law.

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The California Lemon Law’s Test for Defects Includes Considering the Circumstances of the Vehicle’s Owner

Even though the California lemon law utilizes an objective, “reasonable person” test to determine which defects are serious enough to render a vehicle a lemon, that does not mean that courts totally ignore the individual needs and characteristics of the owner. In Lundy v. Ford Motor Company, the California Court of Appeal also made clear that the California lemon law’s “reasonable person” test for determining what amounts to a defect includes a consideration of the owner’s particular characteristics and circumstances.

This means, for example, that a vehicle owner who lived in California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range could probably succeed in a lemon law lawsuit claiming that his or her vehicle frequently overheated when climbing hills. The fact that the vast majority of consumers (most of whom live in non-mountainous areas) have no overheating problems would not prevent the vehicle from being found to be a “lemon” in a court of law because, as stated in the Lundy v. Ford Motor Company case, courts and juries are allowed to take the owner’s particular circumstances into account. Thus, as another example, it is also likely that air conditioning malfunctions would be considered more serious defects for consumers who live hot areas like Riverside, Stockton, and El Centro. You take the owner’s individual circumstances into account in determining whether the defect impairs the vehicle’s use, value, or safety.

Most importantly, the California lemon law’s use of the owner’s circumstances in determining whether or not a vehicle is deemed a lemon also means that (other than in cases of outright vehicle abuse or misuse) vehicle manufacturers cannot blame the defect on the purchaser. They can’t tell someone who has to drive 80 miles though the Borrego Springs desert each day to work that they overuse the vehicle, blame a Santa Monica vehicle owner’s problems on the humid beach conditions, or tell a citrus-fruit grower or tree-farm owner in Stockton that their truck malfunctions are caused by overworking the vehicle. The owner’s personal circumstances , including where he or she works and lives, and how much they need to drive the vehicle, generally can be taken into account when determining what qualifies as a “lemon” under the California lemon law.

If you own a vehicle that you believe is a “lemon” for someone in your circumstances, then call the Law Office of Michael R. Vachon, Esq. at (858) 674-4100 to find out how much money you may be entitled to under California’s lemon law. Consultations are always FREE!!

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Defects That Impair the “Safety” of a Vehicle Under the California Lemon Law

Because cars and trucks are intended to travel at high speeds, California courts and juries tend to recognize that a wide variety of malfunctions will affect the “safety” of motor vehicles. Problems with the brakes, power steering are obvious examples. But a skilled California lemon law attorney will be able to show a jury how various vehicle problems can impair a vehicle’s safety. For example, problems with a car’s or truck’s mirrors can eliminate the driver’s view of surrounding traffic. Problems with the windshield wipers are an inherent danger in rainy weather. Sluggish acceleration or stalling can be dangerous when attempting to merge on the highways. And electrical problems could be catastrophic if they pose a danger of the headlights or instrument panel going dark in the middle of the night.

If you think that a vehicle defect is decreasing the safety of your vehicle in any way, then call the Law Office of Michael R. Vachon, Esq. right now at (858) 674-4100. Consultations are always FREE! And if your vehicle has a safety defect, the California lemon law entitles you to a repurchase or replacement.

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Defects That Impair the “Use” of a Vehicle Under the California Lemon Law

Some defects obviously impair the use of a vehicle. For example, there is no question that a persistent stalling problem or lack of vehicle power substantially impairs the use of a vehicle. But the California lemon law applies more broadly than just these types of defects.

As stated above, the California Court of Appeal’s decision in Lundy v. Ford Motor Company held that courts and juries must determine whether the use of the vehicle is substantially impaired by considering the particular circumstances of the vehicle owner. So, for example, defects like heated seats that do not work could potentially be a lemon law defect for someone with poor circulation (if the defect prevents him from using the vehicle on long drives). Similarly, some vehicles have been known to have defective power locks that keep unlocking – this defect prevents contractors and other people used to keeping valuable equipment in their vehicle from being able to use it for its intended purpose.

If your car or truck has a malfunction that – for someone in your circumstances – effectively prevents you from relying on the vehicle, then you probably own a “lemon.” Call the Law Office of Michael R. Vachon, Esq. at (858) 674-4100 to see how much money you may be entitled to under the California lemon law. Consultations are always FREE!!

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Defects that Impair a Vehicle’s “Value” Under the California Lemon Law

Some defects don’t affect the use or safety of a vehicle, but that doesn’t mean they don’t count under the California lemon law. A classic example of a “lemon” defect that impairs the value of a car or truck is a paint defect (e.g., car paint that wears unevenly) that diminishes the vehicle’s appearance and thereby decreases its market value. Similarly, defects like an obnoxious interior smell or unusual sounds coming from the brakes or the engine can result in the vehicle being deemed a lemon under the California lemon law because they will decrease the vehicle’s re-sale value.

If your car has a defect, and the manufacturer won’t fix it under warranty because they claim it doesn’t affect the use or safety of the vehicle, then you may own a “lemon.” Call the Law Office of Michael R. Vachon, Esq. right now at (858) 674-4100 to find out whether you are entitled to monetary relief under the California lemon law.

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