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The “Federal Lemon Law”

Some car buyers have heard of a “federal lemon law” and want to know what it is and how it might be able to help them make lemonade out of their lemon vehicles. In reality, the federal lemon law is actually called the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act (15 U.S.C. Sections 2301-2312), and it offers relatively few benefits to most Californians seeking lemon law buybacks for their automobiles.

The California Lemon Law is Usually Better for Californians Seeking a Buyback of Their Lemon Automobile

In essence, the federal lemon law’s rules (at 15 U.S.C. 2304(a)(4)) generally require that if a manufacturer cannot repair a consumer product (including an automobile) after a “reasonable number of attempts” then the manufacturer must permit the consumer to elect either a refund for or replacement of the product. The federal lemon law also permits (at 15 U.S.C. 2310(d)(2)) a prevailing vehicle owner to recover any damages that his or her lemon caused as well as his or her attorney’s fees and costs if they prevail in a federal lemon law lawsuit.

As set forth in this site’s pages on The Basic Rules of the California Lemon Law and California Lemon Law Buybacks, the California lemon law permits a consumer to recover all of the above-described relief that is permitted under the federal lemon law. That is, under the California lemon law a car buyer who is stuck with a sour lemon vehicle is also entitled to a repurchase or replacement for that vehicle, any damages caused by the lemon, and his or her attorney’s fees and costs.

The California lemon law also contains additional rules and requirements that are not included in the federal lemon law, and which are very valuable to lemon vehicle owners. In particular, the California lemon law’s rules include certain presumptions that provide guidance on what constitutes a “reasonable number of repair attempts,” and also permit lemon vehicle owners to recover a monetary civil penalty if they can prove that the manufacturer willfully violated the California lemon law (see this site’s page on Monetary Recovery Under the California Lemon Law for a discussion of the California lemon law’s “civil penalty” rules).

Accordingly, because the California lemon law has all of the benefits of the federal lemon law, and also contains additional consumer-friendly rules that are not included in the federal lemon law, Californians who are stuck with lemon vehicles are generally better of pursuing claims for a lemon law buyback under the California lemon law, rather than the federal version of the lemon law.

Few Instances in Which Federal Lemon Law Rules Are Better Than California Lemon Law’s Requirements

Notwithstanding the fact that the California lemon law has more extensive and valuable remedies for consumers, the federal lemon law may be of use to vehicle buyers who, for whatever reason, cannot pursue a lemon law buyback under the California lemon law.

For example, the California lemon law does not apply to certain business vehicles depending upon the size of the vehicle and the number of vehicles registered by the company that owns them (see this site’s page on Whether the California Lemon Law Applies to Business Vehicles). In contrast, the federal lemon law (at 15 U.S.C. 2301(1)) has slightly broader definition of “consumer goods” that considers whether the goods are the type of goods that are customarily used for consumer purposes. Accordingly, there may be some instances in which a vehicle would be covered by the federal lemon law but not under the California lemon law’s requirements, and in these circumstances a Californian might be better off using the federal lemon law’s rules and procedures to pursue a lemon law buyback.