Legal Guide

4 Tips for Making Sure You Come Out on Top in a Lemon Law Case

Getting stuck with a lemon vehicle is never a good situation, no matter how you look at it. A lemon is a vehicle that has one or more manufacturing defects that compromise its safety and functionality.

If you find yourself in this unfortunate situation, there are several things you can do to ensure you get full justice from the auto manufacturer. Fortunately, the law is on your side.

Here are four critical tips to keep in mind.

  1. Do Your Homework

The Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, aka California’s lemon law and the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, our federal lemon law, exist to protect consumers from faulty vehicles and deceptive warranty practices. Before you start jumping to conclusions and getting involved in the legal process, you need to be sure your vehicle actually qualifies as a lemon. While lemon law is nationwide, the specifics vary a bit from state-to-state.

In general, lemon law vehicles must

  1. have a substantial defect (which is NOT the result of operator abuse) that is covered by the warranty; and
  2. the warrantor is unable to repair the defect within a reasonable number of repair attempts.

Now, the definition of a “substantial defect” might be a little different in each state. However, it usually must negatively affect your use, value, or safety. This would include things like a bad engine, brakes, transmission, etc. A loose radio knob in and of itself may not qualify, but if it was just a symptom of a greater underlying defect, it may.

A “reasonable number of repair attempts” for a substantial defect is typically two, three, four (or more), depending on the issue.

One of the most crucial things to know is when you can file a lemon law claim. Again, this will vary from state-to-state. For instance, under lemon law California, the criteria of a lemon vehicle does not need to occur first 18 months of delivery or before 18,000 miles of use. Under the California lemon law, all that is required is that the defect occured within the express, or implied, warranties. have accrued on the odometer, whichever comes first. This is VERY important, because under either scenario, a California lemon lawyer may be able help to you.

Regardless of where you are, a lemon law lawyer will be in a much better position to help if you have the details ironed out first. Start by researching lemon law in your state to determine whether or not your vehicle applies.

  1. Have an End Goal

When it comes to lemon law cases, there are generally two outcomes you can choose from.

The first, and most common, is a lemon buyback. A buyback is when the manufacturer reimburses you for the amount you paid for the vehicle with a usage fee, or mileage offset for use, factored in.

If you took out a loan, the manufacturer would have to cover the down payment, all the monthly payments you made, and the remaining balance of the loan.

However, the manufacturer is not responsible for any late fees you may have incurred on the loan. They must also cover any licensing, registration, and official fees associated with the original purchase, as well as the sales tax.

The second route you can go is a replacement. In this scenario, the manufacturer would give you an identical vehicle or one of similar value. This must include any factory or dealer options that came with the original vehicle such as rustproofing, undercoating, etc. Now, the manufacturer is not always required by law to provide a replacement, unlike a buyback. Both parties must come to an agreement on this.

Prior to reaching out to a lemon law attorney, it’s always smart to have your desired outcome in mind.

  1. Find a Local, Specialized Lemon Law Lawyer

Many people make the mistake of resorting to the big, nationwide lemon law firms when they need to resolve a claim. The name of the game for most of these firms is to sign as many clients as possible. Instead of a buyback or replacement, they might encourage you to take a cash settlement from the manufacturer, of which can be significantly less than what you paid for the vehicle. Additionally, many will pass your case to paralegals or assistants.

One of the key benefits of winning a lemon law case is the manufacturer must pay 100% of your legal costs. That being said, you should always seek out a specialized attorney with a firm understanding of the local area and legal landscape. As a rule of thumb, avoid lemon law attorneys who demand out of pocket costs.

Trustworthy lemon lawyers know the manufacturer is at fault and won’t ask for any retainer/contingent fees.

  1. Keep Records of EVERYTHING

If you prevail on a lemon law case, the manufacturer must cover all incidental costs that stemmed from the faulty vehicle. This includes repairs, rental car costs, cab fares, towing expenses, lodging, etc.

Be sure you are holding onto ALL receipts, as well as keeping a log of the time your vehicle spends in the repair shop.  When you are on the winning side of a lemon law case, you want to make sure the manufacturer provides the statutory restitution.


As a consumer, having a lemon essentially means that instead of getting a working car that you paid good money for, you’ve got to deal with a big, inconvenient mess – of which is no fault of your own. Use these tips to make sure you get the most out of the unfortunate situation.

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