4 Things to Clarify Before Filing a Lemon Law Case

Prior to lemon law being established in the United States, buyers of defective vehicles (known as lemons) were essentially out of luck. Fortunately, nowadays, there are laws across the country designed to protect consumers and other drivers on the road from faulty vehicles.

Buying or leasing a defective vehicle always seems like something that will never happen to you. If you find yourself in this sticky situation, there are surely a lot of thoughts running through your head.

If you are suspicious that your newly acquired vehicle is a lemon, there are a number of things to clarify before filing a case. Here are four of the big ones to consider.

  1. Does My Vehicle Meet the Criteria?

While some version of the lemon law is present across the country, the specifics vary slightly from state-to-state. For example, let’s use California - where the number of cars on the road is higher than any other state.

Under the California lemon law, there are several key points to consider:

  • The vehicle has one or more warranty covered defects that compromises its use, value, or
  • The vehicle’s manufacturer has made at least two attempts to repair a defect.
  • The vehicle’s manufacturer has made four or more attempts to fix the same defect.
  • None of these warranty covered defects were a result of abuse by the driver.
  • Contrary to what your dealership may tell you, the above scenarios do not need to occur within 18 months of purchasing the vehicle or if 18,000 miles of use.

If your defective vehicle meets this criteria, a California lemon law lawyer may have the green light to pursue your case.

Regardless of the state you are in, you can be fairly certain your vehicle qualifies as a lemon before scheduling a consultation.

  1. What Are the Potential Outcomes?

The lemon law is a remedial statute, designed to protect the consumer. When you have a legitimate lemon on your hands, the outcome of a lemon law case is generally favorable for the consumer.

For starters, you may have a couple different options to choose. The most common form of restitution is a refund, more commonly referred to  as a lemon law buyback. This entitles you to a refund for what you paid for the car minus a minor mileage offset. If you took out a loan, the manufacturer must cover the down payment you made for the vehicle, the monthly finance payments made, and the remainder of the loan.

Alternatively, you may also opt for a replacement of the defective vehicle. This can either be the same model or one of similar value. However, the replacement option must be agreed upon by both parties. Unlike a buyback, the  lemon law does not require the manufacturer to provide a replacement.

In addition to the cost of the vehicle, the manufacturer must also reimburse you for the sales tax, licensing and registration fees, and all other official charges associated with the purchase of the vehicle.

Moreover, the California lemon law requires the manufacturer to cover incidental costs that were the result of the defective vehicle. This includes all repairs, towing expenses, cab fares, rental car costs, etc. For this purpose, be sure you are holding on to ALL receipts and records.

  1. Do I Really Need a Lawyer?

If you’ve done all the research and are relatively certain your vehicle qualifies as a lemon, you might be asking yourself whether or not it’s worth the trouble of finding a lemon law attorney.

To answer this question; you absolutely need to find a lemon law lawyer to handle your case.

There are several reasons why.

For one, this is probably your first – maybe second – experience with a lemon. The auto industry is equipped with some of the most high-powered legal teams in the country. If you want to get the most out of an auto manufacturer that sold you a defective vehicle, you need to have a specialized attorney in your corner. The manufacturer will always look out for its best interest, not yours. The manufacturer’s main goal is to limit its exposure and deny your lemon law recovery.

Second, the lemon law requires the manufacturer to pay for ALL your legal costs, and attorneys’ fees. That being said, seeking out a reputable lemon law firm to represent you should be one of the first steps when you have a lemon.

  1. Does this Lawyer Value Consumer Justice?

When it comes to actually choosing a lemon law lawyer for your case, there are a few things you need to look for.

First, they need to specialize in lemon law. As a general rule of thumb, if the firm does not advertise this service, don’t consider them. Second, be wary of the big national lemon law firms. In many cases, these organizations make their money on the number of cases they pick up, and they will try to get you to negotiate a cash settlement – which can be far less than what you paid for the vehicle. Lastly, steer clear of a firm that demands retainer or a contingency fee to be paid from your lemon law buyback. These firms can charge as much as 2-4% from your buyback recovery, leaving you with far less that a refund of your purchase price. Being as how a lemon is the result of manufacturer negligence, wilful ignorance, or even fraud, a trustworthy lawyer should not ask for any out-of-pocket costs from your lemon law buyback.

As you meet with a lemon law attorney, it should be clear they have a passion for standing up to the big corporations and are committed to resolving claims quickly, but with the highest possible recovery for you.


Lemon law cases are never exactly easy. Purchasing a defective vehicle is inconvenient no matter how you look at it. However, with the proper amount of research and a credible attorney representing you, the process should be relatively pain free.

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