Mechanic Inspecting Malfunctioning Lemon Car

California’s lemon law requires that manufacturers offer lemon law buybacks for new cars (and used cars purchased during the manufacturer’s warranty period) if the manufacturer is unable to repair a defect that “substantially impairs” the vehicle’s “use, value, or safety” within a reasonable number of attempts. This page will explain what “substantially impairs” means under the lemon law statute, what is included in the categories “use,” “value,” and “safety,” and give some examples of the most common types of defects that qualify for buybacks under California’s lemon law statute.

“Substantial Impairment” is an Objective Test

Whether a defect “substantially impairs” a car’s use, value, of safety is an objective test under California’s lemon law statute. Because it is an objective test, the opinion of the owner is not determinative. This means, for example, that it would not be enough for the owner to testify in court that he or she believes the defect makes the vehicle unsafe. In order to substantially impair a vehicle’s safety, a defect would have to be something that most reasonable people would think is unsafe. Similarly, with regard to impairment of a car’s use or value, what matters is whether a hypothetical ‘reasonable person’ would think that the defect substantially impairs the use and/or value. Accordingly, defects that you might find particularly annoying (for example, a loud wind noise, squeaking brakes, air conditioners that take too long to get cold, etc.) do not qualify for lemon law coverage unless they are bad enough that most reasonable people would either pay less to buy the vehicle or would not be able to use them in the manner that automobiles are typically used.

Defects That Impair a Car’s “Use” Under the Lemon Law

As stated above, whether a defect impairs a vehicle’s use is an objective test that considers whether a reasonable person would find that the use is limited. “Use” covers both how often and in what manner you use a vehicle. Essentially, it means that the vehicle’s components must do what they are supposed to do. Air conditioners must cool the vehicle, brakes must stop the vehicle, the locks must secure it, and you should be able to rely on your car, truck, or SUV to take you on long trips without worrying that it will leave you stranded in the middle of nowhere.

Another important aspect of “use” under the California lemon law, is that (according to California’s Court of Appeals) “use” takes into account the particular circumstances of the owner. So, for example, a defect that prevents a vehicle’s seat warmers from reaching the temperature they were designed to reach might not impair the vehicle’s use for most people, but for an owner with poor circulation the non-functioning seat warmers might prevent him or her for driving for long distances. Similarly, malfunctioning air conditioners are a more serious defect for consumers who live in Palm Springs than for those who live in San Francisco.

“Safety” Defects Under the Lemon Law

Because automobiles weigh thousands of pounds and travel at high speeds, a wide variety of defects will substantially impair an automobile’s safety. There is no requirement under the lemon law that a defect must have actually put the owner in danger. It is enough that any foreseeable use of the vehicle would be unsafe. Thus, for example, a car has a substantial safety defect if its automatic mirrors constantly reset to their original positions (instead of staying in the positions they were set at), even if they have never made it impossible for the driver to see what he or she wanted to see. It is enough that they are performing in an unpredictable manner, and could in the future cause an accident because of the driver’s inability to use them when he or she needs to.

Defects That Impair a Car’s “Value”

Some automobile defects impair neither a vehicle’s safety nor its performance, for example it would be almost impossible to convince a jury that a defective paint job affects either. Luckily, California’s lemon law is also designed to protect the financial investment you make in a new automobile, and covers value-impairing defects as well. There are a wide variety of defects that can diminish a new automobile’s value, and in any particular lemon law lawsuit the consumer would probably have to rely on the expert opinion of a professional automobiles appraiser.

That being said, there is one category of defects that as a rule will not diminish a vehicle’s fair market value. Specifically, if your vehicle has a defect that is common in other vehicles of the same make, model, and model year there may be no diminution in the vehicle’s value because the defect may have already affected the price you paid for the automobile. For example, rough shifting in a model car that is known to have problems with rough shifting may not impair the vehicle’s value because the market price already accounts for that problem.

The best way to find out if your vehicle has a defect that is covered by California’s lemon law, is to call an experienced lemon law attorney. Attorneys who specialize in the lemon law will have the knowledge and expertise to advise you on whether your car’s defect is one that a jury is likely to consider significant.

Common Defects in California Lemon Law Lawsuits

Whether or not a particular defect qualifies for coverage under California’s lemon law depends on whether it impairs the vehicle’s use, value, or safety, how serious the problem is, and how and what the dealership has already done to attempt to repair it. That being said, below is a list of defects that have been the basis of many successful lemon law lawsuits. If your car, truck, or SUV suffers from one of these problems, you should contact a lemon law attorney to find out more about your legal rights.

  • Repeated check engine light warnings
  • Steering problems
  • Braking defects (other than squeaking)
  • Malfunctioning mirrors and windshield wipers
  • Malfunctioning speedometers and fuel gauges
  • Headlight malfunctions
  • Brake light malfunctions
  • Malfunctioning door locks
  • Stalling
  • Failing to start
  • Diminished acceleration
  • Inoperable air conditioning system
  • Batteries that repeatedly die (usually from a parasitic drain)
  • Transmissions that lurch when starting or stopping
  • Paint that bubbles of strips away

Want to Talk to a Lemon Law Lawyer About Your Car?

If you are stuck with a defective automobile that the manufacturer either cannot or isn’t willing to repair, you shall call an experienced California lemon law attorney to see if you have a case, or to learn how to preserve your legal rights for a future legal action. The Vachon Law Firm specializes in lemon law and car dealer fraud lawsuits. Call us today at 1-855-4-LEMON-LAW (1-855-453-6665) to find out more about your legal rights. You can also submit questions by email.

Consultations are always FREE!