First Rule for Successful Lemon Law Buybacks

California has several rules that the consumer or small business must follow to complete a successful lemon law buyback of a new motor vehicle.  What is the first rule?  Rule #1: at the first sign of a problem, bring your vehicle to an authorized dealer.  If you are not sure who is an authorized dealership in your area, you can call the customer service phone number listed in your owners manual or warranty booklet to find out, but it does not need to be the dealership that sold or leased the vehicle to you.  Any authorized dealer can perform warranty repairs.

Why is this Rule #1?  Because, to get the manufacturer or distributor to buyback a new motor vehicle, you and your lawyer will need to present evidence that the vehicle was or became defective, through no fault of the owner.  This usually requires a paper trail of reasonable repair attempts with an authorized dealer.

Also, under the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act (California’s version of the “Lemon Law” that is most important to consumers and businesses for vehicle problems), the manufacturer is allowed to deduct for mileage on the vehicle before the first repair attempt.  For example, if a vehicle is purchased with 100 miles on the odometer and the consumer follows the advice and brings the vehicle to a dealer when the concern first appears at 1100 miles, the manufacturer is allowed an offset for the 900 miles used by the consumer.  In contrast, if the same consumer waits until 5500 miles, then the manufacturer’s office will be much larger, because it will be based on 5400 miles used.

There is an actual calculation in California’s Lemon Law at Cal. Civil Code, Section 1793.2, Subdivision (d)(2)( C).  To compute the actual offset under this section, take the actual purchase price paid or payable, including transportation charges and factory options, divide that by 120,000 miles, then multiply it by the number of miles when the vehicle was first brought to an authorized dealer for the concern.  Let’s see how this computes using the previous example and assuming a purchase price of $25,000: with 900 miles used, the offset would be $187.50, but with 5400 miles used, the office would be $1125.00, a difference of $937.50.

If you are like many people, a difference of $937.50 out of a $25,000 purchase price is not small change. It might represent two, three or more car payments!  Manufacturers eagerly enforce this offset amount (not always accurately) when they do decide to offer a vehicle buyback.  Even if you are slammed, just bring your vehicle to a dealer as soon as you notice each concern.  That first time, one never knows if it is a random problem or the first repair attempt in a string of efforts to try to fix a defect.