Commentary

April 1, 2016
 

Vehicle lemon law, warranty protects consumers

By Capt. Nick Bartholomew
Fort Irwin Legal Assistance Office
1

Purchasing a car is always a difficult process that can be made even more burdensome when there are issues with the car.

In California, consumers are protected by several warranties and “lemon laws.” Understanding these laws, as well as your rights, will help the consumer to deal with any issues that arise after they purchase a car.

New car sales. There are several types of warranties associated with vehicle sales. In California, all cars are sold with an implied warranty of merchantability, and new cars carry more specific manufacturer’s warranties. The requirements on the manufacturer/dealer to repair or replace defects in the vehicle differ depending on the type of warranty.

When a car is still under the manufacturer’s warranty, the manufacturer is required to repair any defects covered by the warranty and not caused by the driver’s abuse of the vehicle. After a reasonable number of repair attempts, the manufacturer must repurchase the vehicle. A reasonable amount of repair attempts depends on the type of defect: 1) Serious safety defects (such as brakes) require one to two repair attempts. 2) Recurring defects that are likely to cause death or serious bodily injury require two or more repair attempts. 3) The same nonconformity or defect has been attempted to be repaired four or more times. 4) The vehicle is in for repairs for any number of defects or nonconformities by the manufacturer or its agents for 30 or more days.

If you have any questions on whether or not your vehicle qualifies for a repurchase under a lemon law, schedule an appointment to discuss the issue with a legal assistance attorney.

Used Car Sales. Some used car sales are still covered by a portion of the manufacturer’s warranty if it is still in effect. If this is the case, this warranty is the same as it would be if the vehicle were new for the remaining duration of the manufacturer’s warranty. The majority of used car sales will not include a manufacturer’s warranty, but may include a specific dealer’s warranty or an implied warranty. Any issues that arise regarding a vehicle under either an express or an implied warranty from a dealer must be addressed through that dealer.

Implied warranties of fitness apply only to sales by a retailor or distributor who has reason to know that the goods are required for a particular purpose and that the buyer relies on the retailer’s skill and judgement that the goods are in fact fit for that purpose. What this means is that an implied warranty is only available when you purchase the vehicle from a dealer and not a private party.

As is Sales. One of the most common types of sales our Soldiers will see is the “as is” used car sale. This is a type of sale where the dealer and consumer take the “buyer beware” point of view. A proper as is sale will disclaim all implied warranties of merchantability or fitness that would otherwise normally accompany the sale. However, the key to the as is sale is that the dealer must comply with all required CA statutes while selling the vehicle. A proper as is sale MUST have a written statement attached to the vehicle that clearly states: 1) The goods are sold “as is” or “with all faults.” 2) The entire risk is with the buyer. 3) Should there be a defect, the buyer, and not the manufacturer, distributor, or retailer, assumes the entire cost of services/repair.

When purchasing a used vehicle, be mindful of “as is” clauses. Typically, they will be posted in the window of the vehicle along with the price, and again in the sale contract for you to sign. Even if you agree to an “as is” sale, be attentive to any promises that the dealer makes regarding the vehicle. If at any time the dealer promises that the vehicle runs a certain way, functions properly, or something similar, it is possible that they have invalidated the “as is” clause. The safest measure is to ensure that the dealer or salesperson puts any promises they make in writing.

Private party auto sales. When you purchase a vehicle from a private party (i.e. individual seller on auto trader), there are no implied warranties. Therefore, the only warranties that come with the vehicle are what is included in the contract. This makes getting repairs for preexisting faults very difficult. Furthermore, many people conduct private auto sales without any type of contract, which adds even more difficulty if your vehicle has a problem. The best thing a consumer can do in this case is to ensure that the entire sale is described in a contract. If possible, this contract should specify who is responsible for what repairs and any warranties that the seller is willing to make.

Conclusion. If you have any questions regarding car sales, schedule an appointment with the Fort Irwin Legal Assistance Office by calling 380-5321. You can also find some useful information in the CA Car Buyer’s Bill of Rights, which is available on the CA Department of Motor Vehicles website. Finally, if you have any issues with a dealer, you can contact the San Bernardino Better Business Bureau or the Legal Aid Society of San Bernardino.

Important phone numbers: Fort Irwin Legal Assistance, 380-5321; Department of Business and Consumer Affairs, (323) 881-7099 and www.dca.ca.gov; Legal Aid Society of San Bernardino, (909) 889-7328 and http://legalaidofsb.org/.




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