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What to Do If Your Commercial Vehicle Is a Lemon in California

5 min read

Commercial vehicles are big investments. Your livelihood, the safety of your employees, and your ability to serve customers depend on these vehicles functioning properly. While the vast majority are manufactured properly, no automaker is perfect – and mistakes in quality control sometimes lead to defects.

If you find your vehicle is experiencing issues or nonconformities while under warranty, the manufacturer should fix them free of charge. However, if the certified technicians are not able to repair the defect(s) after a reasonable number of attempts, you may be able to seek benefits under the state’s lemon law.

The Magnuson-Moss Consumer Warranty Act was enacted in 1975 to hold manufacturers accountable for selling defective vehicles. The law exists across the country, but each state has separate rules. As a California lemon law lawyer, I am going to explain how you can seek fair compensation for a faulty commercial vehicle in the Golden State.

Let’s get moving.

Does Your Commercial Vehicle Qualify as a Lemon?

To answer the question, a commercial vehicle can be eligible for benefits under lemon law – however, there are some restrictions. First and foremost, they must meet the state’s lemon qualifications. In California, the vehicle must:

  • Be covered under the manufacturer or dealer warranty when the defect or nonconformity was first reported to the manufacturer; and
  • The defect of nonconformity is substantial in that it impairs the vehicle’s safety, functionality, or value; and
  • The manufacturer’s certified repair technicians have made a reasonable number of attempts to fix the defect or nonconformity; or
  • The vehicle has been out of service for warranty-covered repairs for 30 or more cumulative days; and
  • The defect or nonconformity was not caused by driver abuse or neglect.

You will need documentation to prove your vehicle meets these qualifications. Be sure you have all repair orders, whether they were minor like fixing the side-view mirror of a van, or bigger like getting the tractor tires replaced. You will also need receipts, invoices, and records of communication with the manufacturer.

Now, in addition to the guidelines above, there are a couple of stipulations around commercial vehicles and lemon law in California.

  1. The business that owns the commercial lemon vehicle has no more than five vehicles registered to its name.
  2. The gross weight of the vehicle does not exceed 10,000 lbs.

If your commercial vehicle meets these qualifications – and you have the records to prove it – you will need to hire a California lemon law lawyer to file a claim with the manufacturer.

Compensation to Pursue for Your Commercial Lemon Vehicle

When you file a claim for a commercial lemon vehicle, you have two options to pursue. For one (the most common), you can file for a buyback. A buyback is essentially a refund for the defective vehicle. Now, in a buyback, the goal is to get compensated for every last penny you lost. This includes (but is not limited to):

  • The total cost of the commercial (minus a mileage offset).
  • Down payment
  • Monthly payments made
  • The remaining balance of the loan
  • All official costs paid for the commercial lemon vehicle
  • Sales tax
  • Registration
  • All incidental costs stemming from the defective vehicle
  • Towing fees
  • Uber/Lyft/Cab fares
  • Hotel stays
  • Meals
  • All attorney fees and court costs

Again, you will need every last receipt, invoice, and record of these financial losses to include in the lemon claim.

Your second option is a replacement. This would involve the manufacturer taking the defective vehicle and giving you a new one – either the same model or one of equal value. Unlike a buyback, the manufacturer is not required to provide a replacement under the lemon law in California. Both you and the manufacturer must agree to this.

The Next Steps

Once you have determined your vehicle meets the qualifications of lemon law in California, the next step is to get in touch with a qualified attorney.

Do not entertain negotiations with the manufacturer after you have proof your commercial vehicle is a lemon. Car companies have no intention of taking financial responsibility for selling you a defective product. They know you are likely facing this situation for the first time – and they have many tactics to prey on this.

For one, they may encourage you to pursue arbitration instead of a lemon law claim. They commonly tell you that arbitration is a cheaper and faster option than going through the court system. It’s important to understand that automakers pay for the arbitrator or panel of arbitrators, meaning they may be biased in their decision. The vast majority of arbitration agreements end in the consumer getting short-changed.

The manufacturer may also try and have you sign a release form. Don’t take the bait – as they may be tricking you into signing your rights away.

Plain and simple, once your commercial vehicle meets lemon law qualifications, get in touch with an attorney. They will manage communication with the manufacturer from here and fight for a fair settlement.

Hiring the Right Lemon Attorney

Choosing the right attorney to represent you is extremely important – and not all lemon attorneys are equal. Ideally, you want to hire a lawyer with experience working on commercial lemon law cases. It’s also helpful if they have experience dealing with your vehicle’s manufacturer.

Now, let’s talk about fees.

As mentioned above, the manufacturer is required to pay for all legal costs and attorney fees as part of the lemon law buyback. For this reason, most lemon attorneys work on a contingency fee agreement. This means they will get paid as a percentage of the total settlement AFTER they win the case. Therefore, they shouldn’t ask for any upfront fees out-of-pocket. If the attorney demands any money from you at the beginning, head for the door.

Wrapping Up

A defective commercial vehicle can set you back months. It’s crucial you take action as soon as you realize something is off. The longer you wait, the more difficult it will be to earn fair compensation. Additionally, driving a defective vehicle is extremely dangerous for your employees and other drivers on the road.

Keep in mind, most lemon law attorneys are happy to answer your questions – regardless of whether or not you have a valid claim. Many understand you are in the situation for the first time and will be happy to guide you in making the right moves. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a local lemon law lawyer with your concerns.

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