California Lemon Laws: Tanner Consumer Protection Act

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Most people know someone who bought a new car that was a "lemon," with a major defect that the dealer was not able to repair or with many minor defects that were continually requiring repairs. States enacted lemon laws (or new car warranty laws) to help consumers in these situations. California's lemon laws require manufacturers to replace or buy back products that are under warranty if defects cannot be fixed within a reasonable time. These laws apply to vehicles, but also to other consumer products.

California Lemon Laws

The Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act and the Tanner Consumer Protection Act are collectively known as California's lemon laws. The Song-Beverly Act requires manufacturers to replace or repurchase products that are under warranty if defects cannot be fixed within a reasonable time. A consumer might be entitled to exchange his new defective vehicle for a new one that works or get a full refund.

The Tanner Consumer Protection Act is quite limited in scope, but it is extremely helpful to consumers. It fills in the vague language of the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act that requires manufacturers to repurchase or replace faulty products that they fail to fix after a reasonable number of repair attempts. The Tanner Act defines the reasonable number of repair attempts.

Read More: California Lemon Laws for Appliances

Reasonable Number of Repair Attempts

The Tanner Consumer Protection Act sets out three situations where the law will presume that the car is a lemon and, therefore, subject to the terms of the lemon laws. It sets up a presumption that a reasonable number of repair attempts have been made on a new car or truck in any of these three cases:

  • The dealer tried to repair the same defect at least two times, and the defect is likely to cause death or serious bodily injury if the vehicleis driven.
  • The dealer tried to repair the same defect four or more times.
  • The vehicle has been being repaired and out of service for more than 30 calendar days from the delivery of the vehicle to the buyer. 

These presumptions only apply if the car is new, which is defined as no more than 18 months from the delivery or 18,000 miles on the odometer of the vehicle, whichever occurs first.

California Lemon Laws: Used Cars

Do California lemon laws apply to used cars? Sometimes. A used car will be protected by the California lemon laws if it is still under a manufacturer’s new car warranty when the consumer buys it and issues arise. The vehicle doesn't have to be continuously covered during the time the vehicle is being repaired. It is protected by the lemon laws if any time at all remains on the warranty when the first defects show up.

Cars are not the only vehicles covered by the California lemon laws. They apply to pickup trucks, vans, SUVs and motor homes. The important issue is whether a vehicle is covered by the manufacturer’s original warranty when the defect is first observed.

California Lemon Law: Appliances

Although most people think of lemon laws as applying only to vehicles, California includes many consumer products in the protections as well. The Song-Beverly Act provides warranty protections to consumers who buy or lease consumer goods, whether new or used.

A consumer good can include almost any product an individual buys for personal or household use, from an electric toothbrush to a refrigerator. However, clothing and food products are not covered by the Act. The consumer must present the defective product to the manufacturer or dealer, who must diagnose the problem and repair it expeditiously.

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About the Author

Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.