In the past decade, leased vehicles have become more and more popular among consumers and, while the financial benefits of leasing a vehicle are comparable to purchasing, consumers of leased vehicles are often concerned about their protection under the lemon law. Although the degree of protection under the lemon law can vary from state to state, the protection afforded under California law is the same regardless of whether the consumer purchased or leased their vehicle.
Even though the California Lemon Law, a provision of the more general Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, provides equal protection for consumers of purchased and leased vehicles, consumers should note that this protection is only valid for vehicles that are purchased or leased with a manufacturer’s express written warranty. Filing a lemon law claim with the proper legal authority is essentially requesting that a judge enforce the manufacturer’s express written warranty and require the manufacturer to replace a defective vehicle or financially compensate the consumer for their monetary loss. Consumers of purchased or leased vehicles that do not receive an express written warranty at the time of the purchase or lease transaction will not have a valid claim under the lemon law.
The California Lemon Law protects consumers who buy or lease a vehicle that displays material defects. A material defect is one that affects the use, value or safety of a purchased or leased vehicle and is a standard that is considered from the consumer’s point of view. Regardless of whether a vehicle was purchased or leased, manufacturers, or their agents, must be provided a reasonable opportunity to address the defect before a lemon law claim can be successfully litigated.
Courts have noted that the wording of the lemon law statute could be confusing or misleading to consumers. The lemon law statute uses words such as “buyer” and “bought” throughout the statute that may lead consumers of leased vehicles to believe that their defective motor vehicle is not covered under California’s Lemon Law. While the wording of the statute may be misleading, the California Legislature and California Courts are clear that leased vehicles will receive the same protection as purchased motor vehicles under the law. The lemon law requires a manufacturer of a defective motor vehicle, whether new, used or leased, to replace the vehicle or compensate the consumer monetarily should the manufacturer be unable to fix the defect after a reasonable number of repair attempts. Therefore, consumers of leased vehicles can feel confident that their transaction will not limit their rights to consumer protection under the law.