Center Files Amicus Brief Supporting Used Car Buyers’ Rights Under California’s Lemon Law

June 23, 2023

It is well established in California that the state’s Lemon Law applies to vehicles that are still under the manufacturer’s warranty, whether those cars are new or used. Or, at least, it was well established until an appellate court in Southern California upended that consensus this spring. 

Last week, the Berkeley Center for Consumer Law and Economic Justice, joined by nine other national and state consumer advocacy groups, urged the California Supreme Court to overturn that errant decision and return the law to its longstanding role protecting buyers of used cars. 

When Everardo Rodriguez and Judith Arellano bought a used Dodge truck still under warranty from an authorized dealership, they expected––as all car buyers are entitled to do––that their car would be safe to drive and operate. Product warranties, like the one sold with their vehicle, help assure consumers that the manufacturer will stand by the quality of its products and will repair them if problems arise. California’s Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act requires manufacturers to buy back or replace irreparable vehicles that are still under warranty. But when Fiat Chrysler, which owns the Dodge brand, could not repair Rodriguez and Arellano’s truck after five attempts to fix a repeated electrical failure, the company refused to replace the truck, claiming that the Lemon Law does not extend to used cars. The Court of Appeal agreed, and the California Supreme Court granted review. 

At stake in the case is the safety of all drivers on California’s roads. Each of the 50 states has an automobile lemon law that provides critical protections to consumers whose cars experience significant safety or operating defects. For nearly 30 years, advocates for consumers and manufacturers, as well as the California Attorney Generaland the state Department of Consumer Affairs, have acted on the belief that California’s Lemon Law covers used vehicles sold with the original factory warranty, like the truck at issue in this case. The Court of Appeal’s surprise contrary ruling, which has been followed by some trial courts, has dramatically undercut consumer rights and safety under the Lemon Law in just a few months.

Last week, the Center, Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety (CARS), and other national consumer advocates and state legal services organizations filed an amicus brief in the California Supreme Court in support of Rodriguez and Arellano. The brief argues that the Lemon Law’s plain text, supported by traditional tools of statutory interpretation, includes within its purview used vehicles still under warranty. That reading has been confirmed by longstanding practice and expert opinion over nearly three decades. The brief further points to both basic economic principles underlying warranties and public policy goals to demonstrate that the best reading of this law, which the California Supreme Court has described as “strongly pro-consumer,” protects used cars, too. 

Not just purchasers of used cars, but also all California drivers who must share the road with dangerous unrepairable vehicles, await the outcome.