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California Lemon Law and Repair Orders- The Cardinal Rules

  Norman Taylor & Associates
  June 16, 2009

California lemon law requires consumers to give the manufacturer a reasonable opportunity to repair the defect(s).The paperwork the dealership gives consumers with each repair is an important legal document for a lemon law case. Consumers should resist the temptation to toss what often seems like a confusing jumble of abbreviations, auto mechanic jargon and undefined computer codes into the recycle bin. If a car turns out to be a lemon, these repair orders will be vital evidence in getting a buyback- a warranty refund.

There are three cardinal rules that every consumer should follow

1. Take your car to the dealership for repairs when it first starts to give trouble or if the defect is still not fixed after repair. Sometimes people with busy lives prefer to limp along with a defective car, figuring that they’ll take it up when they next bring the car in for service. This can be a big mistake. Why? When manufacturers buy a car back, California lemon law allows them to deduct an amount from the refund proportional to the mileage on the car at the time it was first presented for repair of the major defect. In other words, every mile you drive the car after it starts acting up could cost you money. If you make follow-up visits promptly, it will be easier for your attorney to prove that you were diligent in trying to get your problems addressed.

2. Always give the service writer a complete description of your car’s problems to the best of your knowledge and make sure that he writes down exactly what you say. Lemon laws generally require that a manufacturer be given a “reasonable number of opportunities” to repair the defect. Without repair orders that say exactly what the problem is, it is hard to prove that the manufacturer’s authorized dealers were given the required chances to fix the problem.

3. Always remember to get a repair order and keep it in a safe place for as long as you own the car. Dealerships may try to avoid giving them out. If you have already been in for the same problem several times you might hear, “you already know we can’t fix it (or we don’t think there’s a problem) and so we didn’t do any work. So, we don’t have to give you a repair order.” This creates a problem. They can’t repair your car but they won’t give you the document you need to prove it. If polite persistence doesn’t work, you can write them a letter stating the date and time you presented the car with a statement of the defect you brought it in for. If relations have deteriorated to this point, it is probably already time to consult a lemon law attorney.

The California Bureau of Automotive Repair publishes a guide called “Write it Right” which is also available on their web site ( It states exactly what needs to be written on a repair order in California.

Hopefully, technicians will be able to fix the problems with your car somewhere during the repair process and you will wind up with the car you paid for. But if not, you may need to seek a warranty refund. Following the three cardinal rules of repair orders will give you vital documentation you need when requesting a buyback in a lemon law case.

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