The internet is overflowing with stories about car dealerships and the way some of them treat their customers. Those posts/Tweets/Reddit threads also give the general impression that the service departments in most dealerships charge more than ‘regular’ mechanics.

A handful of dealerships account for most of these internet threads. There are 427 dealerships in the greater Los Angeles area alone, the majority are fine.

Which is a very good thing because you need a dealership when you’re dealing with a vehicle that may be a ‘lemon.’

The process starts with them.

If your new, used, or leased vehicle has to go to in for warranty covered repairs, it must be taken to a facility authorized by the manufacturer.

Perhaps the biggest mistake drivers make is taking their vehicle to a mechanic not authorized by the manufacturer to make repairs. Not only can it be costly – they will probably have to pay out of pocket for repairs that would have been covered under the terms of the warranty – it can also void the warranty.

If the warranty is voided, there can’t be a lemon law calm.

How Do You Start?

We understand – because we handle lemon law cases all day everyday – that it’s next to impossible to figure out you have a lemon after one ‘incident.’ Sure, if your car suddenly stops in the middle of the highway, you have a serious problem – but it could be easily fixable. It could have a simple cause and a simple solution.

But it could also be an indication of problems to come.

At this stage of the 21st century, most people Google their vehicle and the problem to see if it’s a problem common to the make and model. That’s a smart thing to do but if your vehicle is new, it may not be that helpful. Also, the defect may be unique to your vehicle. 

You just happened to buy the one car off a long assembly line where the robot was a bit off for a second or two.

There’s no way to know until you drive the vehicle again. Which, of course, can be nerve racking. When you have a serious issue with a vehicle it’s natural to be worried about it for quite a few trips and miles until it ‘feels normal’ again. If it never does and the same issue pops up again – or a new one that’s just as concerning – well, you might have a lemon.

The best advice we can give drivers is to treat any issue that lands the vehicle in the service shop as a potential sign that your vehicle is a lemon.

It’s the smart thing to do – if the car is a lemon you have to act quickly and you have to have documentation, lots of documentation.

If the vehicle turns out to be a lemon, you’re off to the right start. If the problem(s) is handled and the vehicle is fine, think of the time you spent preparing as ‘just-in-case-I-have-a-lemon-insurance.’

First Steps

If, unfortunately, it turns out your car, motorcycle, boat, RV is apparently a lemon, the first steps toward relief are in your hands. Because it all begins with communicating with the dealership and the manufacturer and keeping a record of everything that occurs.


Note here, please, that facing the fact that your car may be a lemon is stressful and upsetting. The dealer and manufacturer won’t be stressed or upset but they do have their own motivations and reasons for how they respond to your problem.

They can be helpful, they can be defensive, they can deny there is anything wrong, they can sidestep and obfuscate every step of the way.

None of that matters. What does matter – entirely – is you documenting and recording everything that happens. Don’t let your stress get in the way.

So, when the dealer/service advisors/service manager explains what was wrong (or that they couldn’t find the problem you complained about), how it happened, how they fixed it, and how it will never happen again, nod, thank them and ask for it in writing. Send a letter and/or email to the manufacturer and dealer summarizing everything, reiterate that the problem(s) has not been addressed, and ask for them to fix it.

Moreover, don’t listen to the dealer, your salesperson, the service manager, and/or manufacturer’s rep as they try to ‘explain’ the California Lemon Law. They are not lawyers. They do not have your best interests in mind, far from it in fact – they are potential defendants in a lemon lawsuit.

The Records You Need

First, understand that you are the only one who can document what you are going through with your vehicle. You can expect no help from the dealership or manufacturer. It’s all about being proactive, this is about you and one of the largest purchases you make in life. Ask – demand if necessary – the dealership for the documentation you are entitled to at every visit.

That means you make sure to get the repair order and invoice – even if they don’t charge you – when you take your vehicle in and when you pick it up. Even if they have not or cannot fix the problem ‘that day,’ ask for an invoice saying so.

Never allow them to leave your ticket “open” while they order a part. Get – demand – an invoice, close out that visit. Remember, a big part of California lemon law claims are based on the number of times the vehicle has had to ‘go into the shop’ – don’t let the dealership try to ‘steal’ one of those visits.

When the part comes in and the work is done, get a new invoice. The service manager may not volunteer one, ask for it.

Even if you have to step around a desk to look at the computer screen over the service rep’s shoulder, make sure they enter a ‘complete and accurate description of your vehicle’s problem’ as you’ve described it.

Make a record of every phone call with the dealer and/or manufacturer. Make sure you get the name and title of everyone you speak with.

Don’t keep any records in the glove compartment or center console. They could mysteriously disappear during a service visit. It happens.

Final Steps

Put all your paperwork together and contact a greater Los Angeles Lemon Law attorney. Steer away from the huge nationwide lemon law firms – they’re easy to spot. Those firms rely on client volume for profits and are usually looking to drag on your case as long as possible to increase their attorney fees – good for the firm, frequently not so great for the client.

California based lemon law lawyers know the courts, many of the dealerships, most of the manufacturers and are up to date on the latest California lemon law developments.

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