Stop the Attack on California's
Auto Lemon Law!

Pro-consumer / auto safety organizations urge Governor Newsom to VETO
Bill backed by debt collectors and auto manufacturers
Unprecedented Attack on Low and Moderate Income Californians
NEWS for IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 4, 2023

Contacts: Rosemary Shahan, CARS, 530-759-9440
Michael Brooks, Center for Auto Safety, 202-328-7700 x 408
Megan Varvais, Public Justice, 510-566-7768
            SACRAMENTO, CA - A large coalition of leading non-profit consumer and auto safety organizations based in California and Washington, D.C. is urging Governor Newsom to veto legislation backed by debt collectors and auto manufacturers who seek to evade being held accountable for engaging in illegal debt collection practices or selling seriously defective lemon cars.

          The bill, SB 71, is authored by Senator Tom Umberg (D-Santa Ana) and co-authored by right-wing Republican Assemblymember Bill Essayli. SB 71 would significantly increase the dollar amount for legal disputes in “limited” civil courts, where consumers face numerous procedural barriers and often lack any legal representation, from $25,000 to $35,000.

          If SB 71 is enacted, millions of low and moderate-income victims of illegal debt collection practices or defective auto lemons would lose access to “unlimited” civil courts where currently they can get the legal discovery they need to prove their cases. Hapless consumers would also find it difficult or impossible to obtain legal counsel when they are up against giant corporations with legions of attorneys on their side.

          The Alliance for Automotive Innovation wrote in favor of SB 71 that it would “reduce litigation,” fulfilling one of the Alliance’s top priorities – denying auto lemon owners access to courts where the consumers almost always win.

          “No other California governor has signed legislation to weaken California’s landmark auto lemon law,” said Rosemary Shahan, President of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety (CARS). The original auto “lemon law” was signed into law by former Governor Ronald Reagan in 1970.

          Since then, Democratic Governors Jerry Brown and Gray Davis, and Republican Governors Pete Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenegger all signed legislation spearheaded by CARS to improve and expand California’s auto lemon law – including strengthening protections against lemons with life-threatening
safety defects, protecting small business owners and self-employed individuals such as real estate agents and landscapers who need safe, reliable vehicles to make a living and to keep their businesses afloat, and to protect active duty military personnel and their families who are stationed in or deployed from California, regardless where they purchased their lemon autos.

          “If Governor Newsom signs SB 71, auto lemon owners who buy defective cars in California for less than $35,000 will suddenly go from having some of the best lemon-aid in the country to having some of the worst,” said Michael Brooks, Executive Director of the Center for Auto Safety.

          SB 71 also threatens to inflict disparate harm on Black and Hispanic consumers. According to research into California’s civil courts, "Cases filed in California courts to collect consumer debts disproportionately burden Black and Hispanic borrowers. Data drawn from civil court records show that claims to collect defaulted consumer debts are filed at a higher rate against borrowers of color than against white borrowers. The type of creditor also varies by the borrower’s race and ethnicity. Black and Hispanic litigants are also less likely to be represented by an attorney. The distribution of case participation and outcome also varies by race, with fewer answers filed and more judgments entered against Hispanic and Black defendants." 1

          Among the procedural barriers in “Limited” civil courts:
    ◦ Severe limitations on discovery
    ◦ Severe limitations on depositions (with rare exceptions, only one)
    ◦ Drastically reduced time period for filing appeals, from 60 days to 30 days
    ◦ Lack of access to appellate courts for appeals
    ◦ Lack of authority to provide injunctive relief
    ◦ Lack of access in many cases to civil penalties or punitive damages, which would otherwise serve to help deter violations of the law
    ◦ Arbitrary cap on damages that a jury or judge can award, even if appropriate damages would exceed the jurisdictional amount
The official Assembly Judiciary Committee analysis of SB 71 says that it is supposed to “provide an accessible forum for resolving minor civil disputes.” But as Megan Varvais, speaking on behalf of Public Justice, points out, “for most Californians, $35,000 is not a minor amount of money. California consumers need and deserve the full protection of the law.”

          According to J.D. Power, complaints about new motor vehicles have risen sharply, with more consumers complaining about problems due to faulty electronics and errors in software.

          Spanish-language information about SB71 and steps consumers can take to help make the case for a veto, provided by a prominent lemon law firm that represents many lemon owners.

1 “The Unequal Burden of Debt Claims: Disparate Impact in California Debt Collection Cases,” by by Claire Johnson Raba, Debt Collection Lab, July 30, 2023, page 1. Posted at:

Auto manufacturers attack California's landmark auto lemon law
Pro-consumer / auto safety organizations urge Gov. Newsom to veto SB 71
Auto manufacturers who produce seriously defective vehicles are backing legislation on Governor Gavin Newsom's desk that would drastically weaken the ability of hapless victims of lemon automobiles to use California's auto lemon law to get a refund. If Governor Newsom signs the bill (SB 71) into law, millions of California vehicle owners would face a much higher risk of being stuck with lemon autos that are often unreliable and unsafe to drive.

Auto manufacturers are attacking protections for California consumers with seriously defective lemon cars.
In a letter sent to legislators in Sacramento, the Alliance for Automotive Innovation -- the trade association for dozens of international auto manufacturers -- argues for passage of SB 71, authored by Senator Tom Umberg (D-Santa Ana), the powerful Chair of the California State Senate Committee on the Judiciary. SB 71 would take away the ability of lemon owners who purchased their seriously defective vehicles for less than $35,000 to access "unlimited civil" courts, where they can easily get legal representation -- usually at no cost to them -- and may be awarded up to double their damages as a civil penalty, if they win and prove that the manufacturer's refusal to promptly comply with the lemon law was "willful."

Instead, consumers whose vehicles cost less than $35,000 would be forced to submit their cases to "limited civil" courts where they would face a number of procedural hurdles that usually make it impossible for them to win. For example, they are unlikely to be able to get enough discovery to prove their case. This means that scofflaw auto manufacturers who produce faulty lemon cars priced below $35,000 would be able to get away with foisting them off on California car buyers and refusing to honor their warranties and fix them. Thus, auto giants would save potentially tens of millions of dollars in auto repair costs they would otherwise have to spend to fix problem cars under warranty.

If Governor Newsom signs SB 71 into law, he would be the first California governor to weaken protections for California's new and used car buyers under California's landmark auto lemon law, widely regarded as the best in the nation. In the past, governors of both major political parties, democrats and republicans alike, have signed bills to improve and expand protections against defective lemon cars, starting with Governor Ronald Reagan, who signed California's Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act -- the original "lemon law" -- in 1970.

The timing couldn't be worse, since consumer surveys show increasing dissatisfaction and complaints about major defects in new vehicles, which are prone to a whole host of problems caused by faulty electronics and software programming.According to J.D. Power's annual survey of initial quality among motor vehicles:  
"In the IQS, J.D. Power ranks automakers based on verified-owner responses, calculating for each a problems-per-100-vehicles (PP100) score. Looking at recent study results, the number of problems increased by 18 PP100 between 2021 and 2022 and climbed a massive 30 PP100 from 2022 to 2023. That's nearly 50 PP100 combined in just two years. Automakers are seeing more persistent problems with their new technologies." -- New Tech Drives Major Increase in Vehicle Quality Issues, JD Power report June 22, 2023.
  According to the official analyses of SB 71, the only supporters are debt collectors and auto manufacturers and suppliers.

CARS and other non-profit organizations who give consumers a voice in the legislative process are fighting back. We're urging Governor Newsom to veto SB 71. Here's our letter to Governor Newsom. The more Californians the Governor and his staff hear from, the better.
Save YOUR right to fight back against greedy auto manufacturers
Don't let auto giants stick you with an unsafe, defective lemon car
Save California's auto lemon law - act NOW!!

What can you to make YOUR voice heard and save California's auto lemon law, so you can fight back when your "dream car" turns out to be a lemon?

Send a brief personalized e-mail message to California Governor Gavin Newsom, here. Under topic, choose "An active bill" and then "SB 71". Where it asks for your position, choose "CON." In your comments, let the Governor know that you live in California and urge him to VETO SB 71. Use your own words to explain why. For example, "I spent over $30,000 to buy a brand new car, and it was in the shop for repairs for over two months. Ford refuses to buy it back. California needs a strong auto lemon law. Don't weaken it. I urge you to VETO SB 71."

For Immediate Release:
Thursday, July 7, 2022

Rosemary Shahan, Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety Foundation,, 530-759-9440
Jenn Engstrom, CALPIRG State Director,, 916-524-1145
Taran Volckhausen, Communications Associate,, 720-212-9955
California marks 40th anniversary of landmark auto 'Lemon Law'
With over six million unsafe, recalled cars on the roads in California in 2021, it's clear lemon owners continue to need strong protections against defective, unsafe vehicles
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — On July 7, 1982 – 40 years ago on Thursday – former Gov. Jerry Brown signed California's landmark auto "lemon law." Over the following decades, California's lemon law would become a model for similar laws enacted in all the states. The groundbreaking law required auto manufacturers to provide refunds or replacements to owners of faulty vehicles under warranty when the company failed to make timely repairs.

When Gov. Brown signed the legislation into law, he hosted a ceremony at the Capitol, where he poured lemon-aid and toasted the author, Assemblymember Sally Tanner (D-El Monte) and supporters, including Rosemary Shahan, president of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety (CARS). Shahan started pushing for the law three years earlier while picketing at a car dealership in Lemon Grove that had held her car for repairs for over nine months.

"California has the country's sweetest recipe for auto lemon-aid," says Rosemary Shahan, president of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety (CARS). "California's lemon law is known for being one of the strongest in the country, and continues to be a model for the rest of the nation. We continue to fight hard to keep it that way."

Since its enactment, consumers, small business owners and members of the U.S. Armed Forces stationed in California, have obtained refunds or replacement vehicles for seriously faulty "lemon" cars, pickups, motorhomes, and SUVs. In addition, millions more have benefited from the law, which plays a major role in incentivizing auto manufacturers to make the necessary investments in designing, producing and repairing their vehicles – rather than face private litigation.
To raise awareness of the ongoing importance of California's lemon law, CALPIRG Education Fund, the Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety Foundation and Frontier Group released a report in May, 2022. By researching California state electronic court filings, the report provided an unprecedented view into how likely California consumers are to wind up in court after purchasing a car, SUV or light truck from different auto manufacturers. The report found that manufacturers vary widely in how often they are taken to court in California for defective cars — with General Motors the most often sued relative to their share of the car market while Toyota was the least.

"It's been 40 years since California passed its lemon law, but the number of recalled and defective cars on the road show it's just as important today," said Jenn Engstrom, state director of CALPIRG. "When you purchase a car you should be able to expect that the vehicle you're taking home is completely safe and functional. If the car doesn't work, the manufacturer must take responsibility, and if they don't the lemon law provides an important recourse. We hope our report helps educate consumers about their rights under the lemon law and how different car companies compare when it comes to preventing and addressing lemon cars."

The report also found that the number of Lemon Law cases in 2021 amounted to a fraction of 1 percent of the more than 6 million vehicles in the state with serious safety defects subject to a federally mandated safety recall.

"Auto manufacturers complain about "excessive litigation" in California over lemon autos, but very few problems with defective vehicles actually end up in court," said Shahan. "In some cases, automakers and dealers resolve issues before being taken to court, while in others consumers give up and sell their defective vehicles back to dealerships at a substantial loss."

"40 years later, too many consumers are still unaware of their rights under the lemon law. Purchasing a car has always been a major investment, but with the recent surge in prices, it's become even more costly for families and individuals," said Engstrom. "It's more important than ever that consumers know they have protection after buying a lemon." 

Auto manufacturers have repeatedly targeted California's lemon law and attempted to weaken it, but so far, CARS and allies, including CALPIRG, have succeeded in preserving the law.

For Immediate Release:
Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Jenn Engstrom, CALPIRG State Director,, 916-524-1145

Rosemary Shahan, Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety Foundation,, 530-759-9440

Taran Volckhausen, Communications Associate,, 720-212-9955
New report reveals most commonly sued car manufacturers under California lemon law
Manufacturers vary widely in how often their customers take them to California state court
LOS ANGELES - CALPIRG Education Fund, the Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety (CARS) Foundation and Frontier Group released a report on Tuesday that reveals the car companies that are sued the most and least often under California's auto lemon law, compared to their market share, over selling seriously defective cars in the Golden State.

"Car buyers, who are paying record high prices at car dealerships, should be able to expect that the vehicle they're taking home is completely safe and functional. If the car doesn't work, the manufacturer must take responsibility," said Jenn Engstrom, state director of CALPIRG Education Fund. "We hope our report helps educate consumers on how different car companies compare when it comes to preventing and addressing lemon cars."

The report reviews 34,397 lemon lawsuits in California state courts from 2018 to 2021. The key findings from the report are:
    Auto manufacturers vary widely in how often their customers take them to court in California for selling seriously defective cars. General Motors was sued the most often relative to their share of the state's new vehicle market while Toyota was sued the least.

    Toyota was taken to court under the lemon law only once for every 2,029 cars the automaker sold in the state. On the other hand, General Motors had a lemon lawsuit filed for every 78 cars
    it sold in California. Consumers who purchased GM vehicles were approximately 26 times more likely to file a lemon lawsuit than consumers who purchased Toyotas.

    Among the more than 7 million new vehicles registered in California from 2018 through 2021, only 34,397 – less than one-half of one percent – resulted in a lawsuit filed in state courts.
"Instead of attacking California's auto lemon law, auto manufacturers like GM, Jaguar, Fiat Chrysler, Nissan, Ford, and Kia should concentrate on improving their vehicle quality and customer service," said Rosemary Shahan, president of the CARS Foundation. Shahan is known for initiating and battling for years to enact what became known as California's auto lemon law, working closely with Assemblymember Sally Tanner for passage.

California's lemon law is one of the most comprehensive. Under legislation spearheaded by Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety (CARS), California's lemon law was expanded to provide protections for active duty military service members, regardless where they purchased their vehicles, and small business owners and individual entrepreneurs who own up to five vehicles. Plus enhanced protections against vehicles with life-threatening safety defects and a prohibition on confidentiality in lemon law settlements, leaving lemon owners free to tell the truth about their experiences.

"No consumer wants to go to court over a defective car," said Tony Dutzik, senior policy analyst with the Frontier Group. "Some automakers may find themselves in court more often because they make lower quality cars, or do a worse job of addressing problems to consumers' satisfaction. Others may offer longer warranties that extend consumers' rights to sue under the Lemon Law. The data in this report is one more piece of information consumers can use in making a wise choice where to shop for a new car."

There are currently lemon laws in all 50 states, modeled after California's which is widely recognized as one of the strongest. California's auto lemon law requires auto manufacturers to provide owners of new and used cars with refunds or replacement vehicles when the manufacturers fail to fix major problems that are covered by the manufacturer's warranty.

"Not only did General Motors sell me a very unsafe, defective lemon car, but then they refused to abide by California's auto lemon law, dragging their feet every step of the way. After my horrible experience with a GM lemon, I will never buy another GM vehicle again," said Peter Snider, of Monterey, CA. Mr. Snider had to file a lawsuit under California's lemon law to get GM to buy back his 2018 Chevrolet Bolt EV, which had numerous defects, including: spontaneously stalling (even though the battery was charged at half), lurching out of control, failing to start or to shut off, a faulty battery that could catch on fire (resulting in a safety recall with no fix for months), a backup camera that malfunctioned, failures of the climate control system, and other major electrical problems. "But for my asserting my rights under California's lemon law, I would have had to trade in that lemon at a substantial loss."
California's lemon law does not apply to minor problems. Consumers who pursued auto lemon litigation reviewed in the report complained that they experienced a wide range of defects, including brake, steering, engine, transmission and electrical failures.

"It's been 40 years since California passed its lemon law, but even today too many consumers are still unaware of their rights. Purchasing a car has always been a major investment, but with the recent surge in prices, it's become even more costly for families and individuals," said Engstrom. "It's more important than ever that consumers know they have protection after buying a lemon."

You can read the entire report, right on the CARS Foundation website: Lemon Index 2022.
You can download a PDF copy by clicking here.

Rosemary Shahan, President of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety and Gayle Peña, a former Board member of CARS, dump 800 pounds of lemons at the State Capitol in Sacramento, to protest anti-consumer, anti-safety legislation backed by greedy, unscrupulous auto manufacturers and car dealers, in a brazen attempt to water down California's recipe for auto "lemon-aid." Video: KCRA-TV
Greedy, unscrupulous auto manufacturers are attacking California's auto lemon law, while churning out tens of millions of seriously defective vehicles -- including millions of vehicles with potentially deadly safety defects.

Multi-national auto manufacturers want to be able to get away with foisting off dangerously defective cars on California consumers, without having to live up to their warranties. They're backing a ballot initiative in California that would make it impossible for all but the very wealthiest lemon owners to fight back, by slashing the fees the manufacturers end up having to pay lemon owners' attorneys -- while allowing the giant corporations to spend unlimited amounts for their own lawyers.

CARS is fighting back. We've also reached out to other pro-consumer, pro-safety organizations and alerted them, and the opposition to the ballot initiatives is growing. Here's who else is joining forces with CARS to save California's lemon law protections, so far:  
Here's just one glaring example: Fords with steering wheels that come off in the driver's hands. (Yes, you read that right.)

    Quotes from complaints that Ford owners filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:
  • "While driving on (the) interstate, steering wheel came loose and car veered off interstate. I regained control but steering wheel is still loose. Repairs will cost beyond my means at this moment," a driver in Harriman, Tenn., reported Tuesday.
  • A Lake Island, Ill., driver, in a statement to NHTSA in November, wrote, ""While driving approximately 55 (miles per hour), the steering wheel turned 360 degrees independently without warning. In addition, the steering wheel detached from the vehicle."
Read more: USA Today: Loose steering wheels trigger Ford recall of 1.4 million Fusions, Lincoln MKZ cars

Warranty repairs are a big red flag that can trigger safety recalls, which are extremely expensive. Ford HATES California's lemon law. Ford is notorious for covering up product defects and failing to fix them, churning out millions of dangerous cars while its customers and their families suffer devastating injuries or die.
Another appalling example of how Ford deliberately endangers its customers' lives, and violates California's lemon law and laws against committing massive fraud:

Ford: Serial Killer / Lemon Law Violator

"A Detroit Free Press 'Out of Gear' investigation published in July 2019 revealed for the first time internal company documents and emails showing that the Dearborn automaker knew the dual-clutch "Powershift" (DPS6) transmissions on the entry-level vehicles, built over the last decade, were defective from the start and continued building and selling them anyway as customers spent thousands on repairs."

Read more: Detroit Free Press: "Ford pays $49K to couple for 2014 Fiesta, settles defective transmission cases"

"In April 2019, Ford Motor Co., in the last paragraph of a 70-page filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, disclosed that it could face significant liability in lawsuits over the transmission used in Focus and Fiesta cars for nearly a decade.

Detroit Free Press Ford reporter Phoebe Wall Howard wrote about the disclosure and began hearing from vehicle owners around the country about years of problems with the cars – and from a former Ford engineer who'd been involved in damage control over the transmissions. That led to a trove of internal documents that showed Ford knew before putting the cars on the road that the transmissions were defective....

These low-cost cars were marketed to entry-level buyers on a tight budget, often retirees and students, and 1.5 million remain on the road. Owners around the country almost daily thank us for staying on the story and standing up for them after they've faced years of frustration, expense and risk."

Read more: Detroit Free Press: "Out of Gear: Follow the full Ford Investigation"
Help save California's auto lemon law from the greedy auto manufacturer attack!

Let your state legislators in Sacramento know:

You own a vehicle, and you vote.

California shouldn't become a dumping ground for dangerous, defective cars.

Do NOT weaken California's auto lemon law.

Here's where to find out who your state lawmakers are, including their contact information.

Just enter your home address, where you are registered to vote,
on the website for the California State Assembly:
Save Lives. Save Jobs. Prevent Horrible Injuries.
Protect California's New and Used Car Buyers, Small Businesses,
and U.S. Military Servicemembers Stationed in California.
Stop the Attack on California's Auto Lemon Law.
Who Does California's Auto Lemon Law Protect?
  • Typically, about two million new car, truck, and SUV buyers each year.
  • Millions of used car buyers and owners of older vehicles covered by the manufacturer's warranty.
  • More than 157,000 active duty U.S. Military Servicemembers and their families.
  • Many millions of small businesses and individual entrepreneurs, including landscapers, florist shops, carpet cleaners, real estate agents, and other businesses with 5 or fewer vehicles.
  • Over 27 million licensed vehicle owners who share the roads with them, along with bicyclists and pedestrians.
  Owning an unreliable lemon vehicle is not just an "inconvenience." It's often a very stressful experience, and can lead to job loss -- or worse.
California's Auto Lemon Law Helps Create High-Paying Jobs
  • Thousands of automotive technicians, including union members, have jobs in California that cannot be outsourced, performing warranty and safety recall repairs.
  • Thousands of other workers, including union members, have jobs designing, developing, producing, and distributing warranty repair parts.
California's original Lemon Law, known as the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, was signed into law by Governor Ronald Reagan, in 1970. Why is California's Auto Lemon Law facing an unprecedented, brazen new attack now?
  • Auto manufacturers produce tens of millions of seriously defective, often unsafe, vehicles each year, including more than 6.3 million vehicles currently on the roads in California with hazardous unrepaired safety recall defects, such as brake failure, loss of steering, catching on fire, and exploding Takata airbags that cause blindness or bleeding to death.
  • Some high-volume auto manufacturers fail to make the necessary investments in producing safe, reliable vehicles, while making them increasingly complex and computerized.
  • The U.S. has a severe shortage of skilled software engineers and automotive technicians to troubleshoot defects and computer glitches, develop fixes, and perform warranty repairs. A TechForce Foundation report concluded that the auto industry would be short approximately 642,000 technicians by 2024.
  • Auto manufacturers seek to divert investment dollars from honoring their warranties on vehicles they already sold, into developing new models – particularly autonomous vehicles, which threaten to cost millions of jobs.
  • More lemon law attorneys are representing lemon owners whose first language is Spanish or another non-English language.

Auto complaints rank #1
More consumers complain to state and local consumer protection agencies about auto-related problems than any other consumer product or service. For as long as the Consumer Federation of America has been compiling and publishing the list of Top Ten Consumer Complaints, year after year, auto problems rank #1. 2020 was no exception. Here's the most recent list of the Nation's Top 10 Consumer Complaints released on July 26, 2021.

Not surprisingly to anyone on the front lines in handling consumer complaints, once again autos top the list.

"1. Auto: Misrepresentations in advertising or sales of new and used cars, deceptive financing practices, defective vehicles, faulty repairs, car leasing and rentals, towing disputes."
So -- just how reliable are today's cars? The results of
Consumer Reports' new research may surprise you.
Increasingly, complicated, error-prone electronics are causing major headaches for car buyers.
"Electric Vehicles Rank Low in Consumer Reports
Reliability Study"
by David Welch
November 18, 2021
"When it comes to reliable cars, the newest and latest aren't always best.

Electric vehicles fare poorly in the latest reliability study from Consumer Reports, with Tesla Inc. and its battery-powered lineup finishing second to last for the second-straight year. Only Ford Motor Co.'s Lincoln division was worse, the organization said Thursday at the Automotive Press Association in Detroit...

But there's a twist: It's not the battery or motor that makes EVs less reliable. It's the glitchy new gadgets that carmakers, especially Tesla, pack in to make their vehicles feel modern and appeal to early adopters. EVs tend to have touchscreen controls for climate, seat controls and other devices that once were mechanical, leading to problems."

Read more: Bloomberg: "Electric Vehicles Rank Low in Consumer Reports Reliability Study"
CARS: Leading the fight to save lemon law protections for
California's new and used car buyers.
1970: Governor Ronald Reagan signs California's original "lemon law" into law

Governor Ronald Reagan signed California's original "lemon law."
Source: Photographs in the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.
Republican Governor and conservative icon Ronald Reagan signed California's original "lemon law," the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, into law in 1970. The Act applied only to products purchased for personal, family or household use, with a written warranty from the manufacturer. It requires manufacturers to live up to the promises they make to their customers when they entice them to buy their products, trumpeting the length and scope of their warranties to create a sense of security.

When the product is a motor vehicle, it is usually the single most-expensive purchase most Californians make, unless they also buy a home. Most vehicle owners rely on their cars, pickups and SUVs to transport themselves and their families safely to work, day care, and school, and to access medical care, food, and other necessities. Buying a vehicle with a "factory warranty" directly from the manufacturer adds thousands of dollars onto the price of a new or used vehicle.

When the auto manufacturer fails to honor its warranty and fails to fix serious defects, consumers are entitled to a refund or replacement vehicle. In those days, auto manufacturers churned out huge numbers of hazardous, faulty vehicles that frustrated and infuriated their customers, often leaving them stranded by the side of the road or without their vehicles for weeks on end, due to long delays in getting repairs that frequently failed to fix the problems. But hardly anyone used the Song-Beverly Act to get a refund or replacement vehicle. That's because the law required consumers to prove they had provided auto manufacturers the opportunity to make a "reasonable number" of repair attempts before the car was deemed to be a "lemon." But -- how would courts interpret what's "reasonable"? No one knew. The law was so vague, attorneys were reluctant to represent lemon owners. As a result, auto manufacturers ignored the law.

1979: The president and founder of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety initiates California's new, sweeter recipe for auto lemon-aid

Governor Brown handed CARS founder Rosemary Shahan this signed copy of California's landmark auto lemon law, with a personal note added by Assemblymember Sally Tanner, at a lemon-aid party he hosted at the Capitol to celebrate the historic victory.
While picketing for five months outside a car dealership near San Diego, in a town named Lemon Grove, CARS founder and president Rosemary Shahan handed out fliers, did media interviews, and reached out to growing numbers of irate auto lemon owners, urging them to write to then-Assemblymember Bill Lockyer (D-San Leandro), Chair of the California Assembly Committee on Consumer Protection, for a new "lemon law" to empower lemon owners to fight back. He wrote back that he was receiving a lot of mail from the San Diego area in favor of a "lemon law."

Lockyer held a public hearing in San Diego, where representatives from the auto manufacturers and consumer advocates were invited to testify. Rosemary alerted lemon owners and the media about the hearing, and also testified herself in favor of improving protections for lemon owners. Assemblymember Sally Tanner (D-El Monte) attended the hearing and listened intently to the testimony. A key question: What's a "reasonable number" of repair attempts before a faulty car is a lemon, in the eyes of the law? A representative for Ford Motor Co. testified that Ford might take "30" tries to fix a lemon before they should have to buy it back. There were audible gasps among the audience. This was the first time a manufacturer actually said in public, on the record, what they considered to be "reasonable."

Tanner disagreed. In 1980, she championed legislation to define what is "reasonable" and create a legal presumption that when you take a defective car to the manufacturer's authorized dealership for repairs 4 times for a defect that "substantially impairs the use, value, or safety to the buyer or lessee," or if it is out of service for a total of 30 days during the first 12 months / 12,000 miles, it's presumed to be a lemon. It's like having the benefit of the doubt that enough is enough. The car doesn't have to turn yellow and squirt juice in your face before it's obvious it's a lemon.

For years, auto manufacturers fought tooth and nail against each of Sally Tanner's recipes for auto lemon-aid. From 1980-1981, they killed them. But Sally Tanner, Rosemary, and other supporters persisted. Desperate, angry lemon owners wrote impassioned letters to Sally Tanner, imploring her to keep fighting. When key votes were scheduled, her staff sorted the letters by legislative district and placed stacks of them on the desks of other lawmakers.

In 2002, Assemblymember Sally Tanner and CARS Founder Rosemary Shahan celebrated the 20th anniversary of Governor Brown's signing California's auto lemon law / Tanner Act.
Rosemary founded a non-profit organization, Motor Voters, and repeatedly flew to Sacramento to testify, meet with key legislative staff, and work on amendments, as an unpaid volunteer. She also did public outreach, held press events, and kept up efforts to win. She became active in the non-profit Consumer Federation of California (CFC), which had close ties with labor organizations. They initially opposed the bills. But she met with labor leaders, and they gradually changed their positions, realizing that their union members' livelihoods and the interests of lemon owners were in alignment. Eventually, CFC joined in supporting Tanner's legislation and helped win passage.

Lawmakers in Sacramento faced growing public pressure -- and not only from lemon owners. Car dealers complained they were were tired of being stuck in the middle between irate, frustrated customers and arrogant auto manufacturers who were in "lemon denial." Finally, in 1982, Tanner's lemon law bill passed with overwhelming bi-partisan votes, and only a few "no" votes. On July 7, 1982, Governor Jerry Brown hosted a signing party. Sally Tanner arranged for Rosemary to fly to Sacramento for the event, at the Assemblymember's expense. Governor Brown signed the historic, landmark legislation and personally poured glasses of lemon-aid for the guests.

Years later, the new lemon law was named in honor of Sally Tanner, the Tanner Consumer Protection Act. That law soon became the model for similar laws in all 50 states.

1998: CARS leads passage of first-in-the-nation legislation to prohibit auto manufacturers from gagging lemon owners

CARS was the official sponsor of AB 2410, authored by former Assemblymember Kevin Shelley (D-San Francisco). CARS asked Shelley, who was known for being strongly pro-consumer, to champion the bill, and worked closely with him and his staff to build support and win passage.

Before this important new consumer protection law passed, it was common for auto manufacturers to force lemon owners to sign away their First Amendment rights. Basically, the manufacturers insisted "If you want to get rid of this lemon that's making your life miserable, you have to sign away your right to tell anyone the truth about how sour your experience was. If you do tell the truth, we can sue you and win huge damages, plus our attorneys' fees." This landmark law freed lemon owners to tell the truth about their defective cars and how they were treated by the auto manufacturers. This law makes it harder for auto manufacturers to hide the truth about how defective their lemons really are.

Rosemary was also motivated to push for the law because auto manufacturers were engaged in widespread illegal "lemon laundering" -- reselling defective lemons to used car buyers without fixing the defects or disclosing their shameful past. They tried to get away with claiming they bought the lemons back merely as a "good will" gesture. In reality, the only reason they bought them back was that if they didn't, they could be penalized for failing to comply with the lemon law. The best witnesses regarding how sour their lemons were, and why they were repurchased, were the original lemon owners, who needed to be free to talk.

California remains the only state in the U.S. with a law specifically to protect lemon owners' free speech rights, helping deter the fraudulent resales of seriously defective lemon cars.

Auto manufacturers and the Civil Justice Association of California (CJAC) fought hard to kill the bill. They really hate it when their victims are free to speak up and tell the truth. The bill barely squeaked by in the Assembly and Senate, with almost all the Democrats voting "yes" and all of the Republicans voting "no," and was signed into law by Republican Governor Pete Wilson.

2000: CARS leads passage of legislation to expand lemon law protections to include small businesses and improve protections against unsafe lemons

CARS was the official sponsor of SB 1718, authored by Senator Byron Sher (D-Palo Alto). CARS asked Sher, an attorney who was known for being strongly pro-environment and pro-consumer, to champion the bill, and worked closely with him and his staff to build support for winning passage.

The original lemon law -- The Song Beverly Consumer Warranty Act -- covered only vehicles purchased for "personal, family, or household use." That meant that millions of self-employed people, such as real estate agents who needed their vehicles to drive clients to look at homes for sale, and landscapers who bought pickups so they could haul equipment, plants, bricks, rocks, and other materials, were usually stuck when they were sold a lemon. Who else lacked lemon law protections? Small mom-and-pop business owners, such as dry cleaners, carpet cleaners, florist shops, and other businesses that rely on their vehicles to serve their customers and stay in business. Some lost business and faced bankruptcy due to faulty vehicles that kept breaking down, or were unsafe for their employees to drive.

Due to vehement opposition from auto manufacturers, hardly any state's lemon laws cover business use. But Rosemary was moved by complaints she received from people whose livelihoods depended on having safe, reliable vehicles. It just didn't seem fair that they were forced to trade in their lemons at a huge loss, when they would have received a full refund if they didn't need their vehicles to make a living. She organized a letter-writing campaign, generated news coverage, and assisted small business owners and self-employed people so they could come from key parts of the state to Sacramento, where they testified in favor of the bill at legislative hearings.

The bill also improved protections against dangerously unsafe lemons that are likely to cause death or serious bodily injury if they are driven. The new law gives owners of unsafe lemons the benefit of the lemon law's presumption of "lemonitis" after only 2 failed repair attempts, instead of 4. Auto manufacturers tried their darndest to kill the bill and to force CARS and the author to accept anti-consumer amendments. But Senator Sher and CARS held firm, and won passage without watering down California's recipe for lemon aid, greatly expanding the law to cover business use for individual entrepreneurs and small businesses with up to 5 vehicles weighing less than 10,000 pounds, and improving protections from vehicles with potentially deadly safety defects.

Despite auto manufacturers' vehement opposition, the bill squeaked by in the legislature and was signed into law by Governor Gray Davis.

2007: CARS leads the fight to provide lemon law protections to members of the military serving in the U.S. Armed Forces

Navy Lt. Kindig's horrible experience with a Chrysler lemon made a huge difference, and now members of the Armed Forces stationed in California can use California's auto lemon law, even if they bought their lemon in another state.
CARS officially sponsored legislation (SB 234) authored by Senator Ellen Corbett (D-San Leandro) to expand California's auto lemon law to protect members of the Armed Forces, regardless where they purchase their lemon vehicles. The inspiration for the law came from the nightmarish experiences of military Servicemembers like Lt. Nathan Kindig, a courageous physician's assistant who served multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. Like many members of the Armed Forces, he and his family moved around -- a lot. He was a resident of Arkansas, where he still has close relatives. He bought a new Dodge Dakota in Washington State. It kept overheating and leaving them -- including his 7-year-old daughter -- stranded by the side of the road. When he finally got leave time to visit his parents in Arkansas, he ended up having to spend a big chunk of his scarce, precious leave trying to get repairs so the van would run, and he had to borrow his parents' car simply to have wheels.

At that time, California's lemon law applied only to vehicles purchased in California. So Chrysler refused to give him a refund. They basically told him to "pound sand." While he attempted to get them to do the right thing, he had to keep making payments for a totally unreliable lemon he and his wife couldn't drive. This caused them severe economic hardship, especially since his wife had planned to use the truck to haul furniture and generate income to supplement their meager military pay.

The founder of CARS, who was married to a Navy Judge Advocate General (JAG) for 20 years, learned about his plight, which unfortunately was far from being an isolated incident. She built a coalition to support the measure that included:
  • Lt. Gen. Michael Lehnert, Commanding General, United States Marine Corps, Marine Installations West
  • Vice Admiral Cutler Dawson, (Ret.), President and CEO, Navy Federal Credit Union
  • California State Commanders Veterans Council
  • National Guard Association of California
    She also arranged for Lt. Kindig to participate in a press conference live from Iraq, and for his testimony to be recorded and presented before the California Senate Judiciary Committee. Despite opposition from auto manufacturers behind the scenes, and the threat of a Constitutional challenge, the law passed unanimously in both houses of the California Legislature and was signed into law by then-Gov. Schwarzenegger.

    Read more: California's Lemon Law Expanded to Protect Our Military Heroes and Their Families
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    Buyer Beware! Auto dealers use
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    to get away with cheating customers
    Even when car dealers flagrantly violate consumer protection laws, you may not be able to get justice. That's because almost 100% of car dealers stick "forced arbitration" clauses into their contracts. If they cheat you, and you try to take them to court, they can just laugh at you. That's because they can get your case kicked into arbitration -- a secret, rigged process that favors big, corrupt lawbreakers. The dealer often gets to choose the arbitration firm, and even the arbitrator who hears your case. Unlike judges, arbitrators are perfectly free to ignore the law.

    Dealers claim that arbitration is quick. But Jon Perz in San Diego had to wait over 8 years in "arbitration limbo" before he finally got justice, after Mossy Toyota sold him an unsafe car. CARS produced a short video exposing what happened. More than 1.3 million people have watched our video on YouTube:
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