How Recalls Affect Lemon Law Cases

by Aryn Plax

Feb 26, 2021

A common accusation in class action lawsuits filed against automakers is that the manufacturer failed to issue recalls for vehicles that were defective. Often, these suits cite technical service bulletins (TSBs) and other internal communications as evidence that the manufacturer knew about the defects. Why the emphasis on recalls in these cases? Recalls are communications from the manufacturer that inform consumers of defects and, in some cases, offer free repairs to resolve the issues.

How can recalls affect individual lemon law cases?

Sometimes, they may help consumers’ cases against manufacturers. Recalls are issued by manufacturers and, more often than not, are ordered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Recalls and TSBs can show that the automakers knew about defects faced by some of their vehicle models.

A consumer may file a lemon law claim against a manufacturer, only for the manufacturer to later issue a recall on the vehicle model that the consumer owns. The consumer is free to get the repairs offered in the recall. The vehicle may even be fixed!

A scale is set atop books, accompanied by a gavel.

However, the consumer is still able to continue with the lemon law claim. As long as the manufacturer had not been able to fix the defect within a reasonable number of repair attempts at the time the consumer filed the claim, the consumer still has a case.

The manufacturer may have issued a recall on the vehicle for a particular defect before the consumer filed a claim. The consumer may have taken the vehicle in for a repair under the recall. However, that repair may not have fixed the defect in the vehicle. The attempt that took place under the recall can still count among the “reasonable number of attempts” for a lemon law case.

The California Lemon Law says that a vehicle is a lemon if it has a recurring defect that is not fixed within a reasonable number of repair attempts. Even if one of those repair attempts took place as part of a recall, the consumer may still have a claim.

Read more on the availability of information on recalls in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s searchable database.