Auto manufacturers used to be able to claim its dealers could need 30 repair attempts to fix a single vehicle’s serious problems. The Tanner Consumer Protection Act, a vital amendment to the California Lemon Law, cut the nonsense and provided much-needed relief to consumers.
The California Lemon Law is one of the strongest state lemon laws in the country, serving as a model for similar laws enacted in other states. The initial groundwork was laid when Governor Ronald Reagan signed the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act in 1970.
This law required auto manufacturers to honor their warranties, provide adequate repairs or replacement parts, and refund or replace the vehicle if they failed to repair vehicles within a “reasonable” number of repair attempts.
However, this early iteration of warranty law was seldom used in court, according to a May 2022 report released by prominent consumer rights groups. The problem: there was no set rule on what was considered “reasonable.” Given little guideline, a Ford representative at a legislative hearing was able to testify that “there are times when 30 visits may be required to solve the problem.”
On July 7, 1982 – forty years ago – then-Governor Jerry Brown signed the much-needed Tanner Consumer Protection Act, which created a legal presumption that “reasonable” could be the following:
- Two or more repairs if the vehicle defect could cause death or serious injury
- Four or more repairs if the vehicle defect impacts the vehicle’s value, use or safety
- The vehicle is stuck in the repair shop for the defect for a cumulative total of more than 30 days since it was delivered to the dealer.
- Any one of these three was fulfilled within the presumptive period.
The Tanner Act came about thanks partly to Rosemary Shahan, President of the Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety (CARS). Her efforts began in 1979 when a dealership in San Diego failed to repair Shahan’s car for three months and threatened to install bad parts if she complained. After the threat, she picketed the dealership for five months. She urged owners of defective cars to write to their assemblymembers, which prompted a legislative hearing in San Diego. As a result of the hearing, Assemblymember Sally Tanner authored what was to become the Tanner Act.
The California Lemon Law has been further amended, allowing the presumptive period to go from 12 months or 12,000 miles to 18 months or 18,000 miles, whichever comes first. Further changes to the law have expanded protections to small business owners and members of the Armed Forces. Another amendment to the law stopped auto manufacturers from forcing lemon owners to sign confidentiality agreements (functionally gag orders).
“California has the country’s sweetest recipe for auto lemon-aid,” Shahan said in a press release. “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.”