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Dealer Can’t Fix a Car? Warranty Repair Taking Long? Know Your Rights

Thousands of consumers per year encounter a strange problem. Their auto dealership can’t fix their car even though the car is still under warranty, or their warranty repair is taking too long. In some cases, you may experience problems with a car that is outside the warranty. This post is written to answer the car warranty question that we get asked quite often – Dealership can’t fix my car. What are my rights?

Your options will mostly depend whether your car is under the warranty or not. If you bought a new car or a used car that is still under warranty, and the dealership can’t fix your car, you will be protected by California lemon law.

Generally, you need a California lemon law attorney if you are experiencing problems with a new car or a used car that is within the warranty coverage period. If you are experiencing problems with a used car that is outside of warranty, you may need an auto dealer fraud attorney, instead. In both cases, you may be able to return your vehicle and receive a refund. Our law firm handles both matters. So feel free to call us for a free consultation in either case.

Dealership Can’t Fix a Car Under Warranty

California warranty laws are really specific. This is why it is important to note what is the reasoning of the dealership for failing to fix your new car, if any.

The law may actually be enforced differently in cases when the dealership tells you that the car is operating as designed or that there is no problem with the car, as compared to the cases when the dealership actually acknowledges that there is a problem but fails to fix it.

If the dealership acknowledges that there is a problem and tries to fix the problem but the problem keeps reoccurring, then you will be protected by warranty laws and may be able to get a refund from the manufacturer. The actual level of protection will depend on the type of the defect and on the number of failed repair attempts. Call us for a free consultation.

When the dealership tells you that there is nothing wrong with the car and does not make actual repairs, you should try these steps: (1) Have the problem recorded on a video as you experience it. When doing so, take an uninterrupted recording of the problem and of the mileage of the car at the time of the recording, as displayed on the odometer. This will be evidence that the problem actually occurred at that mileage. (Note: do not record while you are driving and obey all traffic rules and regulations). (2) Try taking your vehicle to another authorized dealership, explain the problem, and display the recording. If you feel like it, you may ask the service advisor to write down on the intake document that you showed him a video recording of the problem.

Chances are, if there is truly something wrong with your car and your local dealership can’t fix it or diagnose it, another dealership will be able to at least determine the problem and acknowledge that there is something wrong. If the new dealership acknowledges the problem, but fails to repair it, that would give you evidence that something is wrong with the car and both dealerships couldn’t fix it. You may be able to get a refund. Feel free to contact us before, during, or after the process.

How to know the dealership’s position on fixing your car?

Sometimes your service advisor may be very vague as to whether they fixed your car or not. You may be puzzled as to how can you determine what is the official position of the dealership. Do they acknowledge the problem or do they claim that everything works and there is nothing to fix on your car?

The answer can be found on the repair document that is provided to you after the dealership had the chance to inspect your car. This repair document is usually given to you when you are back at the dealer to pick up your car. The document will have your contact information, your vehicle’s identifying information, and your complaints. In repair documents of most dealerships in Southern California, complaints usually begin with “Customer states…,” “Guest states…” or other similar wording.

When the dealership acknowledges the problem, the next line or the paragraph on the repair document after the “Customer states” usually says something similar to “Verified customer complaint” or “Verified the problem.” In many cases the dealership may simply write “Corrected by” or a similar wording, and state that they replaced some parts or updated the software or repaired some parts. This serves as an acknowledgement that there was an actual problem with the car.

When the dealership does not acknowledge the problem, the repair document will say something similar to “Unable to verify customer complaint,” “Cannot verify customer complaint,” “Vehicle operating as designed,” “Normal vehicle operation,” “Unable to duplicate the problem,” etc. When this happens, the dealership does not make repairs on the vehicle and they simply return the vehicle back to you. In this case, follow the two steps outlined above (recording + new dealer).

California law considers the verified attempts as definite failed repair attempts. The unverified attempts, however, may not considered a failed repair attempt unless it is followed by a subsequent acknowledgement of the same problem or an alternative valid proof that the vehicle actually had a problem that was covered under the warranty.

Read the two examples below to get a better understanding of this.

Example 1: You take your car to dealership A and the dealership A states that your vehicle is operating as designed and does not make any repairs on your vehicle. You then take your vehicle to dealership B and you tell the dealership about the same problem. Dealership B acknowledges the problem and tries to fix it. In this case both instances will be considered repair attempts, because the Dealership B essentially proved that there was a problem and dealership A not only failed to fix it, but it also failed to diagnose it.

Example 2: You take your car to dealership A and the dealership A states that your vehicle is operating as designed. You then take it to dealership B and dealership B states the same. There is a high likelihood that the law will consider that there were no failed repair attempts unless you can prove that the vehicle has an actual problem. This is hard, because two independent dealers stated that your car is operating as designed.

Why can’t the dealer fix the car?

When the dealership doesn’t fix your car it will generally say that the car is operating as designed. This is the dealership trying to tell you that there is nothing to fix, because this is how your car was designed. This usually precludes the finding that the dealership can’t fix your car, because the car was found to not have any problems.

Sometimes this may be confusing if there is an obvious problem with the car but the dealership still states that the car is operating as designed. The catch is that the particular model year of the car may have a design flaw. This changes things, because the dealership usually cannot fix a design flaw. The dealership’s only function is to conform the vehicle to its intended design by repairing problems that are specific to your vehicle.

Examples may help you understand this better:

Example 1: The particular model of the car that you bought was designed in such a way that its steering wheel makes a clicking noise when you turn it all the way to the right. All cars of the same model year of that particular brand make that clicking noise straight out of the factory. This would mean that even though your car too makes the clicking noise, it is operating as designed. That is how the car was designed to be. In this case the dealership can’t fix it because it cannot alter the design unless allowed by the manufacturer.

Example 2: Your car’s steering wheel makes a clicking noise when you turn it all the way to the left. No other car of the same make and model makes that noise. That model is not supposed to make a clicking noise in those circumstances. In this case your car will not be operating as designed and the dealership is supposed to fix it. In either case, if the dealership fails to fix your car, call us to get a free case evaluation.

Car Warranty Repair Takes Too Long

A part of the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, the Tanner Consumer Protection Act states that a car is presumed to be a lemon if within first 18 months from the date of purchase of your car and within 18,000 miles of driving your car stays at the dealer for a repair for an aggregate of 30 days or more.

What this means is, that your car does not have to be at the shop for 30 days at once to qualify for protection of the law. It can be for any combination of days that is 30 days or more in total. If your car is a lemon, you will get a refund from the manufacturer.

Now, it is also important to note that the car should actually be at the shop for a repair. The 30 day count does not include the days when the dealership has ordered replacement parts to repair your vehicle and is simply waiting for those parts to arrive.

What do you get if your car warranty repairs take more than 30 days

If your car warranty repairs take so long that it has been at the dealer for more than 30 days you may have a claim under California law.

If your prevail on your claim you may be able to exchange your current car to a similar car that does not have a problem. If you want another car, you may be able to return your current car and receive a refund of your down payment, your monthly payments, interest, registration fees, etc. The best part is, the manufacturer will also pay our fee.

What if the warranty repairs take less than 30 days

If the warranty repairs take less than 30 days when combined together, but your car keeps breaking down, you still most likely have a claim. This depends on the number of failed repairs and the problem that the dealer fails to repair. Another provision of the same law states that the manufacturer, through its agents (dealers), is required to repair your car within a reasonable number of repair attempts.

The actual number of qualifying failed repair attempts depends on the problem and the mileage of the car when those problems occur. Feel free to give us a call to discuss your specific matter.

I hope this article was helpful and answered the popular question – Dealership can’t fix my car. What are my warranty rights? Read our blog for more information.


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