Q We purchased a Chrysler PT Cruiser about seven months ago. After less than a month, the reverse gear stopped working. Soon after that repair was done, the car started to jerk and sputter. After a month in the shop, that problem was said to be fixed, but the symptoms returned the next day. The car is now having to be taken into their shop daily because the mechanics cannot replicate the problem. Would the state "lemon law" apply here? The dealership is telling us the law only applies to cars that are sold as new.

A That's not entirely true. California's lemon law protections also apply to used vehicles if the manufacturer's new vehicle warranty is still valid. Otherwise, used cars are sold as-is.

In essence, the California Lemon law requires manufacturers to replace a vehicle or refund the purchase price if a serious warranty defect can't be fixed after a "reasonable" number of attempts; or the car has spent more than 30 days in the shop during the first 18 months of ownership.

The accepted standard for "reasonable" attempts is about four, though two attempts may suffice for serious defects that could result in death or serious injury.

Owners of problem vehicles are required to submit cases to lemon law arbitration/informal dispute resolution, if the manufacturer participates in such a program. Arbitration decisions are binding only for manufacturers. However, unhappy consumers may proceed with lemon law litigation if they wish, or arbitrate again after another unsuccessful repair attempt.

However, Chrysler is the only Big Three automaker that does not participate in the arbitration process. While hiring a lemon law attorney might be daunting, the lemon law process holds manufacturers liable for legal fees if the consumer prevails in court.