The California lemon law applies to vehicles that are purchased from a vehicle manufacturer or authorized dealership that show persistent mechanical failings, even after repairs have been made on the vehicle.

In order to be protected beneath the law, the vehicle must meet eligibility requirements, meet the definition of a lemon, and you must allow the manufacturer to make a reasonable amount of attempts to repair the vehicle. A used car lemon law is not enacted in California, and as such, the law can generally only be applied to new vehicles.

It is important to consider a lemon law attorney if you experience a lemon vehicle. Having an attorney can provide you numerous benefits throughout the process of gaining a refund or a replacement vehicle.

You may also be eligible to take advantage of free arbitration, instead. Therefore, it is important to learn about these options to make an informed decision.

What is the Lemon Law in California?

In order to understand the car lemon law in California, you must first understand the state’s definition of a “lemon” vehicle. By the California lemon law definition, a vehicle is only considered a lemon if it has a substantial mechanical failing that persists, even after the manufacturer has had a reasonable amount of attempts to repair the vehicle.

In order for a vehicle to be protected beneath this law, mechanical issues must arise, and repair attempts must begin within 18 months of the vehicle’s delivery – or within the first 18,000 miles; whichever comes first. However, the law does not include:

  • Motorhomes that are designed for human habitation.
  • Vehicles that are used exclusively off-road.

The California lemon law requires manufacturers to offer a refund or replacement of a vehicle that has significant mechanical failings that severely impact the overall use, safety and value. This is enforced when:

  • The manufacturer has made two attempts, or more, to repair a warranty problem that could result in a serious injury or death.
  • The manufacturer has made at least four attempts to repair a warranty problem.
  • The vehicle has been out of service for 30 cumulative days, or more, due to repairs.

In order to qualify for the law’s protection, the vehicle’s defect cannot be the result of abuse or neglect, and the same problem must persist even after repairs are attempted. Vehicles that have a variety of repairs related to different problems may not qualify.

By the California lemon law definition, owners of vehicles that fit the above requirements can demand a refund or replacement of the vehicle from the manufacturer.

However, note that, depending on the circumstances, this process is not always cut and dry. While most cases do not go to court, an attorney or arbitration may be required, as a manufacturer can claim that a problem is minor or does not meet the law’s criteria.

Does the California Lemon Law apply to used cars?

When purchasing a used car in California, be aware of lemon law buyback sales, as these vehicles are vehicles that were previously returned to the vehicle manufacturer, due to serious mechanical defects that were not resolved within the timeframe provided by the law.

To resell one of these lemon vehicles, the vehicle manufacturer only needs to provide information regarding the repairs that were made to the vehicle in attempt to fix each nonconformity that was found.

Some states offer 30 day lemon laws on used cars, but California is not one of them. In fact, there is no law within the state that protects buyers of used vehicles against the mechanical failing of a vehicle.

In some cases, however, you may still be protected under the standard law. For example, if you purchase a vehicle that had a previous owner, but it still retains its original manufacturer warranty and is less than 18 months old and less than 18,000 miles, the law may still apply to your purchase.

Take the time to review the federal lemon law, known as the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, as this law regulates the warranties that dealerships are allowed to offer, as well as aids in the enforcement of said warranties. This act applies to both buying new cars and used vehicles, and may be of assistance – if you are not covered beneath the state law.

How does the Lemon Law Work in California?

If your vehicle qualifies for the new car lemon law in California, then it is important that you take action, immediately, in order to resolve the matter while you are still in the coverage period.

One of the most important things that you can do throughout this process is keep a detailed record of incidents related to the vehicle, including any towing or rental car expenses, the repairs that were completed, the dates that your vehicle has been out of service and any contact that you have had with the manufacturer or authorized repair shop.

Be sure to keep all of your receipts regarding any repairs, tows, rental cars, etc. as these can be used when negotiating a refund or the replacement of a faulty vehicle.

Keep in mind used car laws do not apply to lemons in California. However, you may have a case if you purchased a used vehicle that is still within the original manufacturer warranty period. If your vehicle meets the eligibility requirements under the law, you may have a claim.

If your vehicle qualifies for the state lemon law and the manufacturer has already been allotted the reasonable number of repairs required, or if your vehicle has been out of service for a minimum of 30 cumulative days, you must begin by writing a letter to your manufacturer.

This letter must ask the manufacturer to buy your car back under the law, and include the repair attempt dates that the manufacturer has already been allotted. Be sure to send this letter through certified mail with a return receipt, and keep a photograph of the letter for your own personal records.

Should the manufacturer refuse the lemon law warranty, or provide pushback of any kind, you will likely have two options: to hire an attorney or to see whether or not you are eligible for an arbitration program.

California Lemon Law Lawyers

A California lemon law attorney is an attorney that specializes in cases involving cars defined as lemons. An attorney, unlike a representative of the arbitration program, will have a bias toward helping you receive the refund or replacement to which you are entitled under the law.

If your case goes to court or you must file a civil suit against a vehicle manufacturer, your attorney can represent you in the case. A lemon law attorney provides numerous benefits. These include the following:

  • A lawyer specializing in the law will better understand your rights as a consumer and the compensation to which you might be entitled
  • You will likely find a resolution much quicker rather than attempting to handle the issue by yourself
  • You will have more negotiating power
  • Your attorney can help you to avoid making any statements that could damage your case, as well as speak with the manufacturer, directly, on your behalf

Alternatively, the California lemon law allows for the use of arbitration in many cases. Arbitration is free, and it has its own benefits and drawbacks. To be eligible for the program, you must have:

  • Already attempted to resolve the problem with your vehicle’s manufacturer.
  • Been able to confirm the vehicle qualifies under the law, and has not been successfully repaired.
  • Confirmation that the mechanical failing of the vehicle is covered by the original manufacturer warranty.

With the use of arbitration for lemon law cars, you will not be required to hire an attorney; however, the arbitration provides a neutral party that will attempt to negotiate with both you and the manufacturer. The potential drawbacks of arbitration include:

  • You may receive less than what you are entitled.
  • The issue may be drawn out for a long period of time.
  • It may be harder to prove your case through the evidence that you have collected.

However, under the state lemon law, if you do not agree with the decision that is made, you have still have the option of filing a civil suit and hiring an attorney.

How to Tell if Your New Car is a Lemon in California

Whether or not you qualify under the lemon law in California, it is important that you determine whether or not your vehicle is a lemon. If your vehicle has persistent and substantial mechanical failings that affect the use and safety of your vehicle, and it has not been successfully repaired numerous times, the vehicle may be a lemon.

As mentioned previously, be aware of lemon law buyback vehicles, as a vehicle manufacturer can resell vehicles that were previously determined to be lemons. Therefore, it is important to review the vehicle’s history, and the details of the contract, before completing a purchase on a used vehicle.

Last updated on Monday, March 11 2019.

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