Are You Protected by the California Lemon Law?

Consumers who unknowingly buy lemon cars endure massive frustration. Whether it’s frequent stalling, disrupted plans, or reduced value of their money, it’s a painful experience.

For instance, a consumer bought a 2021 Nissan Altima to fulfill marketing obligations for your security company across California. However, 10,000 miles down the line, the vehicle develops a persistent transmission problem.

As a result, the vehicle exhibits annoying symptoms such as trouble engaging gears, jerking and shaking, delayed shifting, and stalling. As a company, you start counting losses due to disrupted plans, failed meetings, unbudgeted car rentals, and accommodation expenses.

Fortunately, California lemon laws protect consumers who buy vehicles with persistent defects. If you are struck with a defective lemon car, consider speaking with an experienced lemon law attorney who can discuss your options.

Understanding the Basics of the California Lemon Law: What You Need to Know

California lemon law protects consumers who buy vehicles with substantial defects covered by the new vehicle manufacturer’s warranty. More importantly, if the dealer or manufacturer can’t repair the car after a reasonable number of repair attempts, the manufacturer must either replace it or refund the buying price.

How to Determine a Reasonable Number of Repair Attempts

In addition to protecting consumers, lemon laws give them a duty to notify the manufacturer or dealer about persistent defects. Similarly, the consumer should give the manufacturer a reasonable window to fix the fault.

In most lemon law claims, a question always arises as to whether a consumer gave the manufacturer a reasonable number of repair attempts to fix the defect. The answer continuously varies based on the circumstance and severity of the malfunction.

For instance, if the substantial defect impacted vehicle safety—leading to death or severe injury, two or more unsuccessful attempts can trigger a lemon law claim. On the other hand, it also depends on how quickly the manufacturer can duplicate the defect.

It’s always advisable for consumers to keep looking for solutions from your dealership. However, the manufacturer has a limited window of up to 30 days to find a solution. Alternatively, the consumer can limit the trips to the dealer to up to five times.

In a nutshell, no set number determines a reasonable number of repair attempts. However, California lemon law presumption offers the following guidelines to identify a reasonable number of repair attempts:

  • The vehicle has been in the repair shop for more than 30 days— not necessarily consecutive— for repairs covered by warranty.
  • The vehicle could cause death or serious bodily injury if driven, and the manufacturer has made two unsuccessful repair attempts.
  • The manufacturer or dealer hasn’t fixed the defect after four or more repair attempts.

California lemon law presumption becomes activated if the substantial defect occurs within the first 18,000 miles or 18 months, whichever comes first. The above guidelines don’t provide an absolute truth but a mere direction.

It’s only a judge or an arbitrator who can make the final determination on whether a manufacturer has made a reasonable number of repair attempts to fix a defect. 

Giant automakers hire lawyers who understand lemon laws and are likely to argue that they were not given a reasonable window to fix the defect. It’s, therefore, crucial to work closely with an attorney to counter any arguments by the manufacturer likely to delay or deny your lemon law claim.

Vehicle Defects Covered By Lemon Laws

California lemon law protects consumers who buy vehicles with substantial defects that impact vehicles’ use, value, and safety. 

Here’s a breakdown of defects and how they impact a vehicle.

Defects that Impact Vehicle Use

A substantial defect has to affect a vehicle somehow; however, it doesn’t mean it has to be completely undrivable. For instance, a consumer bought a GMC truck to carry work materials to different client sites. However, it has a defective truck hatch that intermittently opens, dropping the load.

Although the vehicle’s hatch is perfectly okay in all other aspects, it diminishes its use according to the owner’s perception. Car use may also be compromised because of performance issues related to engine defects, transmission, suspensions, and other crucial functions.

Defects that Impair Vehicle Safety

Any defect that makes the driver and vehicle occupants less secure may qualify as a substantial defect. If your car has a defect that substantially impairs its safety and the dealership can’t fix it, it’s best to request a refund or replacement.

Here’s how vehicle defects impair safety:

  • Brake Failure: The brake is an essential component that controls vehicle speed. Unfortunately, when brakes malfunction, it increases vehicle stopping distance, making it challenging to avoid road hazards. Braking system defects can originate from brake lines, calipers, or master cylinders.
  • Defective Tires: Tires execute crucial functions like supporting vehicle load, direction, acceleration, absorbing road shocks, and transmitting traction. Unfortunately, tire defects can cause significant safety defects. For example, a tire blowout or sudden loss of air may cause a loss of control, increasing the risk of collision.
  • Defective Seat Belts: A seat belt is an important safety component that prevents vehicles and passengers from being ejected out of a car in case of a crash. According to CDC, vehicle occupants are 30 times more likely to be thrown out of a vehicle in case of a collision. A defective seat belt can cause chest, neck, thoracic, and spine injuries in an accident.

Defects that Impair Vehicle’s Value

A vehicle with a persistent defect is likely to lose its book value or worth in the eyes of the owner. 

Here’s how a substantial defect can impair a vehicle’s value:

  • Impaired Functionality: Impaired functions such as engine, transmission, and suspension may render the vehicle unreliable. As a result, potential buyers will consider the additional cost of repairs and replacement when assessing its value which may lead to lower offers and difficulty in selling the vehicle.
  • Safety Concerns: Safety is a crucial consideration for most buyers when determining the value of a vehicle. As such, if a car has safety-related defects, such as brakes, seat belts, or airbags, it’s likely to be less attractive in the market.
  • Aesthetic Defects: Cosmetic defects such as faded paint, mold, dents, strange noises, or interior imperfections are likely to diminish the value of a vehicle. Although aesthetic defects do not affect a vehicle’s reliability or performance, they create a negative impression that affects the value of a car.

Example of Vehicle Defects Covered By California Lemon Law

If your car is under warranty and is experiencing the following problems, you may be eligible for a refund or replacement under lemon laws:

  • Airbag
  • Seat belts
  • Transmission
  • Electrical defects
  • Power steering loss
  • Fuel Injection Leaks
  • Defective power train
  • A malfunctioning brake system
  • Defective propulsion system
  • Defective air conditioner
  • Faulty vehicle speed control system

Vehicle Defects Not Covered By Lemon Laws

While most defects are covered by lemon, there remain a few exceptions, including:

  • Defects Due to Accidents: Car accidents cause additional defects even though the vehicle has been fully repaired. Therefore, lemon laws do not cover the malfunction if a car under warranty is involved in an accident that causes a fault.
  • Vehicle Defects Due to Owner Negligence:  The manufacturer’s warranty obliges the vehicle owner to take care of the vehicle, including regular maintenance routines such as oil or plug changes. If an engine defect occurs due to a failure to replace the engine oil, although covered by warranty, it distinguishes the lemon law protection.
  • Unauthorized Repairs and Alterations: If a vehicle develops a warranty problem, it’s always advisable to take it to an authorized dealer. You risk voiding the warranty and lemon law protection if you attempt to repair it yourself or by taking it to an independent repair shop.

What Vehicles Qualify for Protection Under the California Lemon Law?

California lemon law protects new and used vehicles with the manufacturer’s new vehicle warranty.

They include:

  • Pick-up trucks, vans, SUVs, trucks, and motorcycles
  • Vehicles bought or leased for commercial use
  • Dealer-owned vehicles and demonstrators
  • Chassis cab, chassis, and drivetrain of a motorhome
  • Cars bought for family, household, or personal use

Meeting the Criteria: Essential Requirements for Filing a Lemon Law Claim in California

Under California lemon law, you may be entitled to a refund or replacement if you purchased a defective vehicle with a manufacturer’s new warranty. However, you must understand the essential requirements to file a successful lemon law claim.

Here are the essential requirements to file a successful lemon law claim:

Take Your Vehicle to the Dealership for Repairs

You must take your vehicle to a ‘manufacturer’s representative’ for repairs to protect your rights under California lemon laws. You can meet this requirement by taking your vehicle to an authorized dealer.

Usually, an authorized dealer is in constant contact with the manufacturer, who can issue the green light to make repairs or replacements— if necessary. In case of a persistent vehicle defect, a manufacturer may issue a recall instruction to dealers with instructions to cure the defect.

Give the Dealer a Reasonable Number of Repair Attempts

Lemon law requires consumers to give manufacturers a reasonable window to fix vehicle defects. Therefore, you must give the manufacturer a reasonable number of repair attempts to fix the defect before filing a claim.

Compile All Repair Orders and Invoices

Each time you visit a dealership, ensure you reiterate a specific concern to the dealership. Interestingly, the dealership might not fix the defect as quickly as one would wish. Therefore, let the dealership know of your desire to have the issue fixed again. 

More importantly, request a repair order every time you drop off your vehicle for repairs. Ensure the dealer has captured crucial details, including mileage at the time of drop-off, vehicle description, a description of the defect, and date of repairs.

In addition, request a repair invoice after picking up the vehicle. The two documents will provide a paper trail when determining if the manufacturer made a ‘’reasonable number’’ of repair attempts to fix the defect.

Gather All Relevant Documentation

Before filing a lemon law claim, gather all the relevant documentation to support your claim.

Ensure you have copies of the following documents:

  • Repair order and repair invoice
  • Copy of sale or lease agreement
  • Manufacturer’s warranty
  • Vehicle accident history
  • Vehicle maintenance records
  • Receipts of incidental expenses

Hire an Experienced Lemon Law Attorney

When a vehicle has a defect that compromises its safety, use, and value, necessitating frequent repairs, it might qualify for lemon law protection. Such instances demonstrate that the vehicle didn’t live up to the warranty guarantee, which is why consumers deserve some compensation. 

Usually, many automakers recommend state-sponsored arbitration to solve any dispute arising from a lemon law claim. Even so, the outcome of the arbitration is likely to be biased in favor of the manufacturer.

With that in mind, engaging an attorney in your claim process is advisable, which will boost the claim success rate.

Here are the benefits of working with a lemon law attorney:

Legal Advice

Many consumers don’t know how to claim compensation when faced with a defective vehicle. Similarly, lemon law is a complex set of regulations that might prove challenging for an ordinary person to interpret.

A lemon law attorney will advise you on the proper steps to improve your chances of success in a lemon law claim. Moreover, the attorney will evaluate whether you have a strong case against the manufacturer and if it’s worth pursuing.

It is Free

Legal proceedings come at a considerable cost and may sometimes hinder justice. Fortunately, many lemon law lawyers operate on a contingency or commission basis. As such, you can pursue a refund or buyback without worrying about the attorney fees.

More importantly, California lemon law requires manufacturers to refund any attorney fees consumers incur if they win a dispute.

Maximize the Compensation

Consumers who handle lemon law aspects without legal aid quickly accept the manufacturer’s first settlement offer. Unfortunately, manufacturers prefer tabling the least possible offer that preserves their interest. 

Since manufacturers can deduct the mileage offset, they can distort it to reduce the settlement value. The attorney identifies such antics and protects your interest during claim processing.

More importantly, a lemon law attorney understands how the manufacturer is willing to settle a lemon law claim. Based on that understanding, an attorney negotiates for a better payout on behalf of the consumer.

Build a Stronger Case

The strength of a lemon law case directly impacts the final payout. A lemon law attorney will help you compile evidence and compelling arguments to boost the case’s chances. It’s also the role of an attorney to compile the provided data and develop the best approach to handle the case.

Peace of Mind

Automakers are giant companies that can intimidate consumers who’ve never had such an experience. If you hire an attorney, you don’t need to worry about the best approach to handle the case. You will also get regular updates on the matter, which can reduce the stress levels related to lemon law claims.     

Proving Your Case: Evidence and Documentation Needed for a Successful Lemon Law Claim in California

All legal claims are more substantial when backed with evidence. Below is a list of documents that can strengthen your lemon law claim. You don’t have to produce all the documents in the list; some can be retrieved in other ways.

If you suspect your car is a lemon, compiling them in a file is a good idea because you might need them.

Repair Orders

A repair order is a document or print-out that a repair facility hands you when you drop your vehicle off for repairs. The document describes the vehicle you brought in for repairs, the problem with the vehicle, and the mileage at the time you brought it in. 

Therefore ensure the dealer accurately captures the date, mileage, and the accurate description of the problem. More importantly, ensure the repair order captures all warranty repairs. 

The repair order printout serves as a paper trail for the repair issues with your vehicle and the repair efforts made to fix the defect.

Repair Invoice

A repair invoice is similar to a repair order; however, it’s the document that the repair facility hands you when you pick up the vehicle. A repair invoice should list the problems with the vehicle, completed repairs, date, mileage, and the cost of repairs.

The most important aspect of a repair invoice is to capture every fault or malfunction that the dealer attempted, failed, or succeeded in repairing. Therefore, save all the repair invoices you receive every time to pick up your vehicle after repairs to create sufficient evidence for an unreasonable number of repair attempts during a lemon law claim.

Manufacturer’s Warranty

You will need the manufacturer’s warranty in the owner’s manual booklet given to a consumer after buying a vehicle. The manufacturer’s warranty contains the express warranty from the manufacturer, with the terms of the warranty and coverage period. 

It also sets out the buyer’s responsibilities, including duties such as regular maintenance. Each warranty document is unique, with differing terms and coverage periods; therefore, you will need the document to prove the malfunction was covered when the malfunction occurred. 

You can use the warranty document to sue a manufacturer for breach of warranty terms if your vehicle doesn’t qualify for a lemon law claim.

Original Sale or Lease Documents 

Your attorney will be interested in original sale or lease documents. These documents set out the date of purchase and the price, including rebate and trade-in details and any added after-market information. 

The original sale or lease documents confirm ownership or interest in the vehicle with a persistent defect.

In addition, the information on the sale or lease document directly impacts the settlement value of your lemon law claim. Therefore, including the original sale or lease document in your lemon law claim is essential.

It’s also important to avail of financing documents if you acquired the vehicle with an auto loan. 


The number of repair attempts matters when determining whether your lemon law claim is valid. Therefore, record the repair appointments and the days you couldn’t use the vehicle. If possible, note these days in your planner instead of filing a separate document likely to disappear.


It’s essential to keep the letters you received or sent to the manufacturer, dealership, or a third party, including the government. Also, note any problem your vehicle develops that doesn’t generate a document.

If you took your vehicle to a dealer who refused to solve the defect, note it down.

Supplementing Documentation

The above documents are the most important in a lemon law claim; however, you can include supplementing documents to strengthen your lemon law claim. 

Here’s a list of supplemental documents that can benefit your lemon law claim:

  • Vehicle Registration: A vehicle registration certifies you can drive a vehicle on a public road. Each state has a government agency that issues vehicle registration certificates, a document that connects the vehicle to the owner and the state.
  • Maintenance Records: As its name suggests, it’s a document with information on repair works done on your vehicle. Ensure you have maintenance records for crucial parts such as engine oil, plugs, coolants, and bearings.
  • Accident History: If your vehicle has been involved in an accident because of a defective part, keep records of the events. Keep the police report and repair shop documents in a safe place.
  • Incidental Expenses: Secure the receipts of incidental expenses incurred, including accommodation, car rental, or towing charges.

Don’t Get Stuck with a Lemon: Speak to an Experienced Lemon Law Attorney

The actual cost of owning a lemon car is reflected in the compromised safety, use, and value of the vehicle. For instance, if your car has defective airbags, the driver and the front passenger face an increased risk of injury.

It’s, therefore, essential to hire an experienced lemon law attorney who will aggressively represent your interest in a claim.

At LemonLaw123, our Lead attorney Valerie. G. Campbell has a 99% success rate, which gives us the confidence to take on any legal claim.

Contact us online or call us at 657.529.5239 for a free case review.

Valerie G. Fernandez Campbell

Valerie G. Fernandez Campbell, known as The Lemon Law Lady, has dedicated her entire legal career to the specialized field of Lemon Law, a journey that began immediately after her
graduation from UCLA School of Law.

With a 99% success rate and a policy of no fees unless you win, her practice stands as a testament to her expertise in California’s Lemon Law, her commitment to her clients, and her unwavering dedication to justice and consumer rights.

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