What’s the California Lemon Law Time Limit?

People who own lemon vehicles endure a frustrating experience—for instance, a consumer who bought a 2018 Hyundai Elantra with an engine defect. Due to a faulty manufacturer design, the engine will most likely fail when they least expect it.

Unfortunately, the engine defect makes the vehicle unreliable. The frequent loss of power, engine stalling, and constant overheating make it challenging to enjoy a smooth drive. In addition, manufacturer defects hinder the car’s ability to fulfill its purpose— for example, a family cannot enjoy a road trip riding a vehicle with a constantly overheating engine.

On the bright side, California lemon law protects consumers who buy vehicles with persistent defects that manufacturers have failed to fix.

If you are stuck with a lemon vehicle, consider consulting an experienced California lemon law attorney about your legal options.

Is there a Time Limit to File a Lemon Law Claim in California?

The California lemon law time limit for pursuing a lemon law case, also called the statute of limitation, is four years. The time limit deters consumers from filing a lemon law claim for a defect that occurred 10 to 20 years ago.

Due to the statute of limitations, consumers are encouraged to file a lemon claim immediately after discovering the defect.

When Does the California Lemon Law Time Limit Start?

Most consumers believe the statute of limitation starts after buying the vehicle; unfortunately, that’s incorrect. According to the lemon law statute of limitation, the timeline starts after you notice the defect in your vehicle makes it a lemon.

After realizing your vehicle has a persistent defect that the manufacturer cannot fix, the four-year period starts to count.

Since the time limit is unclear, it leaves room for interpretation and litigation. For instance, the manufacturer may request the court to throw out the case based on a technicality since the consumer did not file the claim on time.

However, you can strengthen your case by keeping copies of repair orders, invoices, and correspondences with the dealership.

What Happens If You Delay Making a Lemon Law Claim?

If you fail to file a lemon law claim before the statute of limitation expires, you may extinguish your right to obtain a refund or replacement under California lemon law. The manufacturer may use the statute of limitation as a solid defense to get your case dismissed.

Although the four-year window is anchored in law, running down the statute of limitation weakens your case. For instance, the manufacturer may blame you by claiming the mileage between the discovery of the defect caused wear and tear, which made the vehicle lemon.

It may also be challenging to prove the seriousness of the defect if you delay or wait until the last minute to file a claim.

Who’s Protected By California Lemon Laws?

California lemon laws protect consumers who buy new and used vehicles with the manufacturer’s new vehicle warranty.

It covers the following vehicles:

  • SUVs, cars, pick-up trucks, and vans
  • Demonstrators and dealer-owned vehicles
  • Vehicles bought or leased for commercial reasons
  • Chassis, chassis cab, and drivetrain of a motorhome
  • Vehicles purchased or leased for personal, family, or household reasons

If a manufacturer or dealer fails to fix a defect after a ‘’reasonable number’’ of repair attempts, the manufacturer must either:

  • Replace the faulty vehicle
  • Refund the buying price—whichever you prefer

How to Determine a ‘’Reasonable Number’’ of Repair Attempts

Whenever there’s a lemon law claim, a question arises as to whether a manufacturer made a ‘’reasonable number’’ of repair attempts to fix a defect. In addition, California lemon law requires consumers to inform automakers about persistent defects in their vehicles.

After informing the manufacturer, they should give the automaker a reasonable window to solve the problem.

Whether an automaker has made a ‘’reasonable number’’ of repair attempts depends on the severity of the defect and respective circumstances. For instance, the automaker has a limited opportunity to fix a fault that endangers the lives of the driver, vehicle occupants, and other road users.

On the other hand, the automaker has up to five attempts to fix a defect that causes annoyance. Generally, an automaker has limited time to fix a defect; a consumer can initiate a lemon law claim if the vehicle spends more than 30 days in the repair shop.

Ultimately, California lemon law has no set number. Even so, California lemon law presumption offers the following guidelines to determine whether a manufacturer has made a ‘’reasonable number’’ of repair attempts:

  • The manufacturer or dealer has made at least four or more repair attempts
  • The vehicle defect could cause severe injury or death, and the manufacturer has made two unsuccessful repair attempts
  • The vehicle has been in the repair shop for more than 30 days— not necessarily consecutive for repairs covered by warranty.

The California lemon law presumption applies to vehicles bought in California that develop defects within 18,000 miles or 18 months, whichever comes first. The above guidelines offer a mere direction; only a judge makes the final decision.

Similarly, some manufacturers argue they did not receive a fair chance to fix a manufacturer defect, a tactic that can delay or deny your lemon law claim. However, you can counter the automaker’s resistance by working closely with a lemon law attorney who’ll provide defense and represent your interest.

Vehicle Defects Covered By Lemon Law

A vehicle becomes a lemon if its defects impact its value, use, and safety. For instance, a defective airbag can deploy without impact, causing burns or chest injuries to the driver or passenger.

On the other hand, a vehicle cannot rely on a pick-up truck with a defective transmission to transport construction materials to different sites.

If your vehicle has the following defects, you may be entitled to a refund or replacement under lemon law:

  • Engine defects
  • Defective airbag
  • Faulty seat belts
  • Faulty transmission
  • Power steering loss
  • Faulty vehicle speed control unit
  • Faulty electrical system
  • Exterior lighting defects

While California lemon law covers many defects, there are still a few expectations, including:

  • Vehicle Defects Caused By Accidents: After a vehicle is involved in an accident, it is likely to develop an additional defect even after complete repairs. Regardless of warranty coverage, it is not eligible for lemon law protection.
  • Defects Due to Owner Negligence: Besides protecting consumers, the manufacturer’s warranty has instructions on how to take care of the vehicle. For instance, some manufacturers require vehicle owners to change engine oil every 10,000 miles. A vehicle owner is ineligible for lemon law protection if the car develops an engine defect for failure to change engine oil as the manufacturer prescribes.
  • Defects Due to Unauthorized Repairs: The manufacturer recommends vehicle owners take their vehicles to the dealership or an authorized agent whenever their cars develop faults. Unfortunately, you may void your warranty and lemon law protection if you perform do-it-yourself repairs or take the vehicle to an independent repair shop.

What's the California Lemon Law Time Limit?

Benefits of Hiring a Lemon Law Attorney

Some lemon law cases sail through without hassle; however, most are complicated, tedious, and take time, which can be frustrating. You can ease your burden by seeking help from a lemon law attorney.

A lemon law attorney has deep knowledge and experience in the field, which can help your case in many ways.

Here are a few benefits of hiring a lemon law attorney:

  • You Obtain Legal Advice: If you realize you’ve bought a lemon car, you may be in a dilemma about the next steps. However, a lemon law attorney will evaluate the merits of your case and point in the direction to take your case.
  • Maximize Your Outcome: If you initiate a claim without legal aid, there’s a high chance of getting an unfavorable result. Most automakers use the best lawyers in the industry who work in the interest of their employers. However, you can maximize your chances in the claim by working with an experienced and knowledgeable attorney.
  • Peace of Mind: Pursuing a lemon law attorney is a stressful experience if you have to juggle between work, school, or taking care of your family. However, you can handle things more efficiently with the help of a lemon law attorney. The attorney will update you throughout the process and inform you about your rights and any new changes.
  • It is Free: You don’t have to pay because the lemon law claim occurs due to a breach of consumer law. If you win the lawsuit, the manufacturer should pay the lawyer.

Speak to an Experienced Lemon Law Attorney to Get the Compensation You Deserve

Besides the frequent breakdown of a lemon vehicle, it generates additional expenses. For instance, if the vehicle breaks down while away from home, you may incur accommodation, car rental, and towing charges.

Unfortunately, most manufacturers frustrate consumers who file lemon law claims, highlighting the need to work with a knowledgeable and experienced attorney.

At Lemonlaw123, our lead attorney, Valerie. G. Campbell has a 99% success rate, which gives us the confidence to fight for our clients.

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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This page has been written, edited, and reviewed by a team of legal writers following our comprehensive editorial guidelines. This page was approved by attorney Valerie G. Fernandez Campbell, personally handled over 500 lemon law cases and settlements.