Does Lemon Law Apply to Private Sales in California?

Owning a lemon car is a frustrating experience— whether it is unexpected stalling, disrupted plans, or an increased risk for road accidents. A vehicle with persistent defects takes away the convenience and pride associated with new cars.

For instance, you might be in for a shock if you recently bought a 2020 Nissan Altima as a transport mode while meeting clients. It will likely disrupt your travel plans if it develops power steering loss, a common problem with the model.

While a few consumers shake off the expenses of lemon cars, many are overwhelmed by their high maintenance costs. Fortunately, California lemon laws were enacted to offer reprieve to consumers who unknowingly buy vehicles with persistent defects that automakers cannot solve.

If you’re wondering how to enjoy the protection offered by lemon laws, consider speaking to an experienced California lemon law attorney about your legal options.


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

What to Expect from a Lemon Law Buyback Process, Timeline, and Compensation

California lemon law protects your vehicle if it is defective and cannot be repaired after a ‘’reasonable number’’ of repair attempts. The lemon law applies to new vehicles purchased or leased in California that are still under the manufacturer’s new vehicle warranty.

History of California Lemon Law

Before the enactment of the lemon law, vehicle owners had to fight it out with vehicle dealerships and manufacturers. Despite the frustration associated with a defective vehicle, consumers often lost compensation claims against manufacturers.

Fortunately, that changed in 1970 when the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, also known as California lemon laws, was enacted. The law(CA Civil Code Section 1790-1795.8) established that all goods, including vehicles sold to consumers in California, are covered by the implied warranty of merchantability and fitness.

It means the goods fit a particular purpose and perform as a retailer or manufacturer promises.

With that in mind, if a manufacturer or dealer can’t repair a serious warranty defect in a vehicle after a ‘’reasonable number’’ of repair attempts, the manufacturer must either:

  • Replace the defective vehicle
  • Refund the buying price(Buyback)— whichever you prefer

What Vehicles Qualify for Protection Under the California Lemon Law

A vehicle qualifies for lemon law protection if it has substantial defects that the manufacturer or dealer can’t repair after a ‘’reasonable number’’ of repair attempts.

California lemon law covers the following new or used vehicles that come with the manufacturer’s new vehicle warranty:

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

Establishing Whether a Dealer Has Made a ‘’Reasonable Number’’ of Repair Attempts

During lemon law claims, a question always arises whether a manufacturer or dealer has made a ‘’reasonable number’’ of repair attempts. Although California lemon law protects consumers, it gives them an obligation to inform the manufacturer about the defect and give them a reasonable window to fix it.

Whether a manufacturer has met the threshold for a ‘’reasonable number’’ of repair attempts depends on the circumstances and severity of the defect. Similarly, consumers are entitled to keep seeking repairs until they find a solution.

If the vehicle has a defect that compromises the safety of the driver and vehicle occupants, a manufacturer is allowed a maximum of two attempts to solve the fault. On the contrary, manufacturers are permitted more attempts for defects that annoy.

Even so, a manufacturer doesn’t have all the time in the world to fix the defect—lemon law becomes activated if the vehicle spends more than 30 days in a repair shop.

Ultimately, no set number of repair attempts trigger a ‘’reasonable number’’ of repair attempts. However, California lemon law presumption has the following guidelines establishing whether a manufacturer has met a ‘’reasonable number’’ of repair attempts:

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

The California lemon law presumption applies if the defect occurs within 18 months or 18,000 miles of purchase/lease, whichever comes first.

The above guidelines offer a mere direction when assessing the repair attempts of a manufacturer. The ultimate decision on whether a manufacturer was given a reasonable window to fix the defect lies with a judge or arbitrator.

Interestingly, some manufacturers claim they were not given a ‘’reasonable number’’ of repair attempts to fix the defect as part of the defense strategy. It’s, therefore, essential to work with a lemon law attorney who can counter such antics and represent your interest in the case.

Vehicle Defects that Qualify for Lemon Law Protection

A car is deemed a lemon if it has a substantial defect that impairs its safety, use, and value. The malfunction doesn’t have to make the vehicle immobile; even so, it should have a significant impact.

Here’s a breakdown of how defects impair vehicles:

Impairs the Safety of a Vehicle

Any defect that makes the driver and other vehicle occupants feel less secure is a substantial defect that warrants reprieve under California lemon laws. If your vehicle has a defect that impairs safety and the manufacturer cannot fix it, it’s best to seek a refund or replacement under lemon laws.

Here are common defects that impair the safety of a vehicle:

  • Brake Failure: Well-functioning brakes keep drivers, passengers, and pedestrians safe. If well maintained, it lets you stop in an emergency and avoid collisions. On the contrary, brake failure increases vehicle stopping distance, increasing the likelihood of road accidents. Common causes of brake failure include manufacturer defects, damaged brake pads, water in the braking system, and poor maintenance.
  • Defective Seat Belts: A seatbelt prevents a driver or passenger from being ejected in case of a crash. According to the CDC, people without seat belts are 30% more likely to be ejected in case of a crash, with 3 of 4 people ejected dying from the resulting injuries. In addition, defective seat belts can cause injuries such as decapitation, liver lacerations, or paralysis.
  • Defective Headlights: Defective headlights can take any shape; for instance, too bright or poorly aligned headlights. A glaring headlight can blur the vision of oncoming traffic, increasing the risk of head-on collisions with deadly consequences.

Impairs the Value of a Vehicle

A substantial defect impairs the value of a vehicle, impacting its worth and reputation in the market. 

Here are a few ways defects impair a vehicle’s value:

  • Vehicle Aesthetics: Structural or finishing defects outside or inside the vehicle can diminish its aesthetic value. For instance, a vehicle with faded interior finishing is less attractive to buyers. Similarly, the owner doesn’t take pride while using the vehicle for business or personal errands.
  • Vehicle History Report: Most buyers obtain vehicle history before buying a used vehicle. With that in mind, if you have a vehicle subjected to numerous recalls, you’ll find it challenging to sell in the future.
  • Poor Reputation: Vehicles with a history of defects have a negative market perception. The poor perception causes a limited demand leading to a lower resale value.

Impairs Use of the Vehicle

A substantial defect that impairs the use of a vehicle makes it less fit for the intended purpose. For instance, an electrician bought a pick-up truck to carry laborers and work materials across California State.

However, the vehicle develops a transmission defect, making engaging higher gears ideal for long-distance travel difficult. Although the vehicle works okay for a short distance, the electrician cannot rely on it to execute his job well.

As a result, he is forced to cancel some jobs on short notice or hire alternative means of transport, increasing the cost of operations.


Example of Defects Covered by Lemon Laws

If your car is under warranty and you’re experiencing any of the following defects, you may be eligible for a claim under California lemon laws:

  • A malfunctioning seat belts
  • Intermittent headlights
  • Engine failure
  • Defective power train
  • Power steering loss
  • Faulty anti-lock brake system
  • Defective electrical system
  • Defective speed control unit
  • Premature brake wear

While lemon laws cover many vehicle defects, there are a few exceptions, including:

  • Defects Caused By Accidents: A car accident is often the origin of additional problems even after being fully repaired. Therefore, if a vehicle under warranty develops issues after an accident, lemon law protection doesn’t apply.
  • Unauthorized Repairs or Modifications: You should only take your vehicle for repairs to an authorized dealer if it develops a warranty defect. You could void the warranty and lemon law protection if you decide to make the repairs on your own or take the vehicle to a local mechanic who’s not authorized to make repairs.
  • Defects Caused By Owner Negligence: California lemon law protection doesn’t apply to defects due to the owner’s abuse, neglect, and lack of proper maintenance and care. For instance, an engine defect occurred because a vehicle owner failed to change engine oil every 10,000 miles. 

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

Lemon Laws and Manufacturer Buyback A Guide for Consumers

While you may be entitled to a refund, buyback, and other civil penalties, it helps to understand the steps and requirements of filing a successful lemon law claim.

Here are a few steps to prepare you for a lemon law claim:

Take Your Vehicle to the Manufacturer for Repairs

A consumer has to report a defective vehicle to a manufacturer. Similarly, consumers must take defective vehicles to a manufacturer’s representative(authorized dealer) for repairs. Taking the vehicle to other repair shops other than authorized dealers can void the warranty terms and lemon law protection.

Give the Manufacturer a ‘’Reasonable Number’’ of Repair attempts to Fix the Defect.

In addition to informing the manufacturer about the defect, you should give them a reasonable window to fix it. Whether it’s two or five attempts, ensure the manufacturer has no reason to request an additional opportunity to correct the defect.

Gather Necessary Documentation

Before you file a claim under California lemon law, gathering the necessary documents supporting your case is essential. Your case will be as strong as the supporting documentation. 

As such, keep copies of repair orders, repair invoices, original purchase or lease documents, warranty documents, and other supplementing documentation.

Hire a Lemon Law Attorney

After gathering the necessary documentation, it may be time to engage an experienced lemon law attorney. A lemon law attorney will help you navigate the complex claim process and increase your chances of success. 

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

Like all other legal matters, the success of a case depends on the nature and strength of the evidence presented. 

Here’s a list of documents you’ll need to support your lemon law claim:

Repair Order

A repair order is a document that the repair facility hands you after dropping off your vehicle for repairs. The print-out describes the vehicle brought in for repairs, the mileage at the time of repair, the date, and the vehicle defect. 

You should accurately describe the vehicle defect as you drop it off to help the dealer describe it on the repair order. If the dealership had made a previous attempt on the same defect, ensure it is accurately captured as a repeat problem.

The repair order serves as a paper trail for all the defects in your vehicle and the efforts to repair it.  Ensure you keep copies of all the repair orders, which can help prove that a manufacturer had an opportunity to achieve a ‘’reasonable number’’ of repair attempts.

Repair Invoice

You also need a repair invoice, a document that a dealership hands you after picking up your vehicle after repairs. Ensure the dealer accurately captures the vehicle defect, the date, mileage, and the cost of repairs. 

A repair invoice is essential in your lemon law claim because it captures the dealer’s efforts to fix the defect. 

Original Purchase or Lease Documents

Your attorney will require the original sales or lease contract to prove ownership or interest in the defective vehicle. The initial sale or lease documents are provided during the acquisition and provide the following critical information:

  • Date of sale
  • Cost of the vehicle— including rebates and trade-in details
  • Aftermarket items added

If you bought the vehicle through debt financing, locate the documents related to your auto loan. It’s important to provide original paperwork because the purchase contract directly impacts the settlement value you could receive as a settlement value for your defective vehicle.

Manufacturer’s Warranty

The manufacturer’s warranty is included in the owner’s manual you receive at the time of purchase. It contains an express warranty from a manufacturer with the coverage terms and period.

Each warranty is unique concerning what it covers and the validity of the warranty, making it an essential document when proving a warranty repair. The manufacturer’s warranty also sets out the responsibilities of a buyer, such as regular oil changes, checking warning lights, checking tire pressure, and reading the owner’s manual.

If your lemon law claim is rejected, you can sue the automaker for breach of warranty, highlighting its importance to consumers.

Supplementary Paper Work

The above paperwork is the most important in a lemon law claim; however, you can include additional paperwork to strengthen your case. 

Here’s is a list of additional paperwork that can boost your chances of success in a lemon law claim:

  • Timeline: Keep a calendar of the repair attempts, the time the vehicle is in for repairs, and the duration the vehicle is not in use. Remember also to record repair appointments to supplement repair invoices and repair orders.
  • Correspondences: Keep any letters or communications you sent or received from the manufacturer, dealership, and third parties, e.g., a government agency.
  • Vehicle Registration: The strength of your case may improve if you have vehicle registration that certifies that your vehicle is allowed to drive on public roads. The vehicle registration certificate also links the state and the vehicle owner. Vehicle registration number contains vital details such as Vehicle Identification Number(VIN), name it’s registered under, address, License plate number, registration number, expiration date, and vehicle make and model.
  • Evidence of Incidental Expenses: If you opt for a buyback or refund, you may be entitled to incidental expenses you incurred because of owning a defective vehicle. Keep copies of car rental receipts, accommodation charges, and invoices from towing vehicles.
  • Maintenance Records: You may also need to provide documents with information regarding the repair and maintenance work done to your vehicle. Mechanics offers a handwritten and stamped record of maintenance work, including the odometer reading.

If you think you bought a lemon, start a file and keep all the possible records you can find. In case you give an attorney some records, keep a copy. 

Importance of Having the Right Lemon Law Attorney

If the manufacturer fails to repair the vehicle after a reasonable number of repair attempts, your vehicle is considered a lemon. Consequently, you can sue or file a claim against the manufacturer under California lemon laws.

Processing a refund or buyback claim is complex and time-consuming, highlighting the importance of having the right attorney. You, therefore, need a highly experienced and knowledgeable lemon law attorney who understands the intricacies of the process by your side.

Here are the benefits of hiring an experienced lemon law attorney.

Legal Advice

Many people don’t know what actions to take or where to start when confronted with a vehicle with persistent defects. A lemon law attorney has a bank of knowledge to help you understand your rights and what actions to take against an automaker.

More importantly, the lemon law attorney will assess the facts of your case and advise whether your case is worth pursuing. 

Maximize Your Chances of Success

The manufacturer will do everything possible to frustrate your efforts to get a fair settlement. The lawyer’s role is to create a compelling case to maximize the settlement amount. 

Most manufacturers argue for a higher mileage offset value, effectively reducing the settlement amount. If you have the right lawyer, they will counter the claim based on facts to avoid losing out.

In addition, the lemon law attorney will help you gather supporting evidence, a key pillar for maximizing the settlement value.

Peace of Mind

A lemon law case is mentally draining, especially when dealing with a manufacturer who prefers to frustrate your efforts. An attorney takes over most of the processes allowing you to concentrate on your work, relationships, or school.

An attorney will also develop a legal strategy tailored to your lemon law claim. A lawyer can anticipate potential issues and plan accordingly, ensuring your matter is handled promptly.

A Suitable Payment Structure

The legal fee is an additional expense that can stand in your way of justice. If a lawyer charges you a high fee beyond your capability, it may lock you out of your consumer rights. Fortunately, most lemon law attorneys charge legal costs on a contingency basis.

A contingency fee is more friendly than other payment structures, such as fixed or hourly. As a client, you only pay after winning a lemon law claim. Similarly, the lawyer may not demand any fee because California lemon law compels manufacturers to pay legal fees related to the lawsuit.

Consult an Experienced Lemon Attorney About Your Consumer Rights

Your Guide to Lemon Law Claims Step-by-Step Instructions

If you’re a business person, buying a lemon car harms your operations and profits. For instance, a car that fails to ignite as you prepare to hit the road can cost you a life-changing deal. The business will also lose crucial cash flow to unplanned expenses such as car rental or accommodation charges.

With that in mind, you deserve to be represented by an experienced attorney to maximize your chances of success.

At LemonLaw123, we have a team of experienced and knowledgeable attorneys willing to represent your interest aggressively.

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.

Do You Have A Lemon?

Free Case Review
  • Free Case Review
  • Have you had multiple repair attempts?
  • Did the problem start in the first 60,000 miles?

did you purchase the vehicle in CA?(Required)
is your vehicle a 2017 or newer?(Required)
did your problems start in the first 60,000 miles?(Required)
have you taken your vehicle to the dealer at least 2 times, or for one visit that lasted over a month?(Required)

* By clicking submit below, you authorize us to reach out to you by phone, text, and/or email.

"Pleased with the Service"

Happy to hear from you. I was very pleased with the service you provided. I couldn’t be happier. The timing was excellent. I retired June 1st and didn’t really need the car anymore. I didn’t go out and buy another car. I decided to hang on to my money for a while.


“Great Help and Great Service”

Valerie did a fantastic job handling my lawsuit. She was in constant contact with me, she was honest and kept me informed every step of the way. I appreciate her great help and her great service and I would definitely use her again and recommend her to anybody out there that needs help.


"Beyond Satisfied"

I am beyond satisfied. After being told that I did not have a case by other attorneys, I was referred to Ms. Campbell and I am so glad I called her. During the initial consultation, Ms. Campbell was very thorough and answered all of my concerns. She assured me that this was not an overnight fix, however, it took less than three (3) months to resolve. Ms. Campbell was available every step of the way. I rarely called or emailed her because she always kept me in the loop. Every case is different but I am glad mine was quick and painless. I would recommend LemonLaw123 to anyone without any reservations. I could not have asked for better representation. Thank you!!!!


"100% Recommended"

I would 100% recommend LemonLaw123 to anyone without any reservations. Valerie made the process easy and headache-free. She was available every step to the way. Just a phone call or text away, ready to answer any question I had. I could not have asked for better representation. Thank you


"Amazing Attorney"

Valerie C. is an amazing attorney who is extremely experienced in the area of Lemon Law. As a fellow attorney, she earned my respect as an experienced litigator who never settled for anything less than the best for her clients. I recommend Lemon Law 123 to my family and friends as I know she will give them the care, attention, and legal expertise every client deserves. You will get the best results with the Lemon Law 123 team.



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.