Does my Car Qualify for Lemon Law?

While we hope your vehicle gets (and stays) repaired, in case it doesn’t, it’s helpful to know whether the lemon law can help protect you. By answering some basic questions about your car and what’s wrong with it, you’ll have some understanding of whether the lemon law applies to your vehicle or not.


What Type of Vehicle Did You Buy?

Certain vehicles are automatically excluded from lemon law coverage. Generally, the lemon law applies to:

  • Cars
  • Vans
  • SUVs
  • Motorcycles
  • Pickup trucks
  • Boats
  • Recreational vehicles (quads, scooters, mopeds)
  • The drive train, chassis, and chassis cab of an RV

Any of the above vehicles owned by a dealership also qualify under the lemon law, such as showroom floor models and loaner cars. It doesn’t matter whether any of these vehicles are owned outright, financed, or leased. 


Where Did You Buy Your Vehicle?

¿Qué pasa si regreso mi carro a la financiera_

The federal lemon law (i.e., Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act) covers any applicable vehicles purchased in the United States. However, if you bought or leased the vehicle in question outside of California, you can not seek protection under California’s lemon laws. There is an exception to this in-state purchase requirement for military members on active duty. California is known for having one of the best state lemon laws, so if you do qualify for it, the chances of winning your case are probably greater.


How Have You Been Using the Vehicle?

If you’ve been abusing the vehicle you purchased or not following the manufacturer’s guidelines, the lemon law will not be able to protect you. For instance, if the weight limit on your e-scooter is 100 pounds, but you weigh 120 pounds, then that vehicle is being misused when you ride it.


Did You Buy Your Vehicle “As Is”?

It’s hard to give a black-and-white answer as to whether “as is” vehicles are covered by the lemon law. It’s best to consult an experienced lemon law attorney. If you were aware that the car had a defect when you purchased it, it’s unlikely that the vehicle is protected under the lemon law. On the other hand, an implied warranty may apply.


Have You Modified the Vehicle?

If you’ve added aftermarket parts or customized mechanical components of the vehicle, the lemon law will not be able to protect you. An example of a modified vehicle might be a lift kit installed on a truck. If you have problems with the axles after installing the lift kit, you’re on your own.


Is the Vehicle in Question Part of a Commercial Fleet?

If your business owns five or more of the same vehicles (service trucks, delivery cars, police cruisers), then it is considered to be part of a fleet. The lemon law does not apply to fleet vehicles. Other vehicles used for work (driving for Uber) or owned by a business are protected by the lemon law.


Is Your Vehicle Under Warranty?

What Makes a Car Qualify as a Lemon?

This is the big question when it comes to the lemon law. The lemon law is all about enforcing your applicable vehicle warranties. There are three kinds of warranties you’d be looking for in a lemon law case:

  • Manufacturer’s warranty – Instructions are provided below to help you locate the terms of your exact manufacturer’s warranty based on your VIN. This can also be known as an “express warranty.” It is a written list of guarantees about different aspects of the vehicle.
  • Implied warranty of merchantability – “Implied” refers to a non-written warranty. This type of warranty is really the same protection we have over any purchase. If I buy a hair dryer from the store, and it doesn’t turn on when I take it out of the box, I don’t need any sort of written manufacturer’s or store warranty to return it—there is an “implied” warranty. This type of warranty provides only the most basic coverage when it comes to vehicle purchases, like the bumper falling off as you drive out of the dealer’s parking lot.
  • Dealership warranty – Dealership warranties are for used vehicles only. These are written warranties that generally cover a very short period of time, like 30 days. Some dealers may offer warranties as bulky as 30,000 miles/3 years, but this is rare.
  • Extended warranty – Extended warranties can be purchased during the vehicle sales transaction. It’s sort of like gap insurance in that it extends the coverage already provided. Extended warranties are also going to be in writing.

Locating Your Manufacturer’s Warranty

First, you’ll need to locate your Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). All vehicles are required by law to have 17-character VINs placed in several different locations on the vehicle itself. If you are struggling to find your VIN, you can call the dealership or check the following:

  • Your registration from the California DMV
  • The bottom corner of your windshield (from the outside)
  • Under the hood
  • In the driver’s door jamb
  • In the spare tire area

Once you have your VIN, go to, click on the “CarFax Reports” tab, and enter your VIN. You’ll see on the side they offer “Vehicle History Reports” and “Warranty Checks,” click on the latter. Trying to find the warranty in your owner’s manual or other paperwork is confusing, which is why we recommend CarFax. When you search on your own, for example, nothing in the owner’s manual is going to tell you when the warranty begins. 

Because timing can be a crucial detail, you could mistakenly think that because you have a 2019 model, your time starts ticking in 2019—this isn’t necessarily the case. The warranty countdown begins on the day the vehicle is first purchased from the manufacturer/dealership.


Do You Have The Necessary Paperwork?

As you know, returning something without a receipt can be a hassle! When it comes to the lemon law, proper documentation is a must. The first document you’ll need is the bill of sale/sales contract. This document is necessary to show the court how much money you’re entitled to be refunded. It should contain:

  • The vehicle’s final price
  • The purchase date
  • Buyer & seller’s information
  • Any applicable rebates
  • Used cars should state the mileage at the time of the purchase

In addition to the Bill of Sale, make sure you have these items in order:

  • Repair invoices for any and all mechanical work
  • Receipts for incidental expenses (towing, hotel rooms, vehicle storage, meals, a new car seat—any cost you incurred as a result of the vehicle’s defects)

Also, each time you go to the dealership for repairs, be as clear and specific as you can about the problem with the car. Is the car making a noise? If so, don’t just tell the mechanic, “The car is making a noise.” Give details. Is it a thumping, a rattling, or a pinging sound? Does the noise only happen when you accelerate or turn, or is it all the time? 

Additionally, ensure that the mechanic’s notes accurately reflect the information you are giving. If this is your third time getting the same issue looked at, don’t be afraid to get the mechanic to make a note of it. Your “buyback refund” isn’t coming out of the mechanic’s paycheck, so it shouldn’t be a problem. The repair documentation from the dealership is absolutely critical to the success of your lemon law claim, so be vigilant about it. If you lost any paperwork (such as from the first repair attempt), ask the dealership for copies of it as soon as possible.

To help your lemon law attorney and make your case stronger, it never hurts to have any of the following optional items:

  • CarFax vehicle history report
  • A timeline of defects, repair attempts, and communications with the dealership/automaker
  • Your registration
  • Copies of emails and letters from the dealership/automaker


What’s Defective on Your Vehicle?

How to Qualify for a GM Lemon Law Buyback and What to Expect

If the radio knob keeps falling off and the dealership somehow can’t fix it, this is not going to make your car a lemon. The defects with the car must “substantially impair the use, value, or safety” of the vehicle. Again, the defects can’t be a result of misusing or modifying the vehicle in any way. 

Additionally, you must make more than one attempt to repair the defect(s) as well. The law doesn’t specify exactly how many repair attempts must be made, but case law (i.e., legal history) indicates that four repair attempts are usually acceptable. If the problem with your car is seriously dangerous (perhaps the brakes just completely give out or your gas tank is leaking), fewer attempts can be allowed. If a variety of defects are arising or you’ve had to wait unreasonable amounts of time for parts, this could also make your vehicle a lemon.


Where Did You Get Your Vehicle Repaired?

Your car’s warranty is most certainly going to require that you get your vehicle repaired at an authorized service center, which, in most cases, is going to refer to the dealership and nowhere else. If you work on the vehicle yourself or have your neighborhood auto shop fix it, this can render your manufacturer’s warranty invalid. 

If you have the knowledge and skills, it can be tempting to work on the problem yourself. Likewise, the neighborhood mechanic can often get your car worked on a lot sooner than the dealership. Sometimes it’s necessary to drive past dozens of auto shops to get to the nearest dealership—it’s a hassle, but you have to do it in order to get warranty coverage.


How Many Times Has Your Vehicle Been Repaired?

Again, the law does not give a specific number of attempts that a vehicle must go in for the same repair in order to be deemed a lemon. This is a huge gray area open to interpretation. When the defect is more dangerous, maybe just two repair attempts are enough. When the defect is less of an immediate safety concern (oil leaking or the locks malfunctioning), two repair attempts probably aren’t going to be enough. 

Four repair attempts are generally considered sufficient, but again, it really is on a case-by-case basis. Finally, when laws don’t provide a “bright line” indicator of whether something falls under that statute or not, lawyers look to court cases to see how judges interpreted the law. For example, if we look at the case of Silvio v. Ford Motor Company, 109 Cal. App.4th 1205 (2003), the California Court of Appeals ruled that a “reasonable number of attempts” has to be, at the very minimum, two. 


How Many Days Has Your Vehicle Been in the Shop?

Another thing the lemon law looks at is how many total days your vehicle has been in the shop. If you’ve been without your car for 30 or more days collectively since you bought it, the law does generally view the vehicle as a lemon. If your lawyer decides to approach your claim this way, the specific number of repair attempts is less relevant.


How Often Is Your Car Failing?

Navigating Lemon Law Step-by-Step Guide to Getting a Refund or Replacement

It is possible that your vehicle qualifies as a lemon if you have had to take it in for multiple repairs (related or unrelated) in a short period of time. For example, if you’ve made multiple mechanical repairs in the first 18,000 miles or 18 months of ownership, this can make your claim stronger. Four repairs over the full course of a 6 or 7-year warranty makes a weaker case.


Is the Authorized Mechanic Unwilling to Repair Your Car?

A vehicle can also be eligible for lemon law protection if the dealership is unwilling to repair the vehicle. Perhaps the dealership is claiming that the thumping noise when you go around corners isn’t real, and because of that, they can’t repair it. A situation like this could possibly lead to a warranty-enforced refund. Again, consult a lemon law attorney.


Have You Consulted a Lemon Law Attorney?

Winning a lemon law claim against a “Goliath” like an auto manufacturer requires skill, persistence, knowledge, and checking all the right boxes, legally speaking. This is why you have nothing to lose by consulting an experienced lemon law attorney. 

Remember, you pay nothing if your lawyer can’t win your case, and the auto manufacturer is responsible for their fees if you win. If, after reading this article, you are still not sure whether the lemon law applies to your vehicle or not, just make a few phone calls to local lemon law attorneys and see what they say.

A lemon law attorney can help you in these areas:

  • Properly record and document correspondences and conversations with the dealer or manufacturer—not all communication can be used as evidence unless it is handled properly
  • Simultaneously strategize for a potential lawsuit after your lemon law claim, if necessary
  • Research other cases similar to yours to use as supporting evidence
  • Finding leverage to use in negotiations
  • Review your case to see if you have a valid lemon law claim
  • Find expert witnesses who can testify about your car’s mechanical defects and repairs
  • Gather evidence in places you might not think to look
  • Give you expert advice on how to handle the claim, whether to accept a settlement offer and any other legal aspects


Has the Manufacturer Asked You to Go to Arbitration?

If you have already started the lemon law claim process on your own, it’s possible that the manufacturer asked you to work out your issue with them in arbitration. Arbitration is a kind of alternate dispute resolution, in other words, a way to have an objective third party decide your case without going to court. Don’t confuse arbitration for mediation. Mediation is where a third party tries to work with both sides of a dispute to reach a solution that works for everyone. Arbitration is basically court without going to court—it’s not a negotiation, and no one will be trying to help you “meet in the middle.”

If an auto manufacturer asked you to submit to the arbitration process, that’s a pretty clear sign that they think you have a valid lemon law claim. If they didn’t, they would just keep denying your claim. Arbitration works in favor of the manufacturer in numerous ways, which is why they want to steer you in that direction. If you go to arbitration, the manufacturer doesn’t have to pay for your lawyer, and you have to plead your own case (gather witnesses, make arguments, and present evidence). 

Arbitration doesn’t allow you to put the manufacturer under oath while they answer your questions. Arbitration doesn’t force the manufacturer to share all of their documents and evidence with you. If you don’t like a judge’s decision in court, you can appeal it. If you don’t agree with the final outcome of arbitration, there is nothing you can do. Plus, lawsuits take a long time, and time is money. Filing a lawsuit with a lawyer representing you tends to motivate the auto manufacturers to settle because a lengthy, drawn-out court battle will only cost them more money.

Fight Back & Call an Anaheim Lemon Law Attorney Today!

Determining whether your car is a lemon or not can be a lot more complicated than it seems. Call the offices today or submit your documents for review online. Stop getting bullied by the car maker and dealership! You don’t pay anything upfront for our services, so don’t hesitate. Call 657-529-5239 now and let a knowledgeable, fierce Anaheim lemon law attorney step in the ring for you.


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.