How Long Can A Dealership Hold Your Car for Repairs?

If your car develops a problem that’s covered by warranty, it is advisable to take it to the dealership for repairs. While most issues are easy to fix, some defects involve numerous unsuccessful attempts.

Unfortunately, your car might be a lemon if the dealership cannot fix the defect after a ‘’reasonable number’’ of repair attempts. More importantly, a dealership has a limited period and repair attempts to resolve a warranty defect.

California lemon law presumption states that a dealership should not hold your vehicle for more than 30 days for a defect covered by warranty. 

If the dealership has held your vehicle for an extended period, speak to an experienced lemon law attorney about your legal options.

    Does my Car Qualify for Lemon Law?

Who’s Covered By California Lemon Law

California lemon law covers consumers who buy defective vehicles that automakers have been unable to fix after a ‘’reasonable number’’ of repair attempts.

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

  • Cars, vans, motorcycles, pick-up trucks, and SUVs
  • Vehicles bought or leased for commercial purposes
  • Vehicles purchased for family, household, and family reasons
  • Dealer-owned vehicles and demonstrators
  • Drive train, chassis, and chassis cab or a motorhome

If the dealership cannot fix the vehicle after a ‘’reasonable number’’ of repair attempts, the manufacturer must either:

  • Replace the vehicle
  • Refund or buy back the vehicles’ buying price—whichever you prefer.


How Long Can a Dealership Hold Your Car for Repairs

In all lemon law claims, there’s contention whether a dealership was accorded a reasonable opportunity to fix the defect. Besides protecting consumers, California lemon law gives consumers two duties; informing the manufacturer about the defect and giving the manufacturer a ‘’ reasonable number’’ of repair attempts to fix the fault.

The solution to the contention depends on the defect’s severity and the case’s circumstances. For instance, a manufacturer has up to two repair attempts to fix a flaw that impairs the safety of driver and vehicle occupants.

On the other hand, the manufacturer has up to five attempts to fix a general defect that brings inconvenience or annoyance while driving. More importantly, if the vehicle spends approximately 30 days in a repair shop without success, it might be time to file a lemon law claim.

Ultimately, no number determines a ‘’reasonable number’’ of repair attempts; however, California lemon law presumption offers the following guidelines in deciding that a manufacturer has made a ‘’reasonable number’’ of repair attempts:

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

California lemon law presumption applies to vehicles bought in California that develop defects within 18 months or 18,000 miles, whichever comes first.

The guidelines prescribed by California lemon law presumption is mere direction; the final decision as to whether a vehicle has fulfilled the minimum requirements of a claim lies with a judge or arbitrator.

During lemon law claims, manufacturers may argue they didn’t get enough opportunity to fix the defect. If you don’t have legal aid, you’ll likely experience delays or agree to a low offer due to pressure from the manufacturer.

With that in mind, work closely with an experienced lemon law attorney to protect your interest and maximize your settlement amount.

Defects Covered By Lemon Law

A vehicle is considered a lemon if it has substantial defects that impact its use, value, and safety. A defect doesn’t have to make the vehicle undrivable; even so, it should have a substantial impact.

Here’s how defects impact vehicles:

  • Impaired Use: Each consumer buys a vehicle to fulfill a particular purpose— for instance, a contractor may buy a pick-up truck to deliver materials to different sites. If it develops a transmission defect making it challenging to reach certain destinations, the vehicle can be considered a lemon. Although the truck can deliver construction materials to nearby sites, it is unreliable in far-located areas.
  • Impaired Safety: If a defect makes the driver or passengers feel less secure, you may be entitled to a refund or replacement under lemon laws. Common defects impairing vehicle safety include airbags, seatbelts, engine issues, and faulty service brakes.
  • Impaired Value: A defect that impairs the value of a vehicle can make it qualify for lemon law protection. If your vehicle model is known for a persistent engine defect, only a few people would be willing to buy it, affecting its resale value.

If your vehicle has any of the following defects, you may be eligible for a refund or replacement under lemon law:

  • Faulty airbags
  • Defective transmission
  • Defective power steering
  • A flawed fuel injection system
  • Engine failure
  • Faulty service brakes
  • Fuel line defect
  • Faulty seat belts
  • Faulty vehicle speed control unit
  • Anti Lock brake system failure

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

  • Defects Caused By Accidents: It’s normal for a vehicle to develop a problem after an accident, even if it was fully repaired. Unfortunately, California lemon law doesn’t cover a defect due to an accident, irrespective of existing warranty coverage.
  • Defects Due to Owner Negligence: Lemon law protects consumers who have fulfilled the terms of the manufacturer’s warranty. For instance, a vehicle that develops an engine defect due to the failure to change oil according to the manufacturer’s terms.
  • Defects Due to Unauthorized Repairs or Alterations: Vehicle owners must seek repairs from an authorized dealership. Otherwise, they risk voiding the terms of the manufacturer’s warranty and lemon law protection.


How to File a Lemon Law Claim

How to Start a Lemon Law Claim

Step 1: Take Your Vehicle to the Dealership for Repairs

If your vehicle develops a defect covered by the manufacturer’s warranty, take it to the dealership for repairs as soon as possible. While a few people postpone taking their vehicles for repairs, manufacturers have no obligation to repair defects they’re unaware of.

You should also give the manufacturer a ‘’reasonable number’’ of repair attempts to fix the defect.

Step 2: Gather Supporting Evidence

Start gathering supporting documentation if you believe your car is a lemon. 

Some of the crucial documentation to gather include:

  • Repair Order: A repair order is a printout the dealership gives you after you drop your vehicle for repairs. Ensure it accurately captures the vehicle defect, the date, and the correct mileage. If the repair facility previously attempted to fix the issue, remind the dealership to note it as a repeat defect.
  • Repair Invoice: A repair invoice is the print-out that the dealership hands after picking up the vehicle after the repairs. It should list the problems with the car, completed repairs, the date, mileage, and cost of repairs.
  • Manufacturer’s Warranty: The manufacturer’s warranty is the document that comes with the owner’s manual. It contains the express warranty with terms of coverage and its validity. If you’re not eligible for a refund or replacement under lemon laws, you can sue the automaker for breach of warranty.
  • Original Lease and Purchase Documents: Your attorney will request this set of documents to prove ownership and interest in the lemon law claim. Original purchase or lease documents also contain essential pricing information about the car.

Gather additional documentation, including vehicle registration, maintenance records, accident history, correspondence, and receipts, for incidental costs to build a stronger case.

Step 3: Hire a Lemon Law Attorney

After compiling the necessary documentation, it may be time to speak to an experienced lemon law attorney. A lemon law attorney will add the professionalism, experience, and knowledge required to navigate the complex process of filing a lemon law claim.

For instance, a lemon law attorney will prepare a strong defense against manufacturer claims and create a solid strategy to win the case.

Step 4: File a Lemon Law Claim

After hiring a lemon law attorney, the next step involves filing a claim. Ensure the declaration contains the supporting evidence and application forms, if any. The lawyer will guide the claim process and help you table a strong suit.

Step 5: Negotiate 

The manufacturer will table an offer if your claim has met all the requirements. The attorney will evaluate the offer and negotiate for a better settlement amount. The attorney may litigate the claim in court in case of a dispute highlighting the need to hire an experienced lawyer.

Don’t Be Stuck With a Lemon Car: Speak to an Experienced Lemon Law Attorney

If a dealership has overstayed with your vehicle trying to fix a defect, it may be time to file a lemon law claim. Unfortunately, most consumers face resistance and strong defense from manufacturers while pursuing a refund or replacement.

With that in mind, working closely with an experienced attorney to protect your interest while processing your claim is advisable.

At LemonLaw123, our lead attorney Valerie G. Campbell has a 99% success rate, giving us the confidence to represent 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.