How to Start a Lemon Law Claim: Step-by-Step Guide

Even if you aren’t sure if your car is a lemon yet, it is best to inform and educate yourself from the beginning. Knowing the process upfront will ensure that you don’t make any mistakes now that could have disastrous consequences later. Knowledge is power, but car manufacturers are fierce opponents. has compiled everything you need from A to Z to get your lemon vehicle issue resolved.


Introduction to the Lemon Law

The so-called “lemon law” is simply car warranty enforcement. The lemon law protects people who bought cars, trucks, motorcycles, and RVs that don’t function correctly. The term “lemon law” actually refers to a group of different laws, both state and federal, that protect consumers. The laws do not necessarily only apply to vehicles and vehicle purchases—again, they help consumers enforce warranties with any number of goods and services. 


Defining a Lemon 

If something on your newly-purchased vehicle is not fixed on the first trip to the mechanic, this is generally when your car risks becoming a lemon. If you experience a mechanical default that has to be repaired multiple times (i.e., the same thing keeps breaking over and over again), the law defines this car as a “lemon.” 

A lemon can also be defined as a car that experiences ongoing mechanical failures (i.e., new defects are constantly arising). It is not necessarily a requirement that you have simply one unrepairable defect. A lemon could also be a car that, for example, were to burst into flames after a five mph fender bender. One very serious and dangerous defect, like the infamous Ford Pinto had, would also qualify.  


What Is a Lemon Law “Buyback”? 

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

This is an important term to know. You will come across this often as you research the lemon law. A lemon law buyback is what it’s called when a defective vehicle is fully refunded to the buyer. The car company takes the car back. Sadly, lemon cars are sent right back out to be sold again, but, unlike a “salvaged title” car or an “open box”/“manufacturer refurbished” item, it does not have to be labeled a certain way to identify it as a lemon law buyback. 

In order to tell if the car you purchased might have been a lemon law buyback, check the CarFax report. If the chain of ownership shows that the vehicle went from a private buyer back to the dealership or carmaker, your car is most likely a lemon law buyback. You can verify this by speaking with the California DMV. 


Federal Lemon Laws 

The group of legislation collectively known as the “federal lemon law,” such as the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, is the broadest and tends to offer greater protection for car buyers. The federal lemon laws apply to both new and used cars, trucks, boats, motorcycles, four-wheelers, and motor homes. The mileage on a vehicle doesn’t necessarily preclude it from being protected by the lemon law.   

For example, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act mentioned above protects against unfair and ambiguous warranties. This act also says that the “warranty provider” (i.e., the car company) is required to compensate you for your legal fees in resolving the matter. Another piece of legislation that is considered part of the federal lemon law is the Uniform Commercial Code. This statute, for example, allows consumers to exchange a faulty vehicle or get a refund when their original warranty has been deemed insufficient or otherwise problematic.  


State Lemon Laws 

Although federal lemon laws tend to be more inclusive, most states’ lemon laws offer steeper penalties for car manufacturers and better protection for car buyers. Sadly, most state lemon laws exclude motorhomes, motorcycles, four-wheelers, and boats. The bottom line is that if your car fits your state’s definition of a lemon, your lemon law attorney will usually recommend that you utilize the state’s protection. For instance, most states require that you experience precisely the same defect over and over in order to qualify for lemon law protection. Federal legislation only mandates that repeat defects be “related.”


Step #1 – Take Your Car to the Dealership for Repair

It is very important that your car be repaired at the dealership, even though your neighborhood mechanic can no doubt get the job done a lot faster. Most car warranties require that repairs be made at the dealership in order to be protected under the warranty. Additionally, the dealership will fix your under-warranty defects for free (the local mechanic will not).


Save Your Service Records 

Unfortunately, it is wise to plan for the worst. Be meticulous about saving all of your car’s service records. Read over anything the dealership asks you to sign very carefully before you authorize it. Remember that dealership mechanics are the auto manufacturer’s first line of defense in lemon law claims. They are going to try to use vague or confusing wording in their documentation, so don’t feel pressured to sign anything you don’t fully understand and agree with. 

It can also be prudent to start keeping track of problems you have with the car. You might, for example, record in your phone notes every time the car doesn’t start and how many attempts it takes each morning to get it running. Take photos and videos. State in your videos what the date is and what’s going on with the car. 

Step #2 – Determine If Your Car Is Under Warranty 

A manufacturer’s warranty (generally up to 60,000 miles or three years) is included as standard on new car purchases. On top of that, some used car dealerships throw in a 30-day warranty. Extended warranty coverage can also be tacked on for an additional fee. Generally speaking, any of these types of warranties qualify under the lemon law. The warranty in question must be written (not verbal), and you need to have a copy of it. If you can meet these criteria, you can move forward with a lemon law claim. 


Used Cars and Manufacturers’ Warranties  

Lemon Law Buyback Calculator

California is one of a handful of states that covers used vehicle purchases under its lemon laws. Once again, California’s lemon laws are pretty narrow, which means they don’t apply to too many car purchases (re: California Civil Code, section 1793.33). In a nutshell, if you buy a used car that is still under the manufacturer’s warranty, California law helps enforce that original manufacturer’s warranty. 

So what do most manufacturer’s warranties cover? Generally, your powertrain (engine, transmission, drive box, transfer case, drive shaft, and differentials) is covered if your car is less than six years old or has fewer than 60,000 miles. The following auto manufacturers offer the most generous powertrain coverage: 

  • 8 years: Tesla
  • 7 years or 100,000 miles: Suzuki
  • 7 years or 75,000 miles: Isuzu
  • 6 years or 70,000 miles: Acura, Cadillac, Infiniti, Kia, Lexus, Lincoln


If Your Warranty Is Expired  

If your car’s warranty is already expired, you still have options. You can sue the manufacturer or dealership in small claims court. There are certain requirements for filing in small claims court:

  • You must represent yourself (no lawyer)
  • Your claim can’t be in excess of $5,000 if you sue under your business name
  • Your claim can’t be in excess of $10,000 if you sue as a private person

If you decide to pursue a lemon law case in small claims court, you can still confer with a lemon law attorney in advance and get some expert advice. Car manufacturers have whole departments of experienced lawyers and negotiators whose sole purpose is to pay out the least amount possible to people like you. Be prepared!


Private Party Used Car Purchases  

In the State of California, private party car sales are not covered by the state lemon law, even if the car is two weeks old and has 20 miles on the odometer. Federal regulations still apply, though, as long as your car is under warranty. 


A Note About Kia

Kia’s warranties specifically state that their extended powertrain coverage only applies to the original car owner. If you buy a Kia used from a dealership or in a private party sale, even if it is practically brand new, the extended powertrain coverage is void. The original warranty applies to anyone, but only the first owner gets the benefit of the extended powertrain coverage, which goes beyond the usual six years/60,000 miles.


Cars Sold “As Is”  

Don’t be confused by car window stickers that read “Sold As Is.” That doesn’t mean repairs can’t be made on the manufacturer’s dime if the vehicle is under the manufacturer’s warranty. Those “sold as is” stickers simply refer to the fact that that individual dealership is not open to negotiating with you about modifying the car stereo or the exterior paint as terms of the sale.


Vehicles Specifically Excluded from the Lemon Law

In California, the following vehicles do not qualify for lemon law protection: 

  • Fleet vehicles, meaning cars, trucks, or motorcycles that belong to a company and five or more similar vehicles are owned by that company 
  • Any commercial vehicle, meaning any car, truck, or motorcycle primarily used for work (such as a car owned by a self-employed person, for example) 
  • Trucks weighing over 10,000 pounds 

Step #3 – Call a Lemon Law Attorney 

After experiencing multiple defects and documented repair attempts on your under-warranty vehicle, your next step is to contact an Anaheim lemon law attorney. To determine whether or not your claim has merit, the lawyer will need to see a written copy of your bill of sale, all your written service records, and a written copy of your warranty. Most lemon law attorneys can review these documents via email for you, so it’s not even necessary to waste more of your time with an in-person office visit (unless you prefer that).


I Can’t Afford to Hire a Lawyer

Don’t worry. Because of the way the lemon law is structured, most lemon law attorneys won’t ever bill you a penny. Generally, the fee agreement is that you pay nothing (not even reimbursing legal filing fees, copies, or postage) unless the lawyer wins your case. The reason this is possible is two-fold:

  • The lemon law requires that the car manufacturer reimburse all of your related expenses (attorney fees, towing, vehicle storage costs, etc). This means when your lemon law attorney wins, he or she will just bill the auto manufacturer directly for your fees.
  • Lemon law attorneys are very selective in picking the right cases, cases they are confident that they can win. This means don’t be discouraged if one lemon law attorney turns you down. Shop around. We’d be happy to review your case.

Step #4 – Your Lawyer Sends a Letter to the Car Manufacturer

If your attorney determines that your car qualifies for lemon law protection, the next step is to send a certified letter to the auto manufacturer explaining your claim and demanding that they make it right. On the subject of sending your own lemon law letter, recommends that people consult with a lemon law attorney first. They say, “There is a lot at stake, and it can be impossible to recover from a single misstep.”

Step #5 – The Car Manufacturer Responds

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The manufacturer can respond in a number of different ways. They can:

  • Offer to negotiate or make you a deal, such as swapping out your car for a similar one or even a brand new one. If you like this option, your payments generally just resume as normal under the original terms.
  • Offer you a full refund. This is a “lemon law buyback,” as described above.
  • Deny your claim. This doesn’t mean it’s over and you lost. It just means that settling is not an option, and your attorney will need to battle it out in court with them.

Understand that this is a negotiation process, and there may be counter-offers and counters to those offers and so on. Meanwhile, you’ll be stuck with a defective vehicle. 

The entire lemon law process, from the time your lawyer sends the demand letter until you get a satisfactory resolution, can be as fast as a few weeks or as long as a few months. If the warranty holder is disputing the validity of your claim, that can extend the timeline. If you think that mediation would be a faster option than trying your case in court, that’s true; however, you can’t bring a lawyer into mediation sessions. 

Since the lemon law allows you to recover attorney’s fees from the auto manufacturer, if they offer you mediation, it is actually just an attempt for them to avoid paying your lawyer. Lawyer up, and don’t be fooled. You have nothing to lose.

Step #6 – Your Claim Gets Resolved

From reaching a settlement agreement to actually being relieved of the lemon takes time. Auto manufacturers are big, bureaucratic organizations—to say the least; they move slowly. Remember to keep all your Uber and rental car receipts for their reimbursement.

Very few lemon law claims in which an attorney is involved fail to result in a satisfactory resolution for the car buyer. Again, lemon law attorneys vet the claims they are willing to take on very carefully. If no lemon law attorney is willing to represent you, this is not usually a good sign. If you had a strong case, a lawyer would be eager to help. Remember, small claims court is also an option.

If your claim does not get resolved in your favor, you can still sue the car manufacturer or dealership for emotional distress and possibly additional claims, if applicable. It’s no secret that these mega-corporations play dirty. It’s your right to sue, so don’t be afraid to exercise it. Remember, lawsuits help keep these companies in line.

Questions to Ask a Lemon Law Attorney 

If you are in the market for a lemon law attorney, do your homework so you don’t get stuck with another regrettable “purchase.” Be sure to ask the lemon law attorneys you talk to the following questions: 

  • Will you be the one to represent me in court if the car manufacturer denies my claim? 
  • May I see a copy of your client agreement? 
  • Are there any surprise fees I should be aware of?
  • How many lemon law claims have you won?
  • What happens if we lose my case?
  • Are lemon law cases your primary area of practice? 
  • Have you ever been disciplined by the bar association?
  • How long do you think my case will take? 
  • Will I have access to your cell phone number or direct email address? 

In addition to shielding you from sneaky automobile claims departments, a lemon law attorney will fight for the best outcome possible, considering the facts of your case. Remember that lemon law attorneys get very familiar with the same automakers and dealerships after negotiating with them day in and day out. They are going to get things done faster and more efficiently than you are. They can typically get your claim resolved a lot faster. 

Lemon Law Statistics 

If you are having problems with a car you just bought, you are definitely not alone. Here is some data to help you see the magnitude of this issue. People all over California and the US are struggling with the car-buying blues.

  • Fifteen million vehicles hit the market every year. One percent of those vehicles are lemons.
  • Proportional to how many cars they sell, GM gets sued the most, and Toyota gets sued the least.
  • From 1995-2000, there were about 35,000 lemon law complaints annually. Over the next five-year period, there were about 55,000 lemon law complaints annually. In 2010, the number of complaints rose to 80,000. In 2014, that number grew even more to over 110,000. Since then, lemon law complaints have stayed at this level, with about 100,000 annually.
  • Fiat produces one lemon per every 76,000 cars they manufacture. Japanese automakers like Kia and Mazda make 0.06 lemons per 1,000 cars they produce. Lemons made by American automakers like Ford, Chrysler, and Dodge represent about 0.15 per 1,000 cars manufactured. German automakers such as Volvo and BMW make 0.38 lemons per 1,000 cars. Honda, however, produces just one lemon per every 2 million vehicles, and Toyota produces only one lemon for every 11 million cars. 
  • From 2018-2021, seven million new cars and trucks were registered in California—roughly 35,000 of them were lemons.
  • Approximately 400 million cars and trucks have been recalled by the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Administration, not including car seat, tire, and auto parts recalls. 
  • Californians who bought General Motors vehicles were about 26x more likely to find themselves involved in a lemon law legal battle than shoppers who bought Toyotas.

California Car Buyer’s Bill of Rights 

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You should also be aware of the California Car Buyer’s Bill of Rights. Those rights include:

  • Dealers must inform you that you can buy a 2-day cancellation option for a used car purchase. Buying that option is not required, but they are obligated to inform you of this right.
  • California car dealerships are not allowed to tack on more than 2.5% interest for themselves onto your car loan. They essentially have you overpay for the car and then keep the remainder for themselves.
  • Dealerships must show you the credit report of yours they reviewed in putting together your loan.
  • “Certified” used cars is actually a term with some teeth. A used car can only be listed as “certified” if it has undergone a state-mandated inspection. 
  • You are entitled to see a breakdown of every fee, tax, or other charge the dealership is tacking on in order to come up with the final amount you’ll owe.  

Reach Out to an Anaheim Lemon Law Attorney Today!

If you fear that you’ve purchased a lemon, allow me, an Anaheim lemon law attorney,to review your case for free. I graduated from one of the nation’s best law schools, UCLA, and used to work as a corporate attorney for the automakers. You aren’t going to find a more experienced or dedicated lemon law attorney out there than “the Lemon Law Lady.” Submit your documents for review today, or feel free to call us as well with any questions (657-529-5239).

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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