What Is The Lemon Law In California?

The California Lemon Law, outlined in Civ. Code § 1793.2 et seq. is designed to protect consumers who have purchased cars that are not working as they should. Car purchases are often very high-pressure situations, so the government provides extra safeguards for consumers who get stuck with one of these major purchases that is not safe or reliable. There are both federal and California lemon laws, and they can be confusing, so never hesitate to consult with an experienced California lemon law attorney.

This law limits the number of repair attempts a manufacturer can make on a car before they need to buy back or replace the vehicle.

For example, let’s say you recently purchased a new car in California that falls under a manufacturer’s new-vehicle warranty. However, after driving the car for a few months, you realize it has a significant problem that falls under the warranty.

You take the car to the manufacturer for repairs, and after four repair attempts, the issue is still not resolved. Under California lemon laws, the manufacturer must provide a refund or replacement for your vehicle.

How Much Money Should I Expect In a California Lemon Law Buyback?

There is no average value to expect from a lemon law buyback; however, the buyback value allowed under the Song-Beverly Act consists of two components:

  1. Buyback
  2. Civil penalties— which can be up to two times the buyback value

The buyback value allowed under the Song-Beverly Act consists of restitution and consequential and incidental damages. The Civil Code section 1793.2(d)(2)(B) states that the automaker shall make restitution of an amount equal to the actual price paid or payable by the purchaser plus charges for transportation and manufacturer-installed options.

However, it excludes non-manufacturer-installed items by the buyer or dealer. The consumer is also entitled to a refund of collateral charges such as license fees, sales tax, use tax, official fees, and registration fees.

Under ection 1794, the automaker should refund the buyer incidental damages, including towing, reasonable repair, and car rental incurred by the buyer.

For a finance-acquired vehicle, a consumer can recover:

  • The down payment, including any equity on a trade-in
  • Total paid monthly payments, which include total paid principal and interest
  • The total outstanding loan balance payable to the financier

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Criteria for Vehicle Eligibility Under California Lemon Law

The California Lemon Law does not detail specific requirements a vehicle must meet before a manufacturer must refund or replace it. Instead, this law states that manufacturers must make a “reasonable” number of attempts to repair it, which can vary from case to case.

However, a judge will typically consider a car a lemon if it meets these requirements:

  • The issue or defect occurred within the first 18,000 miles or 18 months, whichever comes first
  • You notified the manufacturer about the problem, if required in your manual
  • You have taken the vehicle to the manufacturer or its agents for repairs and:
  • There have been four or more repair attempts for the same issue, OR
  • There have been two or more repair attempts for the same issue that is significant enough to cause severe injury or death, OR
  • The car has spent 30 days or more waiting for repairs

Is Your Car Under Warranty?

A “lemon” is a defective vehicle that the manufacturer cannot fix in a reasonable time. These cars cannot live up to their manufacturers’ warranties, causing stress and monetary loss for their owners.

The California Lemon Law is a section Cars come with manufacturer’s warranties (generally up to 60,000 miles or three years). Additionally, dealerships may include 30-day warranties on some automobile purchases. You can also buy an extended warranty when you purchase the car for extra coverage. In order for the lemon law to apply to your situation, your car must be under at least one of these warranties.

To stand up in court, your warranty must be in writing. If this is the case, you may be able to get a refund or to exchange your “lemon” for another car.

Is a Used Car Covered by the Lemon Law in California?

Used cars that are still under warranty can fall under California lemon laws. When you purchase a used vehicle, you should determine whether its warranty is still active.

How Does the California Lemon Law for a New Car Work?

If you have a new vehicle with an issue that falls under the manufacturer’s warranty, and the manufacturer has already made a reasonable number of repair attempts, the vehicle may be a lemon. According to California Lemon Law, the dealer must repurchase or replace the vehicle. You have the right to choose how the dealer compensates you.

Scope of Vehicle Coverage Under California Lemon Statutes

California lemon laws cover new or used vehicles with the manufacturer’s new vehicle warranty.

If you own any of the following vehicles, you may be entitled to a refund or replacement under California lemon laws:

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

What Is a Lemon Car?

A “lemon” is a defective vehicle that the manufacturer cannot fix in a reasonable time. These cars cannot live up to their manufacturers’ warranties, causing stress and monetary loss for their owners.

If you have taken your car in to get something repaired under warranty and that same problem persists, this is when you become a candidate for the lemon law. Depending on different factors, if something has been repaired at least two (sometimes three or four) times, and the problem persists, then the car is considered a “lemon.”

Cars may also be considered to be lemons if they have multiple defects or continual, ongoing problems (so it is not always necessary that one defect is “unrepairable”) it is these many nuances of the lemon law that cause confusion.

The Federal Lemon Law

Federal lemon laws are generally the easiest ones to qualify for. The federal law covers either new or used vehicles (to include boats, motorcycles, four-wheelers, motor homes, etc.) regardless of how many miles they have. One federal law that is particularly beneficial is the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act.

This law tackles warranties that are poorly written, restrictive, or simply unfair. The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act also states that the vehicle seller (or warranty provider) must pay your attorney fees if you win. The Uniform Commercial Code, another federal law, also gives car buyers the right to an exchange or refund if their under-warranty car is defective.

State Lemon Laws

Although federal lemon laws tend to be more inclusive, state lemon laws generally have stiffer penalties and more ample consumer protection. Unfortunately, most state lemon laws only cover new cars and trucks–no motorcycles, boats, motorhomes, etc. Nevertheless, if your vehicle qualifies as a lemon under your state’s lemon laws, this is generally your best bet.

For example, under most state laws, your car must have the EXACT same problem repaired multiple times to no avail, such as the trunk failing to latch shut. Under federal laws, the repeated repairs only need to be related to the same issue – such as, the trunk wouldn’t latch, then after repair, the trunk will latch but now the key fob trunk button doesn’t work. After another repair, the trunk latches, and the key fob opens it, but now the latch keeps making a clicking sound as if it’s locking and unlocking itself constantly.

Filing a Lemon Law Claim 

If you believe your vehicle falls under California or federal lemon laws, you should first inform the manufacturer about their responsibility under these laws. If the manufacturer fails to replace or repurchase your vehicle, you may need to file a lemon law claim against them.

A claim can help you recover the full cost of the lemon vehicle or a replacement vehicle from the manufacturer. However, working with a qualified attorney is essential to approach your claim strategically.

Your attorney can help you gather all records and evidence showcasing the dealer’s repair attempts and refusal to replace the vehicle. They can then contact the dealer on your behalf to inform them of your claim and attempt a settlement.

What Is the Time Limit for Filing Under the Lemon Law in California?

California has a statute of limitations of four years for lemon law claims. This means that you must file a lemon law claim within four years of discovering the defect.

What Counts As a Repair Attempt?

Suppose a manufacturer or dealer can’t fix a severe warranty defect after a ‘reasonable number’ of repair attempts. In that case, lemon law requires the manufacturer to replace the vehicle or refund its buying price.

Anytime there is a lemon law claim, a question arises as to whether the consumer gave the manufacturer a reasonable window to fix the defect.

For an effort from the manufacturer to count as a repair attempt, the consumer should obtain it from an authorized dealership. Making do-it-yourself (DIY) repairs or getting assistance from a local mechanic could void your warranty and lemon law protection.

More importantly, the vehicle owner should retain copies of a repair order and repair invoice as evidence that the manufacturer made a repair attempt.


Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer?

Although lemon laws are easy to understand from a consumer perspective, protecting your rights can take time and is often confusing. If you need help figuring out where to start, a lemon law attorney can provide legal advice on filing a claim against an automaker.

More importantly, a lemon law attorney will protect your interest against a manufacturer. Most manufacturers are wealthy, which gives them access to the best lawyers in the industry. If you approach a manufacturer without legal representation, they may deceive you into accepting a low settlement offer that barely covers your losses.

Lemon law attorneys have vast legal knowledge and experience, which they will apply to protect your interest in the case.

How Much Does it Cost to Hire a Lemon Law Attorney in California?

Consumers who buy lemon cars may solve the issue with the manufacturer without litigation, trial, or arbitration. However, sometimes things do not go as planned, necessitating the hiring of a lemon law attorney to seek compensation from the manufacturer.

Fortunately, most lemon law attorneys work on a contingency basis, which means they only get paid after obtaining a settlement or verdict on your behalf. Most attorneys charge a contingency fee ranging from 30-40%.

More importantly, California lemon law requires the offending car manufacturers to refund the purchase price and attorney fees and costs.

Does the California Lemon Law Apply to Private Sales?

No. California lemon law protection does not apply to private sales. If you acquire a vehicle from a private seller, exercise caution. California lemon law protects vehicles from authorized dealerships or automakers and with a manufacturer’s new vehicle warranty.

The law doesn’t hold a private seller to the same standards or legal obligations as an auto manufacturer or dealership. Usually, a private seller has no control over the production, quality control, or installation of parts and other roles a manufacturer plays.

Consequently, private sales are sold on an as-is basis, which means you have to fix any issue that arises later with your money. You can minimize the chances of buying a defective vehicle by requesting a mechanic to conduct an inspection.

Does the California Lemon Law Apply to Vehicles Out of Warranty?


Most consumers assume you cannot claim your rights under lemon law once the warranty expires. However, you may still be entitled to a lemon law claim if the defect occurred before the warranty expired.

A vehicle owner gets a right to a refund or replacement if the manufacturer has made a ‘reasonable number’ of attempts to fix the vehicle without success. The consumer may still have a valid claim if the manufacturer made the first attempt before the warranty expired.

In addition, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act allows consumers up to four years to file a lawsuit under California lemon law. Federal law also allows consumers to file a lawsuit within four years of the manufacturer’s breach of warranty date.

How Long Does a Lemon Law Case Take in California?

Every lemon law case is unique, making it challenging to estimate the average time it takes to finalize a claim. Generally, expect to solve the claim within a few months or years. Sometimes, the ball is in the hands of the consumer, who can decide whether to accept or reject a settlement offer.

The duration can also vary based on several factors, including the severity of the defects, the complexity of the case, and the presence of disputes. You could also find a quick solution to the claim if the manufacturer or the dealer is willing to accept responsibility by honoring the refund or replacement.


Need a California Lemon Law Attorney?

If you are dealing with a potential lemon, please reach out to our experienced California lemon law attorneys! Before representing consumers, I handled warranty issues for car manufacturers, so I know both sides in and out. Schedule your free consultation today.

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.