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 a lawyer who handles lemon law claims.

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. 

Does Your Vehicle Fall Under the 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. 

When a Car Becomes a “Lemon” 

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. 

Need an Anaheim Lemon Law Attorney?  

If you are dealing with a potential lemon, please reach out to me, the Lemon Law Lady! Before representing consumers, I handled warranty issues for car manufacturers, so I know both sides in and out. Schedule your free consultation today.

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