What Makes a Car a “Lemon”?     

After acquiring your dream car, you look forward to enjoyable days ahead. Unknown to you, it is a lemon case, a regrettable purchase and a source of frustration. 

Generally, a lemon car comes with persistent and substantial defects that affect the vehicle’s safety, value, and use. Vehicle owners who accidentally buy lemon cars endure frequent breakdowns, expensive spare parts, stalling, and safety hazards.   

Fortunately, California lemon laws were enacted to provide oversight and regulation on dealers and manufacturers who sell lemon cars to unsuspecting consumers.

If you’re looking for a solution to a lemon car problem, consider speaking to a knowledgeable California lemon car attorney.

Here’s what you need to know.       

The Dangers of Buying a ‘’Lemon’’ Car

By definition, a lemon car has significant defects affecting the vehicle’s value, use, and safety. A defect that makes a driver or passenger fear for their life qualifies as a safety risk.

That said, a defective vehicle increases the risk of accidents on the road. It also makes it harder to navigate road hazards safely. It’s worth noting that the vehicle’s condition is likely to worsen without the proper diagnosis and repair.

With that in mind, consider seeking help from a dealership for vehicle defects covered by the manufacturer’s new vehicle warranty. If you attempt to solve the defect yourself or take it to an unauthorized repair shop, you risk violating the safeguard available under lemon laws.

Here are a few severe defects that pose safety risks to car owners.

Brake Failure

A lemon car with brake failure poses a safety risk to drivers, passengers, and other road users. It’s impossible to control a vehicle without brakes making it likely to crash into another vehicle, building, or object.

According to a National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey, 2% of all motor vehicle accidents are caused by brake failure. Subsequently, victims suffer severe injuries, including broken bones, burns, spinal cord injuries, and traumatic brain injuries.

The possible causes of brake failure include:

  • Overheating brake pads: A brake pad can overheat from frequent use and become hard and brittle. The hard brake pads don’t easily attach to the rotor disk, which increases the stopping distance required to bring the vehicle to a halt.
  • Hydraulic Fluid Leaks: Hydraulic fluid leaks reduce brake pressure. Once the fluids start leaking, it reduces the brake fluid and introduces air into the brake system. As a result, the vehicle fails to respond or delays after applying pressure on the brakes.
  • Damaged Rotor Disk: A damaged rotor disk will decrease the life of your brake pads and expose you to the danger of accidents.

Defective Airbags

An airbag is a supplemental protection that works hand-in-hand with seatbelts. Generally, cars have frontal and side-impact airbags designed to deploy in severe and moderate crash incidents.

However, because airbags deploy rapidly, it can result in severe or fatal injuries if the driver or passenger is too close. 

Although an airbag is designed to protect vehicle occupants, a defective airbag is a safety risk to vehicle owners. Remember, a defective airbag has design or manufacturer defects that reduce its safety function.

For instance, the Takata defective airbags installed in tens of millions of U.S. vehicles have been subjected to a recall. The recall was issued following multiple complaints from consumers that the airbags would rapidly explode, resulting in severe injury or death.   

Unresponsive Steering

A defective steering wheel can cause a vehicle to lose partial or complete control, leading to fatal accidents. If you’re driving and turn the steering wheel slightly, but your car cruises straight ahead without changing direction, it might have an unresponsive steering wheel.

A vehicle with an unresponsive steering wheel feels very light. It is as if the steering wheel is disconnected from the car and barely changes direction. In addition to the safety risk, it’s annoying and dangerous because you cannot make proper trajectory changes as you want.

Seat Belts

Federal agencies and non-profit firms have multiple campaigns reminding people of the need to wear safety belts. Despite the efforts, a defective seat belt doesn’t offer the much-publicized protection and can cause severe injuries or fatalities.

An accident results in two types of collisions. The first one occurs when the car strikes another vehicle or object. The second type of collision happens when a vehicle occupant collides with the dashboard or another passenger— a seat belt can prevent the second type of collision.      

The safety belt holds the body close to the seat to prevent the body from moving forward during the collision. A seat belt has a three-point safety system that includes a lap, belt, and shoulder strap. It also has a retractor system, an additional safety feature that locks safety-belt movement.

If any of the above features becomes defective, it can harm vehicle occupants.

Causes of Seat Belt Failure

  • Manufacturing defects
  • Assembly errors
  • Defective design
  • Faulty material used to create the seat belt upholstery
  • Faulty latches
  • Accidental retracting of the seat buckle

Injuries That Occur Due to Dysfunctional Seat Belts

A seat belt malfunction can either cause or enhance the severity of an injury. In addition, the vehicle’s speed and type of seat belt malfunction determine the kind of injury. Victims of seat belt malfunction suffer a wide range of injuries, from minor cuts to spinal cord injuries.

Common injuries associated with defective seat belts include head trauma, fractured bones, traumatic brain injuries, paraplegia, and death.

The Available Cure For Safety Defects Under Lemon Laws

If the manufacturer or dealer can’t fix a substantial defect in your vehicle after a reasonable repair attempt, they must either replace it or refund its purchase price. 

More importantly, the lemon law presumption applies the following guidelines on the reasonable number of repair attempts.

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

The Consequences of Purchasing a “Lemon” Car 

Consumers who accidentally buy lemon cars endure a costly and frustrating experience. Simply put, it’s a source of inconvenience, loss of money, and time.

Here’s how a lemon car can prove frustrating.


A car is supposed to save you the time you’d have spent waiting for the metro or an uber. The inefficiencies associated with lemon cars cause a waste of time. A lemon car can take a great deal of your time in two ways; lengthy trips to a mechanic and time spent seeking a refund or replacement. 

Here’s the breakdown:

Prolonged Stay at a Repair Shop

A lemon car will force you to spend extra time at a repair shop due to a shortage of repair parts, hard-to-diagnose problems, and a large queue of vehicles that needs servicing.

An extended stay with the mechanic could translate to further lost time as the owner makes alternative arrangements like car rental or public transportation. 

Seeking a Refund or Replacement

Pursuing a refund or replacement is a time-consuming process that involves several steps. First, you must notify the manufacturer, file a claim, wait for the decision, negotiate the settlement, and, if unsatisfied, take legal action.

The above process, which culminates in a refund or replacement, may take up to six months, a frustrating experience for vehicle owners.

Loss Of Money

A lemon car can bring financial loss to a car owner in the following ways.

  • High Cost of Maintenance: If the manufacturer or dealer persistently fails to repair the vehicle, the owner will use their funds to fix it. Moreover, spare parts for lemon vehicles are rare, making them expensive.
  • Reduced Resale Value: A problematic car has a bad reputation in the market and would prove difficult to sell. Generally, lemon cars have a low demand which translates to reduced resale value and a potential loss.

A Source of Inconvenience

In addition to reduced value and safety, a lemon car brings inconvenience. For instance, if your vehicle has persistent engine defects, it can break down at any point. The frequent stalling leaves you stranded on the road, contribute to missed appointments, or makes you incur unexpected expenses.

You’ll also need to make alternative commuting or travel arrangements. If you opt for public transport, you’ll have to cope with crowded spaces, delays, reduced privacy, and reliability. Alternative travel plans could also disrupt your plans through missed flights, arriving late, or canceling appointments.

Speak to an Experienced California Lemon Law Attorney

It’s almost impossible to plan your day with a lemon car. Lemon vehicles can stall on the highway without notice endangering your life and other road users. With that in mind, you need to work with an experienced California lemon law attorney to find a solution.

At LemonLaw123, we’re highly experienced and knowledgeable in lemon laws which gives us an edge in finding lasting solutions for our clients.     

Contact us online or call us at 657.276.6633 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.