What Makes a Car Qualify as a Lemon?

Imagine spending your hard-earned money on a new car, only to find it’s a lemon.   

Lemons usually come as a surprise. You’ll be cruising perfectly on the highway, then boom, the car starts to jerk as you accelerate, refuses to engage a higher gear, or suddenly stalls. 

As these symptoms become common, it affects your plans. For instance, making long interstate drives during the weekend with your jeep becomes impossible. Instead of using the weekend to unwind following a long week, the vehicle forces you to spend time at the mechanic making repairs.

Worse still, the frequent repairs and the need to buy spare parts are sources of unexpected expenditure. 

To that end, knowing what qualifies as a lemon is a great starting point for dealing with the frustrating experience. 

If you accidentally bought a lemon car, consider asking a California Lemon Law attorney for advice on your legal options. Among other benefits, a lemon law attorney can help you to create a strong case against a dealer or manufacturer.

The Criteria for Determining a Lemon

The two main criteria for determining a lemon car are significant defects and the number of repair attempts.

Significant Defects

A substantial defect is a crucial malfunction, e.g., brakes or a steering wheel, that impairs the vehicle’s value, use, and safety. A minor defect like a loose radio knob or slight body scratch does not qualify as a substantial defect under lemon laws.

Appearance or size is not central to defining minor and significant defects. For instance, a minor issue like a lingering foul odor can be classified as a substantial defect because it impacts the vehicle’s value and occupants’ safety.   

Here is a breakdown of significant defects that affects a vehicle’s value, use, and safety:

Defects That Impair Vehicle’s Safety

A vehicle defect impairs vehicle safety if it threatens the well-being of passengers, drivers, pedestrians, and other road users. Significant defects that impair vehicle safety can cause dire consequences, including injuries and fatalities.

Here are examples of defects that impact vehicle safety:

  • Brake Failure: Brake failure can occur due to manufacturing design defects, wear and tear, and poor craft by mechanics. Symptoms of design defects include breaks that are susceptible to overheating, anti-lock braking systems that fail, or missing brake pads. Unfortunately, brake failure eliminates the driver’s inability to avoid road hazards leading to injuries and fatalities.   
  • Electrical Defects: Electrical systems are a vital component that feeds power to other vehicle elements. An electrical malfunction can occur due to defective battery cables, worn-out fusible links, loose spark plugs, or problematic alternators. Unfortunately, electrical defects can cause failure in crucial components such as airbags, seat belts, or headlights, components that form protection during accidents.         
  • Fuel System Defects: Fuel system defects can occur due to leaks, defective fuel pumps, or faulty fuel lines. These defects can trigger catastrophic consequences such as fire and explosion, which can cause severe burns or death.

Defects That Impair the Value of the Vehicle

A significant defect can impact the value of a vehicle in several ways. 

Here’s a breakdown:

  • Owner’s Perspective: The vehicle defect doesn’t have to cause a loss of cash value; a change in perspective has an impact. For instance, a defective sunroof allows moisture in the car resulting in mold growth. Consequently, you feel embarrassed driving your brand-new vehicle as it has lost value and can’t serve the intended purpose. Despite the ease of fixing the defect, the car has lost its worth in your eyes.      
  • Increased Maintenance Cost: Vehicle defects such as airbags, engine failure, or electrical problems may keep recurring, increasing the cost of repairing and maintaining the vehicle. If you’re looking to sell the car, the high cost of vehicle maintenance will put off potential buyers.
  • Reduced Resale Value: Defects such as problematic acceleration, frequent stalling, paint defects, or engine failure can significantly reduce the vehicle’s resale value.

Defects that Impair Vehicle Use

A defect doesn’t have to make the vehicle undrivable; however, it must somehow impair its use. For instance, if the vehicle owner bought an SUV to facilitate meet-ups with current and potential clients.

However, an acceleration defect has resulted in constant stalling, surging, hesitation, and jerking. These annoying symptoms make the vehicle unreliable as it only reaches a destination by good luck.

Although the vehicle owner can sometimes finish a trip, it is a game of odds. The vehicle’s unreliability explains the impaired use.

Significant Defects Not Covered By Lemon Laws

Here’s a list of significant defects not covered by California lemon laws.

  • Defects Caused by accidents: A vehicle could still develop other problems despite the repairs after a car accident. Usually, a new vehicle warranty covers engine defects; however, if the problems occur because of the accident, it’s not covered.
  • Defects Due to An-authorized Repair or Alterations: As long as the warranty is active, it’s advisable to seek repair from an official dealer. You could void the warranty terms if you try to make the repairs by yourself or when seeking help from your local mechanic.
  • Defects Caused by Owner Negligence: California lemon laws don’t offer protection to vehicles that sustain defects due to improper care, abuse, or lack of maintenance by the owner.

Number of Repair Attempts

According to California Lemon Law Presumption, consumers should give manufacturers or dealers a reasonable time to fix the defects. Depending on the severity of the malfunction, a manufacturer can be allowed at least two repair attempts.

In addition, a vehicle can qualify as a lemon if it spends more than 30 days in the repair shop. Some lemon cases are easy to process, with others proving challenging. However, cases that are backed with strong evidence sail through with ease.

Therefore, once you notice a potential lemon car, keep vital records.

Here are a few records that can prove the number of repair attempts:

  • Repair Orders: A repair order is the acknowledgment document that the manufacturer or dealer gives you after dropping off the vehicle for repairs. Ensure it captures critical details such as the vehicle’s defect, the date, and mileage. The repair order should only reflect warranty repairs. If the dealer has tried to solve the problem before without success, make that information noted down.
  • Repair Invoice: The dealer or manufacturer will give you a repair invoice after picking up your vehicle. It captures the description of the defects, completed repairs, date, mileage, and cost of repairs. Even if the warranty covers the repair bill, ensure the dealer gives you the invoice.
  • Timeline and Notes: The number of repair attempts and time spent in the repair shop are directly related. They also boost the strength of your case. Therefore, record appointments, time spent in the garage, and periods you could not use the vehicle. It’s also helpful to keep notes of any repair-related interactions with the dealer where you did not generate a document. 

Understanding the Legal Definition of a Lemon Car

A lemon car is a term used to describe vehicles with significant defects that affect their value, use, and safety. In a nutshell, lemon cars are troublesome vehicles whose defects are traceable to the actions of a manufacturer or dealer. 

Fortunately, lemon laws in all states, including California, protect consumers who unknowingly buy defective vehicles.

Every vehicle bought from a manufacturer or dealer comes with a warranty, giving consumers peace of mind if something develops within the stipulated time. However, for various reasons, a manufacturer may fail to fulfill the promise,  an action that invokes California lemon laws.

Remember, the manufacturer’s new vehicle warranty promises to repair a vehicle at no cost. 

Here’s how California lemon law offers protection to vehicle owners.

If the manufacturer or dealer fails to repair a vehicle with significant defects after ‘’ a reasonable number of attempts,’’ the manufacturer must either replace or repair the car.

California lemon law Presumption  offers further guidelines on ‘’reasonable number of attempts’’ as follows;

  • The manufacturer should have failed to fix the defect after four or more attempts.
  • The vehicle defect could cause death or severe injury if driven in its state.
  • The vehicle has been in the repair shop for over 30 days— not necessarily consecutive.

Vehicles That Qualify as Lemon Cars

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

Examples of such vehicles include:

  • SUVs, cars, trucks, vans, travel trailers, and pick-ups
  • Demonstrators and dealer-owned vehicles
  • Vehicles bought or leased for business errands
  • Vehicles purchased or hired for personal, household, or family purposes
  • Motor homes which include chassis, drive train, and chassis cab 

Speak to an Experienced California Lemon Law Attorney

Owning a lemon car is a frustrating experience. You’ll have to cope with frequent breakdowns, expensive spare parts, and disruption of plans. That said, consider working with an experienced attorney to pursue a refund or replacement.

At LemonLaw123, our experienced attorneys have an impressive success rate, giving us the confidence to pursue dealers and manufacturers.

Contact us online or call us at 657.300.5329 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.

Do You Have A Lemon?

Free Case Review
  • Free Case Review
  • Have you had multiple repair attempts?
  • Did the problem start in the first 60,000 miles?

did you purchase the vehicle in CA?(Required)
is your vehicle a 2017 or newer?(Required)
did your problems start in the first 60,000 miles?(Required)
have you taken your vehicle to the dealer at least 2 times, or for one visit that lasted over a month?(Required)

* By clicking submit below, you authorize us to reach out to you by phone, text, and/or email.

"Pleased with the Service"

Happy to hear from you. I was very pleased with the service you provided. I couldn’t be happier. The timing was excellent. I retired June 1st and didn’t really need the car anymore. I didn’t go out and buy another car. I decided to hang on to my money for a while.


“Great Help and Great Service”

Valerie did a fantastic job handling my lawsuit. She was in constant contact with me, she was honest and kept me informed every step of the way. I appreciate her great help and her great service and I would definitely use her again and recommend her to anybody out there that needs help.


"Beyond Satisfied"

I am beyond satisfied. After being told that I did not have a case by other attorneys, I was referred to Ms. Campbell and I am so glad I called her. During the initial consultation, Ms. Campbell was very thorough and answered all of my concerns. She assured me that this was not an overnight fix, however, it took less than three (3) months to resolve. Ms. Campbell was available every step of the way. I rarely called or emailed her because she always kept me in the loop. Every case is different but I am glad mine was quick and painless. I would recommend LemonLaw123 to anyone without any reservations. I could not have asked for better representation. Thank you!!!!


"100% Recommended"

I would 100% recommend LemonLaw123 to anyone without any reservations. Valerie made the process easy and headache-free. She was available every step to the way. Just a phone call or text away, ready to answer any question I had. I could not have asked for better representation. Thank you


"Amazing Attorney"

Valerie C. is an amazing attorney who is extremely experienced in the area of Lemon Law. As a fellow attorney, she earned my respect as an experienced litigator who never settled for anything less than the best for her clients. I recommend Lemon Law 123 to my family and friends as I know she will give them the care, attention, and legal expertise every client deserves. You will get the best results with the Lemon Law 123 team.



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.