What Types Of Problems Are Covered By The Lemon Law

Owning a lemon is a highly frustrating experience. 

You might think you’ve landed a nice car; unfortunately, you realize you adopted a mechanical drama queen. Whether it’s stalling, frequent breakdowns, or performance issues, a lemon car leaves you with a bitter taste.

Fortunately, California lemon law protects consumers who accidentally buy vehicles with persistent defects that manufacturers cannot fix. Although it’s normal for a car to develop a mechanical issue, some are persistent, highlighting why understanding the covered faults and qualification criteria is essential.

If you’re stuck with a defective vehicle and are unsure about your rights and legal recourse, consider speaking with an experienced California lemon law attorney about your options.


Vehicles Covered Under Lemon Laws

Nissan Pathfinder Lemon Law 123

Lemon law covers new or used vehicles bought in California with the manufacturer’s new warranty. 

Examples of vehicles covered under lemon law include:

  • SUVs, cars, pick-up trucks, vans, and motorcycles
  • Vehicles bought or leased for commercial purposes
  • Cars purchased or leased for personal, household, or family reasons
  • Dealer-owned vehicles and demonstrators
  • Chassis, chassis cab, and drivetrain of a motorhome

If a manufacturer or dealer can’t fix a vehicle defect after a ‘’reasonable number’’ of repair attempts, the manufacturer must either replace the vehicle or refund its buying price.

A vehicle becomes a lemon if it has a substantial defect that impacts its value, use, and safety.


How to Determine a ‘’Reasonable Number’’ of Repair Attempts

In all lemon law claims, a question always arises whether a manufacturer has made enough attempts to fix a persistent defect. A ‘’reasonable number’’ of repair attempts is a highly subjective principle that may set back or delay your lemon law claim.

In addition to protecting consumers, California lemon law requires vehicle owners to notify the manufacturer about a defect and give them enough opportunity to fix it. The lemon law doesn’t expressly state a specific number to satisfy the requirement.

Determining a reasonable window depends on the severity of the matter’s circumstances. Some vehicle defects are severe and require several attempts to make repairs. If the vehicle defect is too severe, the manufacturer may be allowed up to five trials.

If a vehicle defect impacts the safety of a vehicle, the manufacturer is allowed fewer attempts. Despite the severity of the defect, the manufacturer has a short window that rules out the possibility of a defective vehicle spending too much time in a dealership.

Ultimately, no set number determines a ‘’reasonable number’’ of repair attempts; even so, California lemon law presumption contains the following guidelines to determine if a manufacturer has made a ‘’reasonable number’’ of repair attempts:

  • The manufacturer or dealer hasn’t fixed the defect after four or more repair attempts.
  • The vehicle has been in the repair shop for more than 30 days—not necessarily consecutive for a problem covered by warranty.
  • If driven in its faulty state, the vehicle can cause serious bodily injury or death, and the manufacturer has made two unsuccessful repair attempts.

The California lemon law presumption applies if the vehicle has attained 18,000 miles or 18 months, whichever comes first. 

The above guidelines offer a mere direction in determining lemon law claims. The ultimate decision on whether a manufacturer has made a ‘’reasonable number’’ of repair attempts lies with a judge or arbitrator.

Sometimes, a manufacturer may request an extension of the opportunity to fix the defect. If a consumer is not ready for such arguments, they’re likely to lose out on their claims or suffer a delay in their quest for justice.

Working with a lemon law attorney is advisable to protect your interest and counter misleading manufacturer claims.


Substantial Defects Covered by Lemon Laws

A vehicle becomes a lemon if it has a substantial defect that impacts its value, use, and safety— it doesn’t mean the car has to be undrivable; instead, it should significantly affect it.

Here’s how vehicle defects impact vehicles:

Impaired Use of the Vehicle

A vehicle defect that impacts vehicle use makes it less fit for its purpose. For instance, a vehicle with an engine or transmission defect will likely have performance issues. An engine or transmission defect causes a car to experience reduced power, acceleration defects, rough handling, and persistent stalling.

As a result, engine or transmission defects make the vehicle difficult to function correctly, as promised by the manufacturer. If you had bought a pick-up truck to deliver groceries to customers in California, a transmission defect that makes the vehicle undrivable could halt your operations.

Impaired Safety

Any defect that makes the driver and vehicle occupants less secure is considered a lemon. If your car has faults that significantly impact the safety of drivers and other vehicle occupants, you consider pursuing a refund or replacement.

Impaired Value

A significant defect can impact the face value of a vehicle and its attractiveness to potential buyers. 

Here are a few ways defects impair the value of vehicles:

  • Aesthetic Value: Most structural defects have a direct impact on the cosmetics of the vehicle. For instance, a defective latch or mold on the interior makes the car less attractive to buyers, reducing its demand and resale value.
  • Perceived Value: Besides cash value, a vehicle defect may cause the vehicle to lose attractiveness to potential buyers. If your car produces a jerking sound due to a transmission defect, it may be a source of embarrassment because you hate it every time you drive it.
  • Poor Perception: Word spreads quickly for vehicles with persistent defects in the marketplace. Despite your efforts to fix it, it becomes challenging to sell the car because most potential buyers are not willing to invest their money in a defective unit.

Although lemon laws cover many vehicle defects, there are exceptions, including:

  • Defects Due to Owner Negligence: Besides protecting consumers, lemon laws require vehicle owners to maintain their vehicles according to manufacturers’ specifications. For instance, a manufacturer may need a vehicle owner to change engine oil every 10,000 miles. The owner cannot enjoy lemon law protection if an engine defect occurs because of a failure to change the engine oil.
  • Defects Caused By Accidents: Some defects arise because a vehicle was involved in an accident—despite complete repairs, the car still develops a problem. Unfortunately, lemon laws don’t shield consumers from vehicle defects caused by accidents.
  • Defect Caused By Unauthorized Repairs or Alterations: According to the manufacturer warranty terms, a vehicle owner should seek warranty repairs from an authorized dealer. You could void warranty terms and lemon law protection if you attempt to make repairs through’ Do it Yourself’ or from an independent repair shop.


Typical Vehicle Problems Eligible for Lemon Law Coverage

Defective Airbags


The role of an airbag is to reduce the probability of your head or upper body striking the car interior in case of a crash. It also increases the cushion around the neck, head, and spine. In case of a collision, it decreases the risk of ejection for car occupants.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, frontal airbags reduce driver deaths in frontal crashes by 29%. Side airbags, on the other hand, reduce the risk of driver’s death in side crashes by 37%.

Although airbags are lifesavers, it’s very hazardous if they fail or deploy improperly. Most airbags deploy at 200 miles per hour, which can be faster —for defective airbags. If it makes a forceful impact on the body instead of offering cushion, it can cause different types of injuries.

Some of the injuries associated with airbag deployment include:

  • Chest injuries
  • Facial injuries
  • Burn Injuries
  • Internal Injuries
  • Neck and back injuries

The common complaints associated with defective airbags include failure to deploy, errors in the airbag dashboard light, and airbag deployment without impact.

There are various causes of defective airbags—for instance, the Takata airbag recalls affecting millions of cars. According to its recall notice, high heat and humidity exposure may cause the airbags to explode upon deployment.

If your vehicle has a defective airbag that compromises your safety, you might be eligible for a refund or replacement under lemon laws.

Defective Transmission

Transmission is the mechanism that conducts power from the engine to the wheels. For a better understanding of the role of transmission, here are a few signs of a defective transmission:

  • Slipping Gears: It is an alarming and scary experience if the gears slip while driving. Slipping gears may mean the inability to change gears quickly or smoothly, failure to accelerate as intended, or changing gears unexpectedly.
  • Burning Smell: A burning smell is an urgent warning of a defective transmission. When your transmission has a problem, a burning smell comes from inside the car or under the hood while driving. An overheating transmission may cause a burning smell, especially when there is an issue with your engine coolant or if the transmission fluid is too old or filled with debris.
  • Grinding and Shaking: Your vehicle is likely to grind, shake, or jerk if it has an issue with the transmission. If you drive a car with a manual transmission, the gears will likely grind as you change gears. The cause of grinding or shaking includes severely slipping gears, worn-out transmission, or low transmission fluid.
  • Leaking Fluid: A leaking transmission fluid is an easy way to identify a transmission issue with your vehicle. A leaking transmission fluid resembles a red-sweet-smelling oil underneath your garage or parking lot.

While problems such as jerking or slipping gears are not ideal, a defective transmission can trigger other issues, including a slipping gear. Further, a faulty transmission makes it difficult to enjoy a smooth ride with your vehicle, impacting its functionality, value, and safety.

Defective Seat Belts

A seat belt is a crucial safety feature that protects vehicle occupants from injuries in an accident. According to NHTSA records, seatbelts saved approximately 15,000 lives and could have saved 2500 more in a recent year if they had worn seat belts.

Below are a few benefits of seat belts:

  • Secure the Position of a Vehicle Occupant: If the vehicle begins to skid or spin, a seat belt holds you in a fixed position as you try to control the car. Drivers who have not buckled up are likely to lose control of the vehicle and crash.
  • Distributes Impact: When wearing a seat belt, the impact of an accident is distributed to the strongest part of the body. It is less likely to cause an injury than your impact on your head, chest, and abdomen, which is most potent when you don’t have a belt.
  • Prevents Ejection: Vehicle occupants are likely to die or sustain severe injuries if ejected during a crash. A seat belt holds you in position during an impact, increasing your odds of survival.

Although a seatbelt is a primary safety device, if it fails, it can cause injuries such as decapitation, paralysis, strangulation, and liver lacerations. Causes of seatbelt failure include faulty material, manufacturing errors, or poor design.

Automakers should be liable for accidents and fatalities linked to a defective seatbelt. More importantly, you may be entitled to a refund or a replacement if your vehicle has a bad seat belt that the manufacturer cannot fix after a ‘’reasonable number’’ of repair attempts.

Power Steering Loss

Power steering is an important feature when driving a modern vehicle. It makes it easy and safer to navigate your vehicle. It also helps you to quickly swerve and avoid obstacles on the road, such as animals, cars, and pedestrians.

If the power steering has a defect, it compromises the vehicle’s safety and agility.  It is an important safety feature that can prevent you from being involved in a potentially fatal accident.

Signs of a defective power steering include:

  • Excessive Play in Steering Wheel: If the steering wheel has a defect, you can move the wheel in any direction, and the vehicle fails to respond. Causes of excessive play in the steering wheel include worn tie rods or a loose steering rack.
  • The Vehicle Wanders to One Side: If the vehicle pulls to the left or right involuntarily, that signals defective power steering. Speak to your dealer or mechanic to rule out other causes, such as low tire pressure, faulty brake calipers, or poor wheel alignment.
  • Whining Noise as You Turn the Wheel: If you notice a whining noise as you change lanes or turn the wheel, something could be wrong with the power steering. A whining noise may occur due to a low steering fluid, significantly impacting your power steering.

If your vehicle has a defective power steering, you can’t rely on keeping you safe on the road. If the car is under warranty and the manufacturer has failed to fix it, consider filing for a refund or replacement under California lemon laws.

Defective Service Brakes

A functional brake is crucial in keeping the driver, passengers, and other road users safe. When the brakes are fit, they increase your ability to stop in an emergency and safely navigate obstacles.

On the contrary, defective brakes increase the vehicle stopping distance and the likelihood of being involved in an accident. 

Here are the warning signs of defective service brakes:

  • The brake Light Comes On: The Antilock Braking System(ABS) light will illuminate if your braking system has an issue. Take the vehicle to the dealership to avoid compromising your safety as soon as you notice the light.
  • Grinding Noises: You’ll notice grinding noises if the brake pads are worn-out beyond their useful life. Grinding noise results from metal-metal impact, so the rotors have begun to wear out.
  • Leaking Fluid: You may also notice leaking brake fluid that is light yellow to brownish and slippery to touch. A leaking fluid signifies that the vehicle master cylinder needs replacement.
  • Soft or Spongy Brake Pedal: Your brakes may have a problem if they are soft, spongy, or goes all the way to the floor after applying force. It may indicate the presence of moisture in the brakes or a need to change the master cylinder.
  • Vibrations When Braking: Warped rotors can cause a shaking effect on the steering wheel or vibrations when braking. If the rotors are uneven or warped, they interfere with the braking system causing vibrations.

Driving a vehicle with faulty brakes is virtually impossible and a safety hazard. Fortunately, if your car has defective service brakes, you may be entitled to a refund or replacement under lemon laws.

Defective Headlights

The primary role of a headlight is to illuminate the road and facilitate fatigue-free and safe driving. Headlights also make it possible to drive in low visibility conditions, including foggy weather, during rains, and at night.

Unfortunately, headlights develop issues making navigating obstacles on the road challenging. Defective headlights also increase the risk of collision incidents. Similarly, if you drive with a faulty headlight, you pose a safety risk to other drivers.

Here are the common headlight defects:

  • Both Headlights Not Working: When both headlights are not working, the likely cause includes a wiring fault, faulty fuse, dimmer switch, or headlight relay.
  • Headlights Look Dull: There are various causes of dull headlights, including oxidation, which makes the headlight have a disgusting yellow color. Although oxidation can originate from exposure to sun rays, manufacturer defects are also to blame.
  • Flickering Headlights: A flickering headlight has the same effect when one or two headlights are not working. Causes of flickering headlights include internal wiring issues or high power-consuming accessories.
  • Poor Beam Strength: It doesn’t help your visibility if the headlight works with poor beam strength. Poor beam strength impedes your visibility at night or in challenging weather conditions.

Many headlight issues are minor; some are substantial and persistent. If the manufacturer fails to fix a headlight defect, you may be entitled to a refund or replacement under lemon laws.

Engine Defects

The engine is the heart of the vehicle that converts burning fuel into energy which propels a vehicle. An engine defect substantially impacts the car more than most components. 

Here are the signs of a defective engine:

  • Loss of Power: A gas-powered engine converts fuel into combustion energy that propels a vehicle forward. If your car has lost power, it might stall, struggle uphill, or jerk at high speed. Some possible causes of engine power loss include clogged fuel filters, faulty spark plugs, malfunctioning sensors, faulty ignition coil, and a faulty fuel pump.
  • Reduced Fuel Economy: An engine defect can suddenly cause your vehicle to consume more fuel than usual. Although there are several reasons behind reduced fuel economy, a defective engine could be behind it. Possible causes of reduced fuel economy include misfiring spark plugs, faulty fuel injectors, and a bad oxygen sensor.
  • Engine Runs Roughly or Inconsistently: A defective engine will struggle and produce an inconsistent sound. If it has a faulty ignition coil, it will often stall, stutter, or lose power as revolutions increase.
  • Check Engine Light: Check engine light is the most obvious sign that your engine has a problem. It is always advisable to have your vehicle checked by a mechanic regardless if it’s moving or not.  A mechanic can run a diagnostic scan through the vehicle’s computer system to understand the issue. A check engine light may come on if the oxygen sensor needs replacement, damaged or worn-out spark plugs, or a defective mass air flow sensor.
  • Overheating: The engine may be overheating if smoke or steam comes under the car’s hood. You could also notice a strange smell coming from the engine. Typical reasons behind an overheating engine include a clogged coolant hose, a faulty radiator fan, or a warped cylinder.

Let Us Help You Pursue a Refund or Replacement

Owning a vehicle with a persistent engine defect significantly impacts your business or personal life. If you had scheduled an early meeting with a client, the engine would overheat, causing a delay likely to cost you a deal.

With that in mind, you deserve an experienced and knowledgeable attorney to aggressively represent your interest in a lemon law claim.

At Lemonlaw123, our lead attorney Valerie. G.Campbell has a 99% success rate, which gives us the confidence to take on your case.

Contact us online or call us at 657.529.5239 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.