Lemon Laws in California

California lemon laws are designed to protect car owners from damaged vehicles that can’t be fixed after a reasonable number of attempts to do so.
Written by Jason Tushinski
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear
Lemon laws in
exist to protect drivers from faulty or defective vehicles. They cover new, used, pre-owned, and certified cars bought and leased in California, both under warranty and under extended warranty.
Always consult a lawyer before pursuing a claim under California’s lemon laws. These laws are complex and can be costly to engage—lawsuits can drag on for years.
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For everything you need to know about California’s lemon laws, keep reading!
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What is a lemon law?

Lemon laws
are designed to protect consumers from losing money due to a defective or faulty vehicle that can’t be repaired after multiple attempts.
Under California’s lemon law, the manufacturer or your dealer is entitled to several attempts to fix your car’s nagging problem—two attempts to fix a nagging safety issue and four or more tries to fix an ongoing issue that isn’t safety related.
If after multiple attempts the problem isn’t resolved, you may be in a position to pursue compensation or a replacement vehicle from the manufacturer via the state’s lemon law.

Is there a lemon law in California?

Indeed there is. California’s lemon law, also known as the
Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act of 1970
, is among the most rigorous consumer protection laws in the country.

Is my defect covered under the lemon law?

Not all defects are created equal. In California, are car’s safety, value, and use must be seriously impacted to be considered a lemon. Here’s a list of common defects that have been the basis of successful claims under California’s lemon law:
  • Constant or repetitive engine light warnings
  • Steering issues
  • Braking problems
  • Defective windshield wipers or mirror
  • Faulty fuel gauges and speedometer
  • Headlight problems
  • Brake light issues
  • Faulty door locks
  • Stalling issues
  • Broken air conditioning
  • Weakened acceleration
  • Battery repeatedly dying
  • Lurching transmission
  • Shoddy paintwork
Not everything is covered, though. The lemon law in California won’t apply to issues that are merely annoying but don’t affect the car’s operation or safety.
This includes, but is not limited to, issues like wind noise inside the cabin, an air conditioner that works but doesn’t cool the car down as quickly as you’d like, and brakes that squeak but work fine.
Key Takeaway To qualify under California’s lemon law, a car’s defect must be considered serious enough to reasonable outside observation as to impact its safety, use, or value.

Are used cars covered under the lemon law?

So long as your used car has a warranty or extended warranty and was
bought or leased
in California, it is covered under the state’s lemon law.

What about new cars?

New cars bought and sold in California with a written warranty are covered under the state’s lemon law.
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How to pursue your lemon law rights in California

If you’re going to pursue a lemon law case in California, you’ll need to be organized. Make sure you have any invoices and work orders from repairs ready to go, consult a lawyer specializing in lemon law cases, and be prepared to settle the issue out-of-court.

Collect your paperwork

Always keep a record of any repairs (or attempted repairs) made by the dealership or manufacturer. This includes invoices, receipts, and any other paperwork—it will all be helpful if you take legal action and need to prove your case.
Without records, the manufacturer can claim they never made the repairs or weren’t given enough chances to fix the problem.

Consult an attorney

When pursuing a lemon law case, it’s a good idea to consult an attorney with experience in this area. California’s lemon laws are complex and it’s vital to have a steady hand guiding you through the process.
If you’re pursuing a case against a manufacturer, they will have a lawyer (probably more than one!) at their side—so you should have one as well.
One obvious reason to retain a lawyer is so they can handle the intricacies of the legal process for you. Small errors can slow down the process or weaken your case. Having an experienced lawyer to follow and interpret the rules correctly gives your case the best chance to succeed.

Consider your alternatives

Most manufacturers have an informal dispute settlement procedure, or arbitration, in place to help settle any lemon-related issues. This process is usually free and much faster than pursuing a lawsuit, which may take years to resolve. Your lawyer will guide you through the arbitration process.
Key Takeaway Be wary of a lawyer pushing to file a lawsuit immediately, as most lemon issues can be solved out of court with the manufacturer.

Lemon law tips

Here are some tips to keep in mind when thinking about pursuing a lemon law case in California:
  • Lemon laws don’t apply if you modify your car, or if any defective or nagging problem is the result of your own negligence, abuse, or misuse of the vehicle
  • Make sure that all repairs or attempted repairs are made by professionals authorized by the dealer, and ideally done in manufacturer or dealership facilities
  • Be consistent with your terminology—if your car is constantly stalling, be clear that this is the issue, mention it each time you bring the car in for service, and make sure the problem is noted on the work order
  • If your case is successful—whether through the courts or arbitration—and the manufacturer buys back your lemon, you’ll be compensated less any deductions as specified under California’s lemon law
  • If, after consulting with your lawyer, you realize that the state’s lemon laws can’t help you, you may be protected under the Federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act

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