California Lemon Law Overview—
What Can It Do for Me?

Use the Lemon Law in California To Protect Yourself

The California lemon law, like any other state's lemon law, protects you if you purchase a vehicle that does not work properly, even after several repair attempts. These vehicles (and other products that don't work as they should) are called lemons.

What the California State Lemon Law Covers

The proper name of the California lemon law is the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act.

Unlike the law in some states, the California lemon law covers anything mechanical. Cars, trucks, RVs, vans, and basically anything with wheels excluding the little red wagon that you owned as a kid. The law also covers used cars so long as they meet the following criteria:

  • The vehicle was sold to you as a certified used vehicle.

  • The vehicle you purchased is still covered by the manufacturer's new vehicle limited warranty.

In adddition, if you're buying a used car from a licensed dealer, you can buy a two-day sales contract cancellation option. See this California Department of Motor Vehicles page for details (this page also contains other important information—I recommend you review it before buying a used car).

As you can see, California's policy regarding lemons is a lot more flexible than most other states, so if you do have a problem, then you likely will not need to take it to the federal level.

How Do I Know If My Car Is a Lemon?

A lemon is a vehicle that doesn't work or one that spends more time in the repair shop than it does on the road. If you've had your car or truck repaired several times, and it still doesn't work properly, then you have a lemon on your hands.

Number of Repair Attempts

The number of repair attempts that have to be undertaken depends on the seriousness of the problem and how soon after purchase that the first repair was attempted. To quote the California lemon law web page:

What is considered a reasonable number of repair attempts will depend on the circumstances including the seriousness of the defect. For example, one or two repair attempts may be considered reasonable for serious safety defects such as brake failure, depending on the exact situation.

A special provision, often called the "Lemon Law," helps determine what is a reasonable number of repair attempts for problems that substantially impair the use, value, or safety of the vehicle. The "Lemon Law" applies to these problems if they arise during the first 18 months after the consumer received delivery of the vehicle or within the first 18,000 miles on the odometer, whichever occurs first. During the first 18 months or 18,000 miles, the "Lemon Law" presumes that a manufacturer has had a reasonable number of attempts to repair the vehicle if either (1) The same problem results in a condition that is likely to cause death or serious bodily injury if the vehicle is driven and the problem has been subject to repair two or more times by the manufacturer or its agents, and the buyer or lessee has at least once directly notified the manufacturer of the need for the repair of the problem as provided in the warranty or owner's manual or (2) The same problem has been subject to repair four or more times by the manufacturer or its agents and the buyer has at least once directly notified the manufacturer of the need for the repair of the problem as provided in the warranty or owner's manual or (3) The vehicle is out of service because of the repair of any number of problems by the manufacturer or its agents for a cumulative total of more than 30 days since delivery of the vehicle.

The "Lemon Law" presumption is a guide, not an absolute rule. A judge or arbitrator can assume that the manufacturer has had a reasonable number of chances to repair the vehicle if all of the conditions are met. The manufacturer, however, has the right to try to prove that it should have the chance to attempt additional repairs, and the consumer has the right to show that fewer repair attempts are reasonable under the circumstances.

How Much Time Do I Have To Take Action

As soon as you realize that you have a lemon, take action. The sooner you submit a lemon law complaint, the better your chances of receiving the compensation you're looking for. According to the California lemon law, you have thirty days from the date that you realize it's a lemon to take action against the manufacturer and its representative, the dealership where you bought the car.

Since that date is open to dispute by the manufacturer and the dealer, the sooner you start the process, the better.

My Car Is a Lemon—Now What Do I Do?

Go to the dealership and tell them that you consider your vehicle to be a lemon. Tell them what you want, whether it's a replacement or a refund of the cost of the car and all associated expenses (including the repair costs, if any).

If the dealer has done all the repair work to that date, they'll know the condition of the car. They will most likely pass your request along to the manufacturer or ask you to send a registered letter to the manufacturer, who will then make a decision about your lemon law complaint.

If the manufacturer contests your complaint, you will need to take this to the next level. You'll have to contact California lemon law attorneys and file a claim against the company. There are many different lemon law lawyers throughout California. If you want to find one of these, then go online and search for "California lemon law attorney." You'll find lows to choose from!

If you do have to go to court, be sure to have every piece of documentation about your car, including the purchase papers, the warranty, all repair requests, any letters sent to the dealer and/or the manufacturer, and anything else that backs up your claim.

The Outcome

Most times, the manufacturer replaces the vehicle or refunds your money before you get to the lawsuit stage. They don't want the bad publicity. If you do go to court, if you've documented your case, the chances of winning are very good.

Whether you choose a replacement or a refund, the manufacturer has to pay your license fees, registration fees for the lemon vehicle, and any other incidental costs, such as finance charges, towing, rental car costs if the car broke down, and repair charges.

However, the manufacturer can deduct a "usage fee" based on the number of miles you drove the car before reporting the problem the first time, divided by 120,000, times the purchase price (miles driven/120000*purchase price). Another very good reason to report the problem as soon as you notice it.

The Bottom Line

You don't need to be a victim. The California lemon law protects you from having to accept lemon products, whether it's a car, truck, RV or other motorized vehicle. Document everything and you have an excellent chance of getting rid of that lemon.

NOTE:The information here is not legal advice and is only presented to you so you can know your options if you purchased a lemon. As with any legal issue, you should seek the advice of a qualified attorney.


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