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Automobile Lemon Law


Lemon Law


California’s lemon law was created to help consumers rid themselves of their problem vehicles. The issue is that most people don’t know the lemon law exists and more importantly don’t realize that it can help them. That’s because car manufacturers and dealers don’t want consumers to know about it, because it’s so powerful.


Each state has its own version of the lemon law. California’s lemon law falls under the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act. And it is one of the strongest lemon laws in the nation. For far too long, car companies and dealers were allowed to take advantage of innocent consumers and customers. They would sell a vehicle, and when it didn’t work right or had problems or they couldn’t fix it, the customer would be stuck driving a lemon (even though the car had a warranty). After years of seeing honest consumers get the short end of the stick, California’s legislature decided to enact California’s lemon law to provide consumers with the protection they deserve.


Overview - How the lemon law works

California’s lemon law is here to provide consumers with relief when their vehicle suffers from a problem or defect. Car manufacturers sell their vehicles with warranties. You’ve probably seen these warranties advertised on TV. For example: a 3-year/36,000 mile bumper to bumper warranty or a 5-year/60,000 mile powertrain warranty. These warranties are guarantees from the manufacturer that they will stand behind their vehicles and if there is a problem or defect they will repair it. These warranties are not just empty promises, but are binding agreements that a manufacturer must honor. These warranties are the basis for which consumers have lemon law claims.


Does the lemon law apply to new and used vehicles?

The lemon law applies to both new vehicles and used vehicles. There is a great deal of confusion about this. Many people believe that California’s lemon law only applies to used vehicles. They think a lemon is only a vehicle purchased from an unethical or shady used car dealer; this is incorrect. Other people simply believe that the law does not apply to used vehicles because that is what you get when you buy a used car; this is wrong as well. Both new and used cars will and do qualify as lemons under the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act. What is critical is whether the vehicle has a warranty or not.

What is required to qualify as a lemon– a warranty?

For you to be able to use California’s lemon law, your vehicle must have a warranty. This is the basis of the law, because it is the vehicle manufacturers’ warranties which create obligations to you as the consumer. Under the law, if your vehicle is covered by a warranty, the manufacturer must correct problems with your vehicle within a reasonable number of repair attempts or within a reasonable amount of time, otherwise your vehicle will be a lemon.

What is a warranty?

A warranty is essentially a promise or guarantee from the manufacturer to you the consumer. With their warranties, manufacturers promise that they will correct defects in materials and workmanship in your vehicle. This means if your car has a problem, the manufacturer will take care of it and fix it.

What does my warranty cover?

There are different types of warranties. Not all warranties are the same. Each warranty will specify what problems it will specifically cover. You’ve probably heard of terms like: “bumper to bumper warranty” or “powertrain warranty” or “tire warranty”. These all describe different types of warranties that manufacturers provide to you. The two most important are the bumper to bumper warranty and powertrain warranty.

Bumper to Bumper Warranty

This is the broadest and most expansive warranty. As its name suggests, it covers your vehicle from the front bumper to the rear bumper. This means that any problem with your vehicle will be covered by the manufacturer, free of charge to you. If you’ve bought a new vehicle, your vehicle will almost certainly have this warranty. Almost every manufacturer offers this warranty to customers so they can feel confident in their purchase. However, these warranties are never unlimited. Typically they will only be for the first 3 years you own your vehicle or for the first 36,000 miles of your vehicle’s life. This is what it means if you hear the term 3 year/ 36,000 mile warranty. So the warranty is limited by this period of time. Some manufacturers offer longer bumper to bumper warranties, like 4 years/50,000 miles or 5 years/60,000 miles. It just depends on your vehicle manufacturer. Regardless, with the bumper to bumper warranty you are are almost fully covered for the warranty period.    

Powertrain Warranty

After the bumper to bumper warranty, this type of warranty is the second best warranty that car makers offer. This warranty will cover problems with your vehicle’s powertrain. What is the powertrain? These are the vehicle’s systems and components which make the vehicle “drive” or “go”. This warranty will typically cover the vehicle’s engine, transmission and drivetrain. This is significant because these are usually the most expensive systems to repair if you have problems.

The powertrain warranties manufacturers offer will generally be longer than the bumper to bumper warranty. For example: your vehicle may have a 5 year/60,000 mile powertrain warranty or a 10 year/100,000 mile warranty. Again, it depends on the specific vehicle maker. So if you have a 3 year bumper to bumper warranty and a 5 year powertrain warranty, then after 3 years when your bumper to bumper warranty ends, you will have an additional 2 years of coverage for your vehicle’s powertrain. What that means is that if you have a problem with the car’s engine in the 4th year of your ownership, the manufacturer will fix it for free. But if you have a problem with your window during the 4th year of ownership you will be out of luck as your bumper to bumper warranty will have expired. However, at least your vehicle’s most critical components will be covered.   

How long is a warranty good for?

Again, the warranties your manufacturer offers are not generally unlimited. In very rare circumstances, a manufacturer may offer some sort of promotional unlimited warranty; but again it is very rare, because manufacturers don’t want to have to fix your vehicle forever. What is most common is that the warranties they offer will last anywhere from 3 years to 10 years or from 36,000 miles to 100,000 miles. Again, it just depends on your vehicle’s specific warranty.

For example: Let’s say your car has a 3 year/36,000 mile bumper to bumper warranty. This means the car maker will cover any problems that arise within the vehicle during the first 3 years or 36,000 miles driven, which ever comes first. So if you drive your vehicle 36,000 miles in the first year you own it and then in the 13th month you have a problem, it won’t be covered because you’ve already exceeded your mileage limit. Or let’s say you only drive your car infrequently so after 4 years you only have driven 10,000 miles, and then you have a problem. Even though you have low mileage, you won’t be covered because you’ve exceeded the time period of your warranty. From a practical standpoint, it’s important to know what your warranties are. Because if you start having problems and your nearing the end of your warranty you’ll want to take the vehicle in to your dealer before it expires to make sure you’re covered. If you wait, you’ll likely be out of luck.

How does the lemon law work?

So if your car is under warranty, and you have a problem or defect that the manufacturer cannot fix after a reasonable amount of time or within a reasonable number of attempts, you may have a lemon and be entitled to a refund of your money, called a vehicle repurchase, or can get a replacement vehicle. But again the important point is that the vehicle needs to be covered by a warranty. So if you buy a car “as is” with no warranty, you’ll be out of luck. Or if you have problems outside your warranty period, the law generally may not be able to provide you protection.

However, even if your warranty runs out, you may still be in luck. If you have a continuing or ongoing problem that started while your vehicle was in warranty, we may be able to establish that your problem was never corrected to begin with.

For example: You buy a car that has a 5 year powertrain warranty. In year 4 of ownership you start experiencing a jerking transmission and take the car to the dealer. They perform repairs under warranty. But a few months later the problem keeps happening, and again you take the vehicle in to service. The dealer again performs repairs under warranty. But then say a few months later you experience the same problems with your transmission, but now you are outside your 5 year warranty. You take the car to your dealer and they tell you, “sorry, you’re warranty has expired so they won’t cover you.” Does this mean you don’t have a claim? No. You very well still may have a claim. And this is where it is important to have an attorney who knows what they’re doing and understands the law. Because in this situation, we would argue that this is the same ongoing problem that began when your car was under warranty and which was never properly diagnosed or fixed. If it was, the problem would not still be occurring. We would argue that not once, but twice during warranty the vehicle was not fixed and this is just a continuance of the same problem. But this takes an attorney who is not just familiar with the law but who also knows vehicles. This is what we do and what we pride ourselves on. So if you have a similar situation or have any other question about your vehicle or its warranty. Contact us for a free consultation. We should be able to answer your question quickly and explain your rights.

Types of warranties

It is important to note, there are many types of warranties. We have generally been discussing warranties that a vehicle manufacturer offers with their vehicles. Typically when filing a lemon law claim, it is these warranties which will act as the basis of a lemon law claim.

However, car manufacturers are not the only entities that can offer warranties. Often, vehicle dealers will offer their own warranties. These can be offered in conjunction with a manufacturer’s warranty, or they can be offered if there is no manufacturer warranty. For example, you many purchase a vehicle from a used car dealer after all the manufacturer’s warranties have already expired. But the dealer itself may offer its own warranty to you. If the dealer does, then the dealer is obligated to act under the warranty it offered. And if it fails to do so you may very well have claims against it under the Song Beverly Consumer Warranty Act.

Again, these warranties can come in any shape or form. They can cover all of the vehicle or specific components. They can range in any duration. They can be week long, a month long, a year or 10 years. It just depends on what the dealer chooses to offer you. The dealer is not obligated to offer you a warranty. In many instances they will tell you they aren’t offering a warranty and are selling the vehicle “as is”. But if the dealer offers you a warranty, it is required to stand behind it.

Once more, this is why it is critical that you contact us if you have any problems with your vehicle. We are familiar with the different types of warranties that both manufacturers and dealers offer. And we can inform you of your rights free of charge.    

How many chances do the dealer and manufacturer get to repair my car?

In order to have a lemon law claim, your car must have a problem or defect that occurs that is covered by warranty and you must give the manufacturer a reasonable opportunity or chance to fix and correct the defect. So what does that mean practically?

The term “reasonable” is open to interpretation. But it will typically depend on the nature of the problem you are experiencing. The more serious or dangerous the problem is, the fewer changes you have to provide the manufacturer to fix it. The less serious or life threatening the problem is, the more chances you will have to give them to fix the car. For example: If you’re vehicle has a problem with the engine that causes it to stall, that is very substantial, serious and dangerous. If this case, you may only need to take your car in for repair a couple of times. Versus, a problem that causes your radio to malfunction. This would likely require you to give the manufacturer more chances to fix your car. But typically one attempt at repair will not be enough. The law requires the manufacturer have a reasonable chance to fix your car and make it right.

However, California’s Lemon Law does have a provision where if certain criteria are met, it is presumed that you’ve given the manufacturer a reasonable opportunity to fix your car, basically meaning your car is automatically a lemon. This provision applies to cars that are less than 18 months old and which has less than 18,000 miles on the odometer. These conditions are listed under California Civil Code 1793.22(b), but are as follows:

  • If the same nonconformity results in a condition that is likely to cause death or serious bodily injury if the vehicle is driven, you only need to give the manufacturer two attempts to repair the issue.

  • If the same nonconformity keeps occurring, you only have to give the manufacturer four attempts to repair the issue.

  • If your vehicle has been in service at the dealer for a cumulative total of more than 30 days for any repairs. This can apply to different problems and different times in service. But as long as your car is at the dealer a total of more than 30 days, you’re covered.

It is important to have an experienced attorney because this is where a lemon law case can be won or lost. The manufacturers will often argue that they weren’t given a reasonable opportunity to fix your car. However, we are very familiar with various defects and we fight to make the best arguments for our clients whether to the manufacturer, the judge or a jury.


For example: with the defective radio scenario above, it may be argued that this is not such a serious problem. They will say, your radio just cuts out. This is just annoying and a nuisance; it’s not dangerous or subjecting you to serious bodily injury. So they will argue that they should be given lots of chances to fix this issue. However, we will fight to explain why this is actually a dangerous condition. When you drive, you listen to the radio. That’s the one thing we can do while in our cars. Every time the radio cuts off, you have to look down to see what happened. You have to fiddle with it and push the buttons on the console to get it to work right. This is a distraction while your drive and it only takes a second to be distracted and get into an accident. So this problem that seems minor and innocuous, is actually dangerous and subjecting you to serious bodily harm. So you shouldn’t be required to give the manufacturer lots of chances to fix your radio problem. This is how we can help you and how our experience can help your case be successful against the auto manufacturers. Contact us immediately for a free consultation and we’ll walk you thru your situation so you understand your rights.  

Do I have to own my vehicle to have a lemon claim or are leases covered?

All types of vehicle purchases are covered under the law. If you purchase your vehicle and pay for it completely, it is covered. If you finance your vehicle, it is covered. If you lease a vehicle, it is also covered. Many people are under the impression that they must own their vehicle. However, this is simply not the case. If you lease or finance your vehicle, you still have the same rights and protections under the law.

Who is Protected – Are personal and business vehicles covered under the law?

Any person who buys or leases a vehicle in California can use the lemon law as long as the vehicle is purchase for personal or family use. So if you purchase a vehicle under your business or for commercial use, generally the lemon law will not apply. This does not mean that if you buy or lease a vehicle for personal use but use it for work, or to commute to for you are not protected. Generally if the vehicle is not titled or registered under a business, you will have no issue and will be protected. For example: let’s say you purchase a pickup truck and it is registered under your name, but you are a contractor and use it for moving supplies or equipment, you are covered and the law will protect you.


But even if you purchase or lease a vehicle under the name of your business, you may still be able to utilize the lemon law. There is an exception for vehicles purchased by a small business. If your business has 5 or fewer vehicles registered under its name, those vehicles are still covered under California’s lemon law. So in reality it is very likely that your vehicle will be covered.


Even if you purchased or leased a vehicle for business use or purchased it outside of CA, there are still other law state and federal laws that may provide you protection and give you more rights.


This is why it is important to have an experienced attorney who knows the ins and outs of the law. The laws are complex and there are many of them and they are difficult to understand on your own. If you have any questions above your vehicle, feel free to contact us and we can tell you right away if you are covered.  


What are my rights if I have a lemon?

The rights and protections that California’s Lemon Law provides you are the best in the country. If your car is a lemon, you are entitled to have your vehicle repurchased (bought back) from you by the car manufacturer for a refund of your money or you can choose to have the manufacturer provide you with a replacement vehicle. The choice is yours, not the manufacturer’s or the dealer’s. Additionally, if your car is a lemon the manufacturer has to pay for all your attorney fees and costs. So it is a double win for you. You get rid of your problem car and don’t have to pay for it.  

What Defects are Covered Under the Lemon Law?

California’s Lemon Law requires that a manufacturer repurchase a vehicle if it has a defect that “substantially impairs” the vehicle’s “use, value, or safety,” and if the defect cannot bed fixed within a reasonable number of attempts. The range and type of defect are fairly broad. However, what is import is that the defect must “substantially impair”. So what does this mean? Under the law, this an objective standard. So it will be determined by whether a reasonable person would believe the defect’s impact was substantial. It does not matter whether you believe it is substantial or whether the manufacturer believes it is. It is view from the eyes of an objective person. So if it is a defect that might be particularly annoying to you for some reason, and not most other people, it may not qualify as substantial. However, as mentioned there are many defects that will substantially impair a vehicle’s use, value or safety in the eyes of any objective person. Below are many of the common types of defects that are covered under the lemon law. It should be noted that these are not the only defects that are covered, because there are just too many to list.

  • Engine Problems – Shaking, stalling, cutting off

  • Repeated check engine light warnings

  • Brake problems (except for brake noise)

  • Transmission defects – jerking, lunging, shifting problems, rough or grinding gear changes, poor acceleration

  • Light and headlight malfunctions

  • Electrical defects

  • Wiring problems

  • Failing to start

  • Console, radio, navigation, or screen problems and glitches

  • Inoperable air conditioning or heating systems

  • Consistent fluid leaks

  • Key FOB problems

  • Electric vehicle problems – failure to start, doors won’t lock or unlock, system issues

  • Door and truck problems

  • Paint issues

  • Speedometer or gauge defects and malfunctions

  • Steering or pulling problems

  • Autopilot, self driving, and driver assist malfunctions

  • Collision mitigation braking system malfunctions

  • Adaptive cruise control malfunctions

  • Lane keeping sensor malfunctions

  • Camera malfunctions


What if my car’s problem is not covered under the lemon law?

As we’ve mentioned, unfortunately not every problem you experience with your car will make it a lemon and entitle you to a vehicle buyback or replacement from your manufacturer. But this does not mean you are out of luck and without any options. Often times manufacturers and car dealers will offer cash settlements to vehicle owners who experience problems with their vehicles. In such a situation, you would keep your vehicle, but would receive a cash settlement as compensation. The amounts will vary depending on your specific circumstances. So if you are having any problems with your vehicle, contact us for a free consultation. We’ll inform you of your options. If we don’t think your car will qualify as a lemon, we may still be able to fight for you to get cash compensation for the problems you’ve been having. Don’t think you’re out of luck. Let us see how we can help you.


Thank you for submitting your inquiry. A firm member will contact you to follow up shortly after we review your information to see if we can assist you. If you do not receive a response within 48 hours, please call our firm to ensure your message was received. 

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