California Lemon Law for Vehicles
Buying a new vehicle is always a mixture of excitement and worry. It’s great to get that new vehicle, but it’s also a big investment, and you want everything to be perfect. We’ve all heard the stories of the ‘Friday afternoon’ car, the one that has constant faults and you can never rely on. They are rare though, and for most of us a vehicle purchase is everything we wanted it to be.
But what happens if you do get a problem vehicle? Many people don’t know, but the California Lemon Law is a comprehensive set of regulations designed specifically to deal with this situation and protect consumers. Lemon Law in California applies to cars, SUVs, vans and trucks, along with the chassis, chassis cab and drivetrain of a motor home, including leased vehicles. It is there to support any consumer who has ongoing issues with a defective vehicle. The statute allows anyone who purchases a Lemon vehicle in California to obtain a replacement vehicle or full refund for the purchase price, along with possible reimbursement for finance charges and other expenses incurred due to the vehicle, such as breakdown recovery and so on.
If you didn’t know about the California Lemon Law, this all will sound great, but as with most things, to take advantage of the Lemon Law in California, you need to know when it applies, how you file a complaint and what you can expect from the process. We want you to understand the right way to approach the California Lemon Law, and avoid making frustrating, and even costly, mistakes.
The requirements for your vehicle to qualify under the California Lemon Law
If you get a problem with your new vehicle it can be incredibly frustrating, but that doesn’t mean you can run out and file for a new car or a refund, not all problems are covered by the Lemon Law in California. There is a reason for this, vehicles have problems, even new ones, if just a single small fault was enough to provide a refund, there would be very few manufacturers left.
Of course, with any new vehicle a problem should be dealt with quickly by the dealer, and expectation is that they solve things within two visits. However, to qualify for the California Lemon Law, the vehicle needs to meet specific requirements.
What makes a Lemon Car in California?
California Lemon Law applies to any car that any of the following applies to within 18 months of delivery or 18,000 miles, whichever comes first:
- There have been two or more attempts to rectify an issue that is likely to cause death or serious injury if the vehicle is driven
- The manufacturer or dealer have made four or more attempts to solve a particular issue under warranty
- The vehicle has been unavailable to use for more than thirty days in total, not necessarily consecutively, when dealing with warranty problems.
- The problems are covered by the warranty and are shown to substantially reduce the vehicle’s use, value, or safety to the consumer and are not caused by abuse of the vehicle
In all cases, the manufacturer or their agent, usually the dealer, must be the only organizations who attempt repairs of the vehicle. IN addition, if the manufacturer’s warranty requires owners to contact them directly before attempting legal resolution, then that must be attempted. Send a letter in writing to the address provided by the warranty.
Proving the California Lemon Law applies
As mentioned earlier, just because there is a problem with a new vehicle, it is not automatically classed as a lemon. The dealer or manufacturer must have attempted to fix the issue four or more times, twice if it is an issue that puts the occupants in danger, or it has been off the road for more than thirty days. Proving this is important, and this is where documentation comes in.
Take notes of everything
The best way to prove the vehicle is a lemon is to keep records of everything that takes place. This includes
- Dates, Names and Content of all phone conversations with the dealer and manufacturer.
- Make sure all service records are complete, insist the dealer includes any conversations in their notes to avoid later problems.
Don’t ignore servicing recommendations
Even if it seems that there is nothing that can be done, keep taking the vehicle to the dealer. The more times it is in for service, the more records, the easier it is to show that the Lemon Law in California is applicable. Unless your attorney says otherwise, keep the servicing going.
Follow the Warranty
All manufacturers are different, but you must read the warranty and make sure you follow the procedures it lays out for you. That generally means only using authorized service centers. Taking the vehicle to a third-party will in most cases void the warranty.
Remedies from the California Lemon law
The statute itself lays out the remedies a consumer is eligible for when successfully winning a case under the Lemon Law in California, these include:
- A replacement Vehicle that must be new and substantially identical to the vehicle replaced
- A refund of the purchase price. The actual price paid for the vehicle, including any charges for transportation and manufacturer-installed options.
- Collateral charges. Official fees associated with the sale of the vehicle, including sales tax, license fees, registration fees and Incidental damages.
- Reasonable expenses incident to the vehicle
problem for which the manufacturer is repurchasing the vehicle, not including
charges for which the consumer is justly responsible. Incidental damages
include but are not limited to the following:
- Reasonable repair, towing and rental car costs actually incurred by the consumer.
- Prepayment penalties, early termination charges and earned finance charges, if actually paid, incurred, or to be incurred by the consumer
California Lemon Law allows for arbitration that can deduct an amount from the refunded price based on vehicle usage.
There are no specific remedies for leased vehicles in the California Lemon Law, however the lessor is usually awarded the pay-off amount that is due to terminate the lease agreement.
Filing a claim on the Lemon Law in California
You have two options for filing a claim under the statute:
Hiring a lawyer
As the Lemon Law in California can be complex, the recommended approach is to hire a lawyer to take on your case. Because you can reclaim legal expenses under the California Lemon Law, it is actually cost effective, as it saves a huge amount of your valuable time during the process.
Because the vehicle manufacturer will contest the case with an expensive legal team, a California Lemon Law expert representing you is the best option for success. In addition, many manufacturers will, when faced with a competent lawyer with a good case, settle, saving you time and hassle.
Your Lawyer will be able to advise on the benefits of taking arbitration and guide you to the best result for your situation.
There is a state arbitration process for the Lemon Law in California that applies to those manufacturers who have agreed to participate. If a consumer elects to use this process, a neutral third party (an arbitrator) will decide whether a reasonable number of repair attempts has been made and what award should be granted to the consumer. These manufacturers have agreed to comply with the arbitrator’s decision, if the consumer accepts it.
The manufacturers that have agreed to the arbitration process can be found at
Dealing with the legal complications, the potential issues of arbitration and being faced with expensive legal teams representing the manufacturer, there are many ways to fail to acquire your just remedies even with a proven lemon vehicle. It is therefore recommended you hire a lawyer to contest the California Lemon Law.