What to Know About California’s Lemon Law

Feb 15, 2022 by Juan Herrera, Vice President, Dispute Resolution Programs, BBB National Programs

While only about one percent of all new cars purchased in the United States in any given year experience a problem that cannot be fixed, there are occasions when a vehicle might be defective enough to be called a “lemon.”  

What should you do if, unfortunately, you get stuck with one of the lemons? 

In our blog, Lemon Law 101, we provide general information on federal and state laws that require vehicle manufacturers to repair, replace, or refund defective vehicles if they are under warranty. 

As explained, the federal lemon law (known as the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act or “Mag-Moss”) covers all products that come with a written warranty, including vehicles. In addition, it is important to know that each state has its own lemon law. What qualifies as a lemon, and what rights and obligations the consumer and manufacturer have in a dispute, differs from state to state. 

On our website, we provide a snapshot of lemon laws by state. For our largest states, we are taking a deeper dive into those states’ lemon laws and how BBB AUTO LINE can support a consumer in a lemon law dispute. Previously, we looked at the lemon law in Florida. Now we turn our attention to California.

 

What is the California lemon law?

The California lemon law, included within the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act and supplemented by the Tanner Consumer Protection Act (California Civil Code, § 1793.2 et seq.), protects you when your vehicle is defective and cannot be repaired after a reasonable number of attempts. It applies during the duration of the manufacturer’s written warranty, which varies by manufacturer or seller. 

 

What vehicles are covered?

The law covers motor vehicles sold or leased with a manufacturer’s new vehicle written warranty that:

  • Are used or bought for use primarily for personal, family, or household purposes, or
  • Are used or bought primarily for business purposes by any person or business to which at least one, but not more than five motor vehicles, are registered in California. In this case, the vehicle must have a gross vehicle weight under 10,000 pounds.

 

In addition, the motor vehicle must have been:  

  • Purchased or leased at retail in California (not a private sale), or
  • Purchased or leased by a full-time active-duty member of the Armed Forces who was stationed or residing in California at the time of purchase or lease or at the time the claim is filed.

 

It does not cover any portion of a motor home designed, used, or maintained primarily for human habitation; a motorcycle; or a motor vehicle that is not registered under the Vehicle Code because it is to be operated or used exclusively off the highways. 

 

Have BBB AUTO LINE help with your lemon law vehicle dispute without the need for an attorney. Get started.  OR  Learn more about the lemon law in my state.

 

Who is covered under California’s lemon law? 

The California lemon law covers a “consumer” defined as: 

  • Any individual who buys or leases a new motor vehicle from a person engaged in the business of manufacturing, distributing, selling, or leasing new motor vehicles at retail.
  • A lessee for a term exceeding four months.
  • Any individual to whom the vehicle is transferred during the duration of a written warranty or who is entitled under applicable state law to enforce the obligations of the warranty.

 

How do I know if my vehicle is considered a lemon under California’s statute?

Under the California lemon law, the manufacturer, or its representative in California, may be required to repurchase or replace your vehicle if, after a “reasonable” number of repair attempts, it cannot fix a defect or malfunction that: 

  • Is covered by the manufacturer’s written new vehicle warranty,
  • Substantially impairs the use, value, or safety of the vehicle to the consumer, and
  • Is not caused by the unauthorized or unreasonable use of the vehicle after sale.

 

What is considered a “reasonable” number of repair attempts?

While the definition of “reasonable” is not conclusively established in the law, there is a presumption that a reasonable number of repair attempts has been made if, within 18 months of delivery, or 18,000 miles, whichever comes first, one or more of the following occurs: 

  • You have taken the vehicle in for repair by the manufacturer or its agents:
    • Four or more times for the same problem and it still is not fixed, or
    • Two or more times for the same problem, if that problem is big enough to cause death or serious injury, and it still is not fixed, or
  • The vehicle has been out of service for repair for more than 30 days (the 30 days do not need to be in a row), and
  • If required by the warranty or owner’s manual, you notified the manufacturer about the problem.

 

What is the manufacturer’s duty to repurchase or replace a vehicle?

If your vehicle is a lemon, meaning the manufacturer cannot repair the defect, the manufacturer must repurchase or replace it. In this situation, the consumer has the right to choose a refund instead of a replacement vehicle. 

 

How can BBB AUTO LINE help me?

If you have an unresolved dispute involving a defect that is covered by the manufacturer’s original warranty, BBB AUTO LINE may be able to assist you. BBB AUTO LINE is an out-of-court mediation and arbitration dispute resolution process in which many automobile manufacturers participate.

Additionally, BBB AUTO LINE is a certified dispute resolution program under the California lemon law. 

To be eligible for BBB AUTO LINE support, your claim must involve one of our participating manufacturers and fall within the eligibility guidelines set forth by that manufacturer’s program summary. Additional requirements may apply to preserve your rights under California lemon law. 

To learn more about BBB AUTO LINE, or to open a claim:

  1. Go to bbbautoline.org and select “FOR CONSUMERS” to gather more information on the program.  
  2. Complete the form to submit your complaint to BBB AUTO LINE or call 1-800-955-5100.
  3. A BBB AUTO LINE intake specialist will discuss the dispute resolution process with you and take your claim if it is eligible.

 

More information about working with BBB AUTO LINE also can be found in our blog post, “Resolving Lemon Law Disputes.”

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