What to Know About California’s Lemon Law

Jun 10, 2024 by BBB AUTO LINE

Buying a new car should be exciting, not stressful. As consumers approach the decision-making process, they are doing their research and the fear of ending up with a “lemon” – a car that’s more trouble than it’s worth – is on the rise. While purchasing a car with unfixable defects is uncommon, it is important to know what to do if you face persistent issues and suspect your car is a lemon. 

Fortunately, both federal and state laws exist to protect consumers by requiring car manufacturers to repair, replace, or refund defective vehicles if they are under warranty. At the federal level, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act covers all products with a written warranty, including cars. In addition to national protection, each state enforces its own lemon law, which outlines the criteria for a vehicle to be considered a lemon and the rights and obligations consumers and manufacturers have during a dispute. 

Like many large states, California adopts a unique stance on protecting consumers saddled with defective vehicles. This article unpacks the specifics of California’s Lemon Law, guiding you through the information you need to deal with your lemon issues effectively. 

Before outlining what you should know about California’s Lemon Law, learning the basics can be helpful. For an in-depth look at lemon laws, check out our Lemon Law 101 article.

 

What is the California Lemon Law?

In California, you’re protected if your car is defective and can’t be repaired after a reasonable number of attempts. Included within the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, California’s Lemon Law applies during the duration of the manufacturer’s written warranty, which can vary by manufacturer or seller. 

The bottom line is if your car has a significant unresolved issue, the manufacturer must repair it, replace it, or give you your money back. 

 

What does the California Lemon Law cover?

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

  • Used primarily for personal, family, or household purposes, or
  • Used or bought primarily for business purposes (with a weight under 10,000 pounds)
  • Purchased or leased at retail in California (not a private sale) or
  • Purchased or leased by a full-time active-duty military member residing in California at the time of purchase/lease or when the claim is filed.

 

Note: Motorcycles, motorhomes, and off-highway vehicles are not covered.

 

Learn more about disputing your lemon vehicle in another state. Ready to file a claim? Get started with BBB AUTO LINE.

 

Who is covered under California’s Lemon Law?

The California lemon law covers you if:

  • You bought or leased the new car from a manufacturer at retail (no private sales)
  • You leased the vehicle for more than four months
  • The car was transferred to you during the duration of the written warranty

 

How do I know if my car is considered a lemon in California?

Determining if your car is a lemon involves checking if it meets the criteria set by California law, including:

  • Your car is still covered by the manufacturer’s written new vehicle warranty
  • The car’s defects impact its use, value, or safety
  • The manufacturer has made a number of reasonable repair attempts without successfully repairing the defect

 

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

While there is no set definition, a ‘reasonable number of attempts’ to fix a vehicle under California’s Lemon Law is generally interpreted to mean the following, provided the following conditions are met within the first 18 months or 18,000 miles, whichever occurs first: 

  • You have brought the car in for repairs: four or more times for the same unresolved issue or at least twice for a problem that could cause death or serious injury, and the problem remains unresolved; or
  • The car has been out of service due to repairs for more than 30 days (not necessarily in a row), and
  • You have notified the manufacturer about the ongoing problem.

 

What are my options if my car is considered a lemon in California?

If your car is deemed a lemon in California, you are entitled to two options from the manufacturer: they must either offer to repurchase the vehicle or replace it. In this situation, you have the right to choose a refund instead of a replacement, giving you control over the outcome. 

 

How BBB AUTO LINE Can Help 

For disputes involving a defective car under the original warranty, BBB AUTO LINE offers mediation and arbitration, helping resolve issues without the need for legal action. As a certified program under California’s Lemon Law, we support you through the process and ensure efficient handling of your case. 

For your claim to be eligible for BBB AUTO LINE support, it must involve one of our participating manufacturers and fall within their eligibility guidelines. Additional requirements may also apply. 

 

Ready to open a claim?

  1. Go to bbbautoline.org to get 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 contact you to discuss the dispute resolution process and take your claim if it is eligible.

 

While buying a new car should be exciting, being informed is your best defense against winding up with a lemon. You can confidently handle the process by understanding California’s Lemon Law and available resources, like BBB AUTO LINE.

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