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

Decisive California Lemon Law Attorney

defective vehicleHaving a defective vehicle can significantly affect your life, from making it more difficult to get around, to hurting your wallet to putting your safety on the line. When you bought your car from the dealership, you assumed that you were buying a safe and functioning car, but in far too many instances, this is not the case. When a manufacturer sells you a defective vehicle, they have responsibilities outlined in the warranty that protect you, the consumer. It is vital that you know your rights as a consumer as well as their responsibilities as a manufacturer.

You may be generally aware of what a lemon law means: if you are sold a car with persistent problems, and you did not create these problems, you deserve either a replacement car or a refund of your money. However, there are many more details and requirements than that in California’s lemon laws. In this post, we will give you a point-by-point overview of how California defines lemons and which lemons are eligible for a refund or a replacement under state law.

When is a Vehicle a Lemon?

A good indicator that a vehicle is considered a lemon under California’s Lemon Law is when the vehicle is in the repair shop more than with the vehicle’s owner. In general, California’s Lemon Law protects consumers who have purchased a vehicle that experiences problems covered under the warranty, but the manufacturer, or its agent, cannot fix the problems. A vehicle suffering from a material defect or defects that remains unrepaired even after a reasonable number of repair attempts is considered a lemon under the lemon law.

Most types of vehicles can be considered a lemon in California if they have significant defects, including:

  • Cars.
  • Trucks and pickup trucks (under 10,000 pounds).
  • Motorhomes and RVs/Recreational Vehicles (but not trailers that are not motorized)
  • Motorcycles.
  • Boats.
  • All-terrain vehicles, such as four wheelers, that have been registered under the California Vehicle Code.
  • SUVs/Sports Utility Vehicles.
  • Business cars and trucks (as long as your business does not have more than 5 vehicles registered under its name).

What is a Material Defect or Nonconformity?

A material defect, or nonconformity, is defined under Section 1793.22(e)(1) of the California Civil Code. The material defect is labeled as a nonconformity because a material defect under California’s Lemon Law is considered one that fails to conform to the guarantees of the express warranty provided at the time of purchase.

Nonconformity under California’s Lemon Law is a defect that substantially impairs the use, value or safety of a new motor vehicle. The nonconformity and the impact on the use, value or safety of the vehicle are looked at from the consumer’s, the buyer, or the lessee’s, point of view.

It’s important to note what use, value and safety mean:

  • Use. If the defect does not allow you to use the vehicle as it was intended, it’s use is affected. This could be true if there is a problem with the engine as well as if there is a problem with the driver’s side seat.
  • Value. If a defect renders the car to be worth less than if it did not have the defect, it’s value has been affected. For example, if your car makes a loud rattling noise, it would be harder to sell and you would likely have to ask less than the accepted price of a non-dysfunctional vehicle.
  • Safety. Many defects can compromise the safety of a vehicle, such as a defect with the brake system or a defect with the seatbelts. Do not drive your lemon if your safety is being compromised.

The Timeline of a Lemon

If a vehicle is experiencing a problem covered under the express written warranty, it should be taken to the manufacturer or an authorized dealer to perform the necessary repairs. Following the repair, the consumer will receive a repair order showing the problem described by the consumer, the mileage on the odometer at the time of the repair, the date the vehicle was in the repair shop and the date the vehicle was returned to the consumer. As a consumer, all repair orders and receipts should be kept with the vehicle records as evidence that a reasonable number of repair attempts have been made. The manufacturer or authorized dealer must be given an adequate opportunity to perform all repairs necessary to conform the vehicle to the express written warranty. If, after a reasonable number of repair attempts have been made, the vehicle continues nonconformity to the warranty, the dealer and manufacturer should be notified.

How California Judges Decide Lemon Law Cases

A judge will make the final determination as to whether a vehicle is considered a lemon under California’s Lemon Law. It is possible that a judge may determine that a vehicle is not a lemon even if the vehicle experiences a material defect covered under the express written warranty, was presented to the manufacturer or its agent for a reasonable number of repair attempts and the vehicle remains defected. The judge or arbitrator must still determine whether the material defect substantially impairs the use, value or safety of the vehicle, whether the defect was caused by abuse by the consumer or unreasonable use by the consumer and whether the manufacturer or its agent has had a reasonable number of attempts to fix the material defect.

The judge will consider the following questions while reviewing a lemon case:

  • Does the vehicle fit the definition of a new motor vehicle?
  • Has the vehicle been registered under the California vehicle code?
  • Is the vehicle currently covered by an express warranty?
  • Did the vehicle suffer the abuse of its owner, and did the abuse possibly cause the defect?
  • Does the defect fit the definition of a nonconformity under the law?
  • Was the vehicle properly maintained by its owner, according to its warranty?
  • Is the vehicle owned for personal use or for a business?
  • Has the vehicle been customized in any way, or contain any aftermarket parts?
  • Are the defective parts covered under the terms of the warranty?
  • Do the defects affect the use, value, or safety of the vehicle?
  • Does the vehicle weigh less than 10,000 pounds?
  • Did the manufacturer make a reasonable amount of attempts to fix the vehicle?
  • How much time has the vehicle spent in repair shops? Did the repair shop do a reasonable job trying to fix the vehicle?

Schedule A Meeting With Doug D. Law Today To Find Out More About Your Potential Case

The single best way to know if you have a lemon on your hands is to talk to an experienced, knowledgeable California Lemon Law attorney about your case. Doug D. Law has 30 years of experience practicing law and has handled hundreds of Lemon Law cases throughout his career. He and his team are committed to helping California residents get justice after purchasing a lemon, whether they are refunded for their vehicle or get their vehicle replaced.

We offer our clients free, private consultations where you can meet our team, tell your story, and find out what your best options are for legal action. If you decide to hire us, you won’t pay a penny unless you win your case. Contact us today to find out if you have a claim. We will assess your situation and vehicle purchase to determine if your vehicle is considered a lemon under the law.

What Our Clients Say


"Doug and Kristen were invaluable in getting GM to repurchase my Corvette due to the driveline defects in the car that Chevrolet could not fix after 9 visits. GM and the Chevy dealerships in La Mesa and Mission Valley were not helpful, giving me absurd excuses, runarounds and one time ultimately refusing to write the defects up after demonstrating them to one of their technicians. In short, I highly recommend them to handle any lemon law case you may have."

- Anonymous


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