What Exactly IS California’s Lemon Law?

Experienced Attorney Protecting California Consumers through the Lemon Law

california lemon law attorneyYou’re probably familiar with what a “lemon” is, and you’ve probably heard of the California Lemon Law, but how exactly does California Lemon Law work? And how can it help you if you’ve purchased a vehicle that’s chronically defective?

The short answer is that if you have a consumer product that has a warranty and that product is defective in a way that is covered by the warranty – the warrantor is required by law to either refund your money, or replace your product if it cannot be fixed within a reasonable amount of tries over a reasonable amount of time.

California Lemon Law covers any vehicular consumer product that comes with a valid warranty, which often includes:

  • Cars
  • Trucks
  • Motorcycles
  • Used vehicles
  • RVs and trailers
  • Boats and watercraft

This list includes new vehicles, certified pre-owned vehicles, used vehicles, second-hand items, and leased vehicles.

The Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act

The official title of California’s Lemon Law is The Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act. The Act can be located in the California Civil Code beginning at Section 1790 and gives an overview of the legal obligations that manufacturers have to consumers when it comes to implied and express warranties.

Under the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, California manufacturers must guarantee through an implied warranty that their product is in good working order when it is sold and that it meets all claims on its packaging and label. In addition, the manufacturer must guarantee that the product fits the needs of the consumer.

Also under the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, manufacturers must supply an express warranty with their product that promises that the manufacturer will provide service and repairs for products in the case of product failure – and that service and repair facilities must be available in California.

Finally under the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, manufacturers are required to refund or replace products that cannot be repaired after multiple attempts. This is the Lemon Law segment of the Act.

How Do You Know If Your Car, Truck, Motorcycle, RV, Boat or Trailer Is a Lemon?

The single best way to find out if your motor vehicle or watercraft is a lemon is to speak with an experienced, knowledgeable California Lemon Law attorney about the details of your case. However, if you would like to find out more about the details of the law before your consultation, the general requirements are as follows:

  • You must have a written warranty. If you do not have a written warranty, also known as an express warranty, the law will not apply. However, other consumer protection laws may apply to protect you. Your written warranty can be from the manufacturer (or even from a dealer on a used car). Beware: although there are people and websites out there that will tell you that the California Lemon Law only applies to the first 18 months or 18,000 miles of a vehicle’s life, that is simply not true! It protects you for the length of the vehicle’s warranty – and beyond, if the problems occurred while under warranty.
  • The vehicle must not be owned by a large company. Normally, you must have purchased your vehicle for what is termed: “personal, family, or household purposes.” However, many commercial vehicles used in small businesses will also fall under the umbrella. Generally, if your small business owns or leases fewer than five vehicles, and the vehicle in question weighs under 10,000 pounds, you car will qualify under state lemon law. Call us toll free at 1-888-246-0276 if you have a commercial car or truck and want to find out if the lemon law applies to you.
  • People have attempted to repair your vehicle a reasonable amount of times. You need to allow the manufacturer (or the manufacturer’s representatives, which are normally the dealerships) a “reasonable number” of attempts to fix the problem(s) with your vehicle. What is a reasonable number of attempts? Well, that depends on the vehicle’s problems or defects. For example, if the problem is related to the safety of the occupants (like your brakes or the airbags) then fewer attempts will be required than if the problem is related to a non-safety “pulling” problem. The number of days your car, truck, or motorhome was in the shop for warranty repairs can also have an impact on the reasonable number of repair attempts. For example, if your car or truck was out of service by reason of warranty repairs for a total of 30 days within the first 18 months or 18,000 miles – whichever comes first – you get the benefit of what’s called a “presumption” that your vehicle is a lemon.
  • Your vehicle must have material defects. The problem(s) you are experiencing with your car or truck must be material defects; that is, they must substantially impair its use, value, or safety. In most cases you’ll know, but don’t guess about the impact of the problem because you may guess incorrectly. Call our law firm (toll-free 888-246-0276) and discuss with us any concerns you may be having about your vehicle, at no charge. We can help you judge whether or not you have a lemon on your hands. You can also click here to fill out a free case evaluation form.
  • Your vehicle must be registered under the California vehicle code. If you legally drive your vehicle on the road, it is likely registered with the state. However, if you have an off-road vehicle such as a four-wheeler, dirt bike, or all-terrain vehicle (ATV), it may not be.
  • Your defect must not involve aftermarket parts. Your defect may not be covered by your warranty if it involves an aftermarket part, such as a customized exhaust system or special tires. However, if you have added aftermarket parts to your vehicle, but your vehicle has unrelated material defects, you may still have a case.
  • Your defect is the result of lack of maintenance or abuse. Your warranty likely discusses in detail the maintenance needs of your vehicle. If, for example, you never changed or added oil to your vehicle, causing major engine issues, you would not qualify for a replacement or a refund under the lemon law. In the same way, if your defect is the result of a traffic accident, the manufacturer is not responsible for repairs or reimbursements.
  • Your defect is the result of regular wear. Vehicles don’t last forever and cannot be expected to. If your defect is the result of regular wear over time, you may not have a Lemon Law case.

Although each case is different and complexities may arise, those are the essential elements of the lemon law in California. Again, if you have any doubt that your car or other vehicle is a lemon, the best step you can take to protect your rights as a consumer is to discuss the issue with an experienced California lemon law attorney.

What Should You Do If You Think You Own a Lemon?

If you have the growing suspicion that you’ve purchased a lemon, there are steps you can take to strengthen your case, protect your rights, and resolve the issue with as few roadblocks as possible. Here’s how to get started.

  • Keep and copy all of your paperwork. All of the paperwork related to your vehicle is vital when it comes to proving your lemon case. Keep and make copies of all of the important documents, including your warranty, your lease, your sales receipts, your car’s repair history, and more. It’s always better to save too much than to throw away a key piece of evidence.
  • Keep record of all of your expenses. If you car is deemed a lemon, the manufacturer will not only owe you for the cost of your car, but also any incidental expenses related to it or its repairs, such as sales tax or alternative transportation costs. If you can’t prove that you spent money on something, you will not be reimbursed down the road.
  • Read your warranty carefully. You need to make certain that your vehicle’s material defects are covered by your express warranty. Read the document carefully, or have your attorney review the document with you so that you can understand what is covered and what is not.
  • Know your rights. It never hurts to know the law. Read through our website or, if you don’t mind legalese, take a look at the original text of the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, and familiarize yourself with the basics of lemon law and consumer protection law in California.
  • Don’t drive an unsafe vehicle. A significant number of material defects can make a vehicle dangerous to drive. For example, issues with the engine, brakes, or accelerator could cause an accident that affects you, your passengers, and the people you share the road with. While it can be extremely frustrating to be without transportation, nothing is worth risking the lives of you or your loved ones.
  • File a complaint with your vehicle’s manufacturer. The next step, if you are increasingly convinced you have a lemon, is to file a complaint with the manufacturer. It is not uncommon for them to deny or dismiss your complaint, so don’t become discouraged. It is just one step on the way to getting justice.
  • Don’t wait. Taking the big step of fighting to get a refund or replacement vehicle can seem overwhelming and stressful. But waiting or delaying your case can lead to poor consequences. Evidence can be harder to locate the longer you wait, making it harder to prove your side of the story. Not to mention that every day you wait is a day that you have a lemon on your hands.
  • Don’t give up. Too many people give up trying after they petition the manufacturer and are denied, but that is a normal, common outcome. Taking legal action is often the only way that a manufacturer or dealership will take your case seriously.
  • Talk to an attorney about your case. You can learn everything you need to know about your case and take steps toward resolving it by speaking with an attorney. A good California Lemon Law attorney will explain the legal aspects of your case, answer your questions, and then efficiently guide you through the process.

Lemon Law Statute of Limitations

It’s important to note that you have a limited amount of time to file your lemon law case. Under California law, you have four years from the date that you discovered your lemon (or should have know you had a lemon) to start the legal process.

However, waiting until the last minute to file your case often not the best plan of action. Waiting often makes it more difficult to find evidence to support your case, and involves living your life in the shadow of a lemon that is decreasing in value – and may be a danger to drive.

Consumer Relief Under California Lemon Laws

What happens when you win your California Lemon Law case? If you can prove that your vehicle has a material defect and is a lemon, you are either owed a replacement vehicle (an identical make or model or a comparable make and model) or a reimbursement of your costs. Any reimbursement may include your down payment, your sales tax, your financing costs, and your vehicle registration fees. If you have leased your car, you are owed either a new car to lease or your lease payments and related fees.

It is important to your case to keep all paperwork and receipts regarding your vehicle and its costs. This is true even if you don’t currently believe you’ve bought or leased and new or used lemon!

Schedule a Free, Private Case Review with Doug Law Today

Owning a lemon can be expensive, frustrating, and even dangerous – don’t do it for a day longer than you have to. If you think that you might be in the possession of a lemon and you would like to know if you can get a refund or a replacement, we can help. California Lemon Law attorney Doug D. Law and his legal team are committed to helping residents throughout the state know their rights and get compensation after dealing with a defective car, truck, boat, RV, or motorhome. To learn more about our legal services, to ask a question, or to reserve a free case review, please contact our offices today by filling out this online form or by calling (888) 246-0276.

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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