California Lemon Law

 Frequently Asked Questions

What is the California Lemon Law?

The California Lemon Law, also known as the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act (Civ. Code § 1793.22),  is a series of statutes in the state’s Civil Code designed to protect and compensate consumers who purchased or leased defective products (including cars, trucks, SUVs, RVs) from manufacturers in California.

How does the Lemon Law work?

Under the law, you – the consumer, have the right to seek compensation from the auto manufacturer for a defective vehicle that you bought or leased from them. The defect must be significant enough as to impair the vehicle’s use, safety or value and that the manufacturer or dealership is unable to fix it after repeated shop visits.

I was offered arbitration, am I obligated to take this option?

No, you are not required by law to settle your lemon law claim through a manufacturer’s arbitration program. In our experience, this is not an advantageous option for you to take.

What makes a car a lemon in California?

Your vehicle may be deemed a lemon if it is found to have a major defect(s) that adversely affects its safety, use, or value. The problem must occur during your car’s warranty period and continues to exist even after numerous attempts by the manufacturer to diagnose and fix the problem.

I’ve heard of the Lemon Law presumption, what is it?

Lemon Law presumption is a legal concept in which the court assumes your vehicle is a lemon if, through documentary evidence, you can prove that any of these conditions occurred during the first 18 months or 18,000 miles:

  • You brought the vehicle back to the dealership at least twice to have a major safety defect repaired; or
  • You brought the vehicle back to the dealership at least four times to have the same kind of safety or performance defect repaired; or
  • Your vehicle was left in the repair shop and consequently, you were unable to use your vehicle for a total of 30 days or more (cumulative).

My problems started after 18 months, does the law still apply?

Yes, the law still applies and you can still seek compensation even if the issues were detected after the first 18 months of ownership. You can move forward with a claim if the problem occurred within the vehicle’s warranty period.

If I decide to file a lemon law claim, how do I proceed?

If you think your car is a lemon and want to file a claim, the first step is to consult with a competent lemon law attorney. You will save yourself a ton of wasted time and headache if you retain counsel at the outset. If the lawyer thinks you have a case, you will need to gather and submit all the essential documents that will be presented in court as evidence.

How do I get paid if I win the case?

You can get compensated either through a court verdict or by way of an out-of-court settlement with the manufacturer in one of three ways:

  • The manufacturer buys back your vehicle;
  • The manufacturer replaces your vehicle; 
  • The manufacturer pays you cash for the trouble and you get to keep the vehicle.

I’ve heard of Lemon Law buyback, how does that work?

A buyback happens when the car manufacturer regains possession of the defective vehicle and pays you the total amount you paid for it, minus some minimal deductions allowed by law to account for usage.

I bought a used car, do I have a claim?

Yes, used car purchases are covered by the law and you can file a claim for a defective used vehicle. The law specifies that you purchased the vehicle from an authorized dealership and that a warranty in your name is included in the purchase. 

Is there a time limit to file a claim?

Yes. You have four years from the date of purchase or from the date when the problem was first detected to file a claim for compensation under the Lemon Law. You can file a claim at any time within the warranty period and briefly after that provided that the issue occurred within the warranty period. 

Which government agencies can help me?

The California Department of Consumer Affairs and the DMV’s Division of Investigations are some of the government offices you can seek assistance from if you have a claim or complaint against an auto manufacturer or dealership.

Do I need to hire a lawyer?

Yes, absolutely. A lawyer can provide expert advice on how to win your case and navigate the California Lemon Law claims system. You just can’t hope to win your case without a lawyer and the sooner you hire one, the easier and faster the process can be for you.

How much should I pay my lawyer?

Zero. You will not have to incur any out-of-pocket expenses to pay for the lawyer’s fees. In California, most Lemon Law attorneys will take your case on what is known as a contingency basis. They don’t get a dime if they don’t win your case and in a successful litigation or settlement, the manufacturer pays 100 percent of the attorney’s fees.