California State Lemon Law - Lemon Law Statute

A guide for California consumers who have purchased or leased defective vehicles.

What is a “lemon” under the California lemon law statute?

A vehicle that is covered by a manufacturer’s new car or “certified pre-owned” warranty that has been subject to an unreasonable number of repair attempts for the same defect by the dealer without a permanent solution, or, a vehicle that has spent an unreasonable cumulative number of days in the dealers shop for warranty repairs. The California Lemon Law link on this website contains the specifics.

What are my rights?

If you qualify under the California Lemon Law statute, you are entitled to what is known as a “buyback”, or “repurchase” of the defective vehicle, and a refund of your monies per the language of the statute. In some instances the manufacturer will replace the defective new vehicle with another like new vehicle. This is called a “exchange of collateral”. 
Can I institute a California lemon law claim myself?

Though a consumer has every right to contact the manufacturer for assistance, consumers should be aware that automobile manufacturer’s will protect their interests first.  Attempting to file and negotiate a lemon law claim/case without legal direction/representation can often lead to a “solution” or “settlement” that provides far less in monetary terms than the California state lemon law statute provides for. In California, if a consumer retains legal counsel for representation in a lemon law claim, the automobile manufacturer is responsible to pay the fees and costs that the attorney bills to them in the lemon law case.  This provision makes it possible to hire an attorney and get professional representation.

My warranty book mentions Arbitration. Do I have to utilize Arbitration?

Answer: No. California has no requirement for consumers to utilize Arbitration. Arbitration in California is not “unbiased” arbitration, as the arbitrators for lemon law cases are paid for by the automobile manufacturer. In “unbiased” arbitration, both parties hire a neutral arbitrator that is a retired judge or active attorney to hear the case – a person with a legal/law background. Manufacturer-sponsored arbitration (such as BBB Autoline) do not utilize judges, attorneys nor automotive experts to hear California Lemon Law cases.

I feel my vehicle is unsafe, but there have been no warranty attempts to repair it, do I have rights?
The California state lemon law statute sets forth a minimum of two (2) repair attempts for a defect that is “likely to result in serious injury or death”. You must have at least 2 warranty repair attempts with the same stated symptom noted on the Repair Order to institute a valid lemon law claim.  “Fear of safety” without repair attempts to do not meet the lemon law statute.

How does the California state lemon law protect me?

Our California state lemon law essentially puts consumers with defective new or used vehicle’s that are still under the manufacturers limited warranties (or “certified pre-owned used vehicles) in a position to be able to uphold their legal rights to return the vehicle for a refund. The law protects you by setting up a refund “formula” that the automobile manufacturer must follow if being pursued by legal counsel. Consumers must keep in mind that if they make a decision to attempt to “do it themselves”, they have effectively “locked out” an lemon law attorney from potential representation, unless the automobile manufacturer has denied the request for repurchase.

I called the manufacturer’s “Customer Assistance Center”, and they gave me a “case number”.  Does this “case number” mean I have a lemon law case with the manufacturer? 

Answer: No. The “case number” is simply a reference number for the next time you call in, so they can find your previous call(s) to them. This is not a lemon law case or claim. This can be construed as deceiving to the consumer, and give a false sense that a case/claim in underway, when it is not.  

How is a “repair attempt” defined under the California state lemon law statute?

As our California state lemon law is predicated by dealership “repair attempts”, the statute clearly defines them. Essentially, when a consumer presents the vehicle to the authorized dealer for repairs, and has a Repair Order written stating the nature of the complaint/symptom, the consumer signs and receives a copy of same, and the dealership is given the opportunity to diagnose and/or repair the vehicle under warranty, this is considered to be a “repair attempt”. Whether the dealership actually performs a repair to the vehicle is of no consequence to the consumer. The consumer must only give the authorized dealership the opportunity to repair the vehicle.

I purchased an extended warranty (service contract) from the dealer on my new (or used) car.  Can the repairs performed under my extended policy be used for a California lemon law claim? 

Answer: No. What consumers refer to as “extended warranties” in California are actually legally defined as “service contracts”, and are not applicable as “repair attempts” under our California Lemon Law statute.  

I purchased my vehicle from a dealership outside of California, and registered it in California. Am I eligible for California lemon law protection?

It depends. If you had the dealership include transportation of the vehicle to you in California (in writing) as part of the purchase price, then the answer is yes. If the vehicles purchase price did *not* include transportation to California, then there is no California Lemon Law applicability.  If you drove the vehicle out yourself, or you paid for the transportation of the vehicle to California, then there is no applicability of the law to your situation. If you are in an applicable situation, your vehicle must still meet the warranty “repair attempts” guidelines listed above.

I believe my vehicle is a “lemon”.  What is my next step?

The next step would be to have a competent attorney that is an expert in the California Lemon Law review your purchase/ lease and repair documents, and see if your vehicle’s repair history meets the lemon law statute’s requirements. You can CLICK HERE to receive a free case review and evaluation by California’s largest statewide lemon law attorney firm.

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