Frequently Asked Questions About California Lemon Laws

The Law Offices of Sotera L. Anderson is committed to helping consumers who have unknowingly purchased defective vehicles, which is why our practice focuses on lemon law.

We understand how much people rely on their vehicles on an everyday basis, and know how an unreliable car can completely disrupt your life.


Do you have questions about the lemon law in California? There’s no need to spend hours researching this complex legal topic on your own. Below are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about California’s lemon law.

What is the Lemon Law in California?

The lemon law protects consumers who have purchased or leased new or used vehicles.  When people refer to “the lemon law” or “California lemon law,” they are actually referring to a law called the “Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act” or “Song-Beverly” for short. It says that a manufacturer must replace your vehicle or give you a refund if your vehicle has a defect that substantially impairs the use, value, or safety of the vehicle and the manufacturer has not been able to fully repair the vehicle within a reasonable number of opportunities. (Cal. Civ. Code, section 1790, et seq.) Luckily for California residents, California’s lemon law is the most friendly lemon law for consumers in the United States.

What Does the Lemon Law Cover?

All new or used vehicles that are purchased or leased from a dealer herein California and used for personal purposes are covered by the lemon law, including cars, SUVs, trucks, motorcycles, and vans. (Cal. Civ. Code, sections 1791(a) and (b); Cal. Civ. Code, section 1793.2(d)(2)(D); Cal. Civ. Code, section 1793.22(e)(2); Jensen v. BMV 35 Cal.App.4th 112.)

The one exception is if you are active duty military.  For the military exception to apply, you must have been active duty and either stationed in California or have been a resident of California (1) at the time you purchased the vehicle or (2) at the time you file your lawsuit. (Cal. Civ. Code, sections 1793.2, 1791(t), and 1795.8(b).)

It also covers vehicles that are purchased or leased for business purposes as long as the business does not have more than five vehicles registered in its name in the state of California and the vehicle’s gross vehicle weight is under 10,000 pounds. (Cal. Civ. Code, section 1793.22(e)(2).)

What Is A Reasonable Number Of Repairs?

What is considered a “reasonable number of attempts” depends on your circumstances. But, the law has provided some guidance for certain circumstances, while leaving other situations up for argument. For instance, California’s lemon law says that we can presume there has been a reasonable number of attempts in the following circumstances:

  • If, within the first 18 months or 18,000 miles, whichever occurs first, one or more of the following happens:
    • The vehicle has a defect that poses a safety concern
    • Results in a condition that is likely to cause death or serious bodily injury
    • And the dealer has had at least 2 chances to repair the defect
    • The vehicle has a defect and the dealer has had at least 4 chances to repair the defect
    • The vehicle has been in the shop for repairs for more than 30 cumulative days

To take advantage of the lemon law’s presumption that I’ve outlined above, you must participate in the manufacturer’s third party dispute resolution procedure (if they have one). (Cal. Civ. Code, section 1793.22(c).)

What Are The Possible Outcomes Of A Lemon Law Case?

Every case is different. Results vary. No two cases are alike. Depending on the facts and circumstances of your case, along with other factors, your recovery could range from (1) $0.00; (2) a certain amount of cash and you can keep the vehicle to do as you wish (for example, sell it or trade it in or keep driving it); (3) the manufacturer could replace your vehicle with a substantially similar vehicle; or (4) the manufacturer could give you a refund minus an amount for your use and non-manufacturer installed items.

What Is Included In A Refund?

In the case of a refund, the manufacturer must give you the amount that you paid for the vehicle, including the cost of sales tax, registration, and other fees. The manufacturer also has to reimburse you for rental cars, towing charges and some repairs that you may have paid for out of your own pocket.  However, the law allows manufacturers to deduct money from the refund amount to account for the miles you put on the vehicle before you started having problems.   The formula that is used to calculate this deduction is as follows:

Numbers of miles at the first complaint – number of miles on the vehicle when you purchased it / 120,000 x cash purchase price of the vehicle.

The manufacturer can also deduct for some other non-manufacturer items as well.

 

If The Manufacturer Replaces My Vehicle, What Does That Mean?

If the case of a replacement vehicle, the manufacturer must provide a new vehicle that is similar to the lemon and pay all fees associated with the sale. For example, if you purchased a 2015 vehicle that is a lemon car, the manufacturer might replace it with a 2019 vehicle with the same make and model and features.  The replacement vehicle must also come with the standard warranties that are typically provided at the time of sale.

What Is The Implied Warranty And How Long Does It Last?

There are two kinds of implied warranties – implied warranty of merchantability and implied warranty of fitness.
 
Merchantability:
  • California’s lemon law says that vehicles must be merchantable.  What that means is that vehicles must:
  • Pass without objection in the trade
  • Be fit for the ordinary purposes for which such goods are used. 
  • Be adequately contained, packaged, and labeled.
  • Conform to the promises made. 
  • (Cal. Civ. Code, section 1791.1(a).)
 
However, you must have purchased the vehicle at retail in the State of California. (Cal. Civ. Code, section 1792.)  In other words, if you buy or lease your vehicle from a private seller, there is no implied warranty of merchantability.  Or, if you purchase or lease your vehicle from a dealer in another state, there is no implied warranty of merchantability.  
 
Fitness:
California’s lemon law says that if the retailer, distributor or manufacturer has reason to know that you require the vehicle for a specific purpose and that you are relying on their skill and judgment to select the appropriate vehicle for your specific purpose, then there is an implied warranty that the vehicle will meet that specific purpose. (Cal. Civ. Code, sections 1791.1(b), 1792.1, 1792.2.)  However, you must have purchased the vehicle at retail in the State of California. (Cal. Civ. Code, sections 1792.1, 1792.2.)
 
Duration:
For new vehicles, the implied warranty lasts for no more than 1 year from the day you purchase your vehicle. (Cal. Civ. Code, section 1791.1(c).)
For used vehicles, the implied warranty lasts for no more than 90 days from the day you purchase your vehicle.

What Is An Express Warranty?

An express warranty is a written statement from the vehicle’s manufacturer or dealer, provided to you when you purchase a vehicle, that says they promise to preserve or maintain the utility or performance of the vehicle and that if they cannot do so they will provide you with compensation. (Cal. Civ. Code, section 1791.2.) In other words, the manufacturer promises to repair your vehicle at no cost to you during a limited time period.  An example of an express warranty is the factory warranty that comes with your vehicle when you purchase it from a dealer.  For instance, the bumper-to-bumper warranty or the powertrain warranty or the safety/restraint warranty or the emissions warranty.

What Is The Manufacturer Required To Do If They Gave You A Factory Warranty?

When a manufacturer gives you a warranty, the manufacturer must:

  • Have facilities reasonably close by to repair your vehicle and the manufacturer must provide the repair facility with sufficient literature and parts so they can properly repair your vehicle during the warranty period. (Cal. Civ. Code, section 1793.2(a)(1) and (3).)
  • Ensure that the repair facilities start repairs on your vehicle within a reasonable time and that the repairs are complete within 30 days (unless you agree in writing to a longer period of time). (Cal. Civ. Code, section 1793.2(b).)
  • Honor the warranty — in other words, the repair facility must repair your vehicle at no cost to you (check out your warranty for exclusions/exceptions/terms/conditions).

What Is A Substantial Impairment?

What is considered to be a substantial impairment depends on various factors that are unique to each case. Examples may include:

  • Oil leaks (Oregel v. Isuzu (2001) 90 Cal.App.4th 1094)
  • Stalling (Steward v. Daimler Chrysler (2002))

What If The Dealer Cannot Fix Your Car?

If your vehicle has a defect that substantially impairs the use, value or safety of your vehicle and the manufacturer’s repair facility (i.e. the dealer) cannot repair your vehicle after a reasonable number of attempts within the warranty period, the manufacturer must either replace your vehicle or refund your monies (there is a specific formula used for a refund). (Cal. Civ. Code, sections 1793.2(d)(1) and (2); Cal. Civ. Code, section 1793.22(e)(1); Cal. Civ. Code, section 1794(b).) The manufacturer cannot make you accept a replacement vehicle (though you cannot force a replacement, either). (Cal. Civ. Code, section 1793.2(d)(2).)  From experience, replacing your car can get very complicated because there are a lot of rules, but it can be done.