When you have purchased a car that has defects, commonly called a lemon, you should know that California lemon law affords you certain protection. It helps to have a basic understanding of the California Lemon Law and how it may apply to you.

Under the laws of the state of California, new and used vehicles, as well as leased vehicles, as long as they’re covered by a warranty, qualify for consumer protection.

Relative to used vehicles, these must also be covered by a warranty and must have been purchased by the consumer primarily for personal, family or household purposes. If, however, a consumer buys a vehicle “as is” or “with all faults” from the dealer, the California Lemon Law will most probably not apply. The exception to this would be if the vehicle was a former “lemon law buyback” and this fact was not properly disclosed to the buyer.

How does California Lemon Law work, specifically, with respect to vehicle defects, attempted repairs, number of repairs, and so on? Under the California Lemon Law, if you qualify, you are entitled to receive a refund for the purchase price of your vehicle, plus vehicle registration fees, rental car costs and towing charges. You may choose to have the manufacturer repurchase your vehicle, known as a “buy-back.” The manufacturer cannot compel you to take a replacement vehicle in lieu of a buy-back.

Also under California Lemon Law, the manufacturer is entitled to a reasonable number of attempts to fix the vehicle in order to resolve your complaints. Although no specific number is stipulated, the general rule of thumb is that four repair attempts for the same problem constitutes a reasonable number. Of course, this number may vary depending on the severity of the problem as well as the number of miles between repair attempts.

You don’t have to take your car to the same dealer you bought it from to have the repairs done. Any authorized dealer can perform the repairs under warranty.

What if your vehicle is out of warranty? Does the California Lemon Law still apply? As long as the first repair for the defect occurred while the car was still under warranty, the vehicle may still qualify for a refund or vehicle replacement, provided all other California Lemon Law requirements are met.

What should you do?

If you believe you have a claim under California Lemon Law, you need to first find out if your claim is eligible for protection under state law. It’s best to consult an attorney. First, however, be sure you have all the right documentation for the repairs that were done on your vehicle as verification of the defects and proof of attempts to fix it are valuable in deciding whether your vehicle is, in fact, a lemon.

Repair orders contain dates of repair service, description of repairs requested at the time it was brought in for service, what repairs were done and whether or not they were satisfactory to the consumer, and the amount of time your vehicle was out of service. This constitutes the vehicle’s history with respect to the defects.

Common vehicle defects in a claim under the California Lemon Law include any defects  or problems with the engine, transmission, brakes, steering, suspension, as well as water or oil leaks, bad smells, vibration, rattles or other noises, paint defects, electrical problems, and almost any other issue you’ve repeatedly tried to have the dealer repair without success.

Note that this is not intended to serve as legal advice, just general information about the California Lemon Law. Consult an attorney for how and if the California Lemon Law applies to defects in your purchased or leased vehicle.

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