Think Your Used Car Might be a Lemon? Here’s What You Can Do

Purchasing a car – either new or used – is a huge financial move. The basic expectations are that the vehicle functions properly and keeps you safe on the road, especially in a populous state like California.

When buying a used car, there is always a certain degree of risk involved, as you probably don’t know everything about the vehicle before the sale. In some cases, dealers will try to dupe you and fail to disclose the vehicle’s history, fail to perform a recall, change the odometer, misrepresent the title, etc. The result can significantly compromise the safety of the consumer while driving, as well as other drivers nearby.

Fortunately, in California, the lemon law (among other laws), applies to these situations. This law works to crack down on manufacturers, car dealers, or distributors and requires them to sell vehicles without deception.

If something seems off with the used car you purchased, you may be entitled to benefits. Here is what you can do.

Understand the Criteria Under California Lemon Law

If you have a hunch that your used car is a lemon, you need to understand the law. Knowing how your vehicle applies can be somewhat of a gray area. Purchased or leased used vehicles may be covered under California lemon law if:

  • Vehicles sold with a written warranty.
  • Vehicles are purchased primarily for personal, family, or household purposes.
  • Vehicles with a gross weight below 10,000 pounds and are used primarily for business purposes. There can be no more than five vehicles registered to the company.
  • Vehicles that are repurchased by the manufacturer, then resold with a warranty covering the defects.

In most states, lemon law only applies to new cars. California is one of the few with laws covering used vehicles. To be deemed a lemon, further criteria for the vehicle include:

  • The vehicle is/was sold with a dealer warranty; and
  • The vehicle has a defect that substantially impairs its use, value, or safety; and
  • The dealership has been given a reasonable number of repair attempts to fix the defect (usually at least two); or
  • The vehicle has been in the repair shop for any defect or nonconformity for more than 30 days; and
  • None of these defects can be a result of driver abuse.

New vs. Used Protocol

When you purchase a new car, you will almost certainly be provided with a manufacturer warranty. With a used car, dealers can either sell the vehicle with a dealer warranty or “as is.”

As a buyer, placing a check in the “as is” box essentially acknowledges that the vehicle is not under a warranty. In this case, you may not be entitled to any benefits if the car is a lemon.

A used car can still be processed like a new car under California lemon law, as long as it was purchased or leased from a California dealership while still under the original manufacturer warranty, or sold with a dealer warranty.

Check the Dealer Warranty

If you are buying a used vehicle, you should ALWAYS check the buyer’s guide, which dealerships are required by federal law to display on used vehicles that are for sale. If the guide shows that the vehicle is covered under a dealer warranty, this means you are protected in two major ways if the vehicle turns out to be a lemon.

For one, you may be protected during the dealer warranty period very similar to an original manufacturer warranty. If a certain component of the vehicle fails and impairs your safety or the functionality of the car, the dealer may be required by law to fix it within a reasonable number of attempts – or offer you a lemon buyback.

Second, a used car sold with a dealer warranty means it may also be covered by an “implied warranty of merchantability.” This is a guarantee that the vehicle meets the requirements to provide safe and reliable transportation. An implied warranty is in effect if the buyer’s guide does not specify a dealer warranty or “as is” clause. Implied warranties may be good for 60 days to a year – but may only cover essential components of the vehicle.

If the used vehicle you have purchased is complete with a dealer warranty, you can protect your investment by:

  • Documenting ALL problems and repairs, as well as the time your vehicle spends in the repair shop.
  • Being very timely with all your communication. If the dealer is refusing to comply with repairs or is unnecessarily delaying the process, contact the manufacturer or warrantor before the warranty runs out.
  • Getting in contact with a California lemon law attorney. The auto industry is VERY well equipped with legal defense. If the dealer or manufacturer is giving you trouble, you need a lemon law lawyer who values consumer justice and is committed to speedy service.

Learn Your Rights

If your used vehicle has met all the criteria and has been ruled a lemon, your rights include:

  • Repair costs are covered in full by the dealership.
  • A complete refund of the original price you paid for the vehicle.
  • An exact replacement of the vehicle or one of the same value.
  • All legal fees and costs are covered in full by the warrantor.

If you are having issues with a used car you recently purchased, you need to consult a California lemon law firm right away. By failing to file a lemon law claim, or delaying the process, you may be putting yourself and the lives of others at risk.

At Cline APC, we offer free consultations in which we will do everything possible to understand your situation. We’ll educate you on the process of getting the justice you deserve from the dealership.

Call our office at 888-982-6915, send an email to, or fill out a free case evaluation

Used Car Lemon Law FAQs

How long do used car warranties last?

This is one of the most commonly used car lemon law FAQs. Used car warranties can be different based on the dealership. Per the state’s law, used cars sold with a warranty must be covered for at least 30 days or before 1,000 miles accrue on the odometer. During this timeframe, the dealership is responsible for all defects. Be sure to check the buyer’s guide to see the exact terms of the dealer warranty.

Can I take my used car to my trusted mechanic for repairs?

Of all the used car lemon law FAQs, this is one of the most important – and can potentially be the difference between a valid and invalid lemon claim.

Do not, under any circumstance, take your vehicle to your trusted mechanic while it’s covered under the dealer warranty. In the situation you need to seek justice for a lemon, any work done by a 3rd-party mechanic can potentially invalidate your claim. There is a good chance the dealership will blame the defect on your mechanic as grounds to not provide a buyback. As long as your vehicle is under the dealer warranty, the dealership is your mechanic.

How long does the lemon law buyback process take?

There is no definitive answer for this. It all depends on the strength of your lemon case. The good news is most lemon claims are settled out of court – meaning the turnaround time may not drag for long. However, it’s important to note that most dealerships have no intention of providing a refund for a defective vehicle. Most have legal teams on retainer to get them out of the lemon law process. These legal teams have all sorts of tricks and tactics to counter your claim and draw out the process (in hopes you’ll give up).

This is why it’s so important to hire a skilled attorney in lemon law California for used cars. Specialized lemon lawyers know these tricks and will make sure the dealer provides a speedy buyback. Most attorneys aim to earn the refund in roughly 30 days – but this is never a guarantee. If a lemon attorney makes bold promises on the turnaround time, it’s a big red flag.

Can I ask for a replacement vehicle instead of a buyback?

Yes. However, dealers are only required by California lemon law to provide a buyback. Replacements – which must be the same vehicle or one of similar value – are optional. You can request a replacement for your lemon instead of a buyback, but the dealer must agree to it.

How much does it cost to hire a used car lemon law attorney?

This is one of the common used car lemon law FAQs that tends to get mistaken. Trustworthy lemon law lawyers work on a contingent basis for a fee agreement. This means they only get paid AFTER the case is won and they won’t take a percentage of the total settlement. Instead, the lemon law attorney should force the defendant to pay your legal fees, costs and expenses. The attorney won’t charge the client a penny upfront out-of-pocket for their used car lemon law services. In other words, ANYONE can hire an experienced lemon attorney to handle their claim.

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