What You Need to Know about the California Lemon Law Presumption

Lemon law in California is taken very seriously. With the highest population and nearly 15 million registered vehicles on the road (the most in the country), it’s easy to see why.

Lemon law has existed in every state since the 1970’s, and the main components of the law are similar in most.

  • The vehicle must have a defect which substantially impairs the use, value, or safety to the consumer; and  
  • The manufacturer, through its authorized repair facility, must have been given a reasonable opportunity to repair the defect.

However, the vehicle may be presumed to be a “lemon” under certain circumstances. Details of lemon law presumption vary slightly from state-to-state.

What Exactly Is Lemon Law Presumption

First of all, to define presumption in the legal sense, the presumption is a rule of law that permits a court to assume a fact is true given the evidence available. Presumptions are based on how a certain set of facts align with logic, laws, and rights. Moreover, a lemon law presumption will shift the legal burden of proof. Instead of the consumer having to prove the vehicle is a lemon, the vehicle will be presumed to qualify and the defendant will have to present evidence to disprove a very strong legal presumption.

Now, in terms of California lemon law, presumption considers a vehicle to be a lemon under the following circumstances:

  • The defect(s) occurs within the first 18 months of the purchase or lease date, or if 18,000 miles accrue on the odometer, whichever comes first.
  • The manufacturer has made two or more attempts to repair a defect which is likely to cause death or serious bodily injury.
  • The manufacturer has attempted to repair the same substantial defect four or more times.
  • The vehicle has been out of service for a total of 30 or more days to repair any number of substantial defects.

In California, if your vehicle meets this criteria, it is presumed to be a lemon. In addition to the presumption allowed for a new motor vehicle, a key advantage to lemon law in the Golden State is that used vehicles bought from a dealership can also be ruled a lemon. When purchasing a used car, always be sure to get the buyer’s guide. Dealerships are required by federal law to provide this when a vehicle is on display. Check to make sure the vehicle is covered under a dealer warranty. If so, you are protected if it turns out to be defective.  

If you prove that your faulty vehicle fits the scenarios of lemon law presumption, it is up to the defending party (the manufacturer) to prove otherwise.

What If Your Vehicle Does Not Meet the Criteria of Lemon Law Presumption?

Many consumers make the mistake during their initial research that if their vehicle does not meet the criteria of lemon law presumption, they do not have a valid case and are out of luck in getting justice from the manufacturer. However, even if your vehicle doesn’t fit the mold exactly, you might be entitled to compensation from the manufacturer. This could involve a refund, replacement, or a cash settlement.

Keep in mind, you do not have to meet the lemon law presumption exactly to have a valid lemon law case. The presumption provides an added level of protection, but the presumption is not necessary to qualify under the lemon law. Presumption is a very general topic, whereas consumer protection laws are very intricate. Lemon law presumption in California is simply a rule of evidence that can be used to your advantage during trial.  

If you are worried that your vehicle does not qualify under lemon law presumption, do not give up.

The Importance of a Specialized Attorney

If your vehicle doesn’t meet the requirements of lemon law presumption, hiring a specialized California lemon law attorney can make all the difference in whether or not you get justice from the manufacturer.  

Remember, the basic set of criteria for lemon law presumption is very broad. There are a lot of smaller details that can validate your case. For example, there are a lot of issues that may fall under a gray area of what a “substantial defect” is. Now, there are some commonly understood problems that fall under this category. These typically include (but are not limited to):

  • Engine failure
  • Faulty transmission
  • Braking issues
  • Steering problems
  • Airbag malfunction

In addition to these defects, there are plenty of lesser-known ones that can qualify your vehicle as a lemon. To give you an idea, let’s say you are living in Southern California. If the temperature is known to be extremely hot during certain times of the year, a skilled lemon law lawyer may be able to make the case that a malfunctioning air conditioner is a substantially impairing defect. And therefore, an air conditioning defect can qualify under the lemon law. Or, perhaps there is an electrical issue that compromises a brake light or a headlight. This could easily be ruled as a safety hazard to you and other drivers on the road.

However, there is a fine line with the gray area of a “substantial defect.” A defective CD player or radio knob, may not meet the criteria, but sometimes will. A specialized lemon law lawyer knows how to dig deep into the details of what qualifies a lemon and how certain warranty defects can be leveraged to get consumer justice.

When you are selecting a lemon law lawyer to represent your case, there are a few key advice points to remember. For one, the auto industry is backed by some the most powerful legal teams in the country; you need a seasoned lemon attorney who knows the system and has a genuine passion for consumer justice. Secondly, if a lawyer says they can handle your lemon claim, but they do not advertise these services, it’s likely they are just looking to sign a new client and aren’t properly equipped to win the case.

Lastly, beware of lemon law firms that demand litigation or retainer fees. Keep in mind, if you win the case, the manufacturer is required to cover ALL legal costs. A trustworthy lemon law lawyer knows this and will not ask for any out of pocket costs.


Lemon law presumption in California is a very layered concept. Regardless of whether or not you are entirely sure your defective vehicle fits the mold, you need to act quickly.

Chances are, this is your first experience with a lemon situation. If you have the slightest hunch that your vehicle may be a lemon, it’s in yours and other drivers’ best interest to seek out qualified help early on to figure out the details and whether or not you can win the case.

Get in contact with Cline APC Lemon Law Legal Group today for a FREE consultation!

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