What Are the Major Obligations and Penalties Tied to Lemon Law?

Lemon law is an area of the legal system packed full of gray areas and varying stipulations. If you buy a product that ends up being defective, manufacturers will commonly try to exploit these gray areas as much as possible to avoid lemon law obligations and penalties.

Generally speaking, most consumers who had a stroke of bad luck with a defective product don’t know much about the lemon law process. This is something manufacturers take advantage of!

So, if you find yourself in this unfortunate situation, having a background knowledge of the major obligations and penalties manufacturers face under lemon law will be favorable for two key reasons:

  1. You are less likely to be taken advantage of.
  2. You will be in a better position to speed up the process.

In this post, I want to go over the obligations and penalties that come into play under California lemon law.


California lemon law, also referred to as the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, has several key obligations that manufacturers (and often retailers) must abide by.

Before we dive into the specifics, it’s important to note that the lemon law doesn’t just apply to vehicles. Consumers can potentially receive benefits on any product they purchased under a warranty. For the most part, vehicles are the consumer goods with the highest price tags. Therefore, they tend to steal the spotlight of content written on the subject.

Regardless of what you buy (under warranty), there are many obligations that providers must meet if there is a defect.

What Classifies a Product or Vehicle “Defective” Under Lemon Law?

What Classifies a Product or Vehicle “Defective” Under Lemon Law?

Under California lemon law, a product can qualify as a lemon if it has a defect which substantially impairs its use, value, or safety.

For example, a car (that is under warranty) exhibiting significant problems related to components like the engine, transmission, steering, or brakes would classify as a “substantial defect.”

Manufacturer Obligations

When a consumer purchases a product with a warranty, the warranty is essentially a promise from the manufacturer that it meets the performance standard. If the product turns out to be defective, the manufacturer is obligated to make the necessary repairs to ensure it meets the standards that were promised.

In the scenario that the product exhibits a “substantial defect,” the manufacturer is obligated to repair the defect in 30 days or less or within a reasonable number of attempts.

Retailer Obligations

In many states, the lemon law only applies to new products – predominantly vehicles.

Fortunately, in California, the lemon law also applies to used products, like a pre-owned vehicle purchased from a dealership. As a Fresno lemon law attorney, a decent percentage of the cases we handle involve used vehicles.

There are several differences in the lemon law with new versus used vehicles which you need to be aware of before you buy. If you buy a used car “as is” – and it’s clearly displayed on the vehicle while being showcased – the dealership may not be obligated to provide any sort of repair.

If the used vehicle is still under a dealer warranty, the dealership is obligated to perform the repairs as if it were new. The dealer warranty should be indicated in the buyer’s guide when you purchase the vehicle.

Repair Obligations

The repair obligations of a lemon tend to get a bit hazy.

For one, the manufacturer or dealer has a “reasonable number” of repair attempts to remedy a substantial defect. This term can certainly be a bit ambiguous.

Before a product is officially deemed a lemon:
– The manufacturer or retailer is usually obligated to make at least two repair attempts to fix a warranty-covered problem.

To reiterate, the manufacturer is obligated to make these repairs in 30 days or less. If these obligations cannot be met, the manufacturer or retailer is required to provide compensation to the consumer.

Lemon Law Buyback or Replacement

If the product under warranty is not able to be repaired after a reasonable number of attempts, it can be classified as a lemon. In this scenario, the claim would go to court, if the manufacturer doesn’t comply.

If the product is deemed a lemon in a court of law (meaning you win the case), the manufacturer is obligated to either provide a lemon law buyback.

A buyback is the most common outcome when a consumer wins a lemon law case. This means that the manufacturer must provide a refund of what the consumer paid for the product, less a small offset for use of the vehicle prior to the first repair opportunity.

A replacement, while not required under lemon law like a buyback, is when the manufacturer and the consumer agree the product should be replaced with an identical one, or one of similar value.

Recovery of Incidental Costs

In addition to providing a buyback or a replacement, the manufacturer is obligated to provide coverage for all incidental costs stemming from the lemon. This commonly includes expenses related to rental cars, lost wages, towing, cab fares, hotel stays, or anything else you had to buy because of your defective product.

Recovery of Official Costs

When a product is deemed a lemon in court, the manufacturer is obligated to refund all official costs associated with the product. If the lemon is a vehicle, this would include sales tax, registration fees, early termination fees, etc.

Recovery of Attorney and Legal Fees

This obligation tends to get overlooked in the early stages of filing a lemon law claim. If you win the case, the manufacturer is REQUIRED to refund ALL attorney and legal fees.

So, if you have a defective product, you DO NOT want to look for discounts in legal counsel!

Seeking out a reputable, local lemon law attorney is going to serve you well in the long run. Moreover, a good lemon lawyer won’t ask for anything out of pocket from you or any retainer fees.

Most won’t take a case unless they know they can win (and get paid by the manufacturer).

The “Civil Penalty”

In accordance with the California Lemon Law Civil Code Section 1794(c), the owner of a lemon vehicle is allowed to recover a “civil penalty” payment if they can prove that the manufacturer willingly violated the law and failed to meet their obligations.

The law in California specifies that this civil penalty can be up to two times the cost of the actual damages. As these “damages” can include the price paid for the original vehicle, the civil penalty can be quite substantial.

It’s very important to note that owners of lemon vehicles cannot always apply for civil penalties. If you believe the manufacturer has violated the terms of California lemon law, you need to seek out an experienced attorney to determine whether or not you qualify.


While the overarching stipulations of the California lemon law may seem straightforward, the finer details can get very confusing.

When you have a defective product, you need to make sure the manufacturer is held 100% accountable. This is nearly impossible without the help of a specialized lemon law attorney. If you have any further questions on the obligations and penalties associated with the California lemon law, please get in contact with our office right away!

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