Is Your Vehicle’s Warranty Valid for a California Lemon Law Claim?

As California lemon law lawyers, we get countless questions about car warranties. The terms of the car warranty are the foundation of how to start a lemon law claim. In the state of California, there are several types of warranties that come into play.

We want to provide a complete guide on car warranties and how they apply to lemon claims.

Let’s get started.

Warranties and California Lemon Law

In order to qualify as a lemon in the state of California, a vehicle must exhibit a substantial defect that impairs the use, value, or safety of the vehicle. Moreover, the defect must have undergone a reasonable number of repair attempts by the manufacturer.

The most important thing is that the substantial defect occurred while the vehicle was covered under warranty. There needs to be a record of this with the manufacturer – a verbal account will not cut it.

If your vehicle is exhibiting problems while under warranty, you need to get in touch with the manufacturer, distributor, or dealership (wherever you purchased the vehicle) immediately to begin the repair process. If the warranty runs out and you’re having ongoing problems with the defect, your claim will still be valid – as there would be a record of it before the terms ended.

Now, if you’ve done research on California lemon law, you may have come across some misleading information. You might have read that the substantial defect must occur within the first 18 months after purchase or before 18,000 miles accrue on the odometer. Otherwise, it cannot be a lemon. This is false!

Your vehicle can be deemed a lemon as long as the defect was recorded during the warranty period. The 18 months/18K mile criteria refer to lemon law presumption – and you certainly are not disqualified from your claim if you’re outside of these limits.

If your vehicle does meet the qualifications of California lemon law before the 18 months/18K miles, your claim will be much stronger.

Now, let’s get into car warranty law.

Manufacturer Warranty

The first warranty we want to discuss is the manufacturer warranty.

In most states, lemon law only applies to new vehicles. In other words, the manufacturer warranty is really the only one that matters in a lemon law claim. Fortunately, California lemon law accounts for used vehicles as well, but more on that later.

Most basic, bumper-to-bumper manufacturer warranties are good for 3 years or before 36,000 miles accrue on the odometer or more for the drivetrain. This can vary based on the automaker. Here is a table we’ve put together detailing warranty periods for a handful of the biggest car brands:

If you bought a pre-owned car – it can still be covered under California lemon law if the manufacturer warranty is still in effect.

Dealer Warranty

California is one of the few states with lemon car warranty rights for used vehicles. If the defective vehicle is covered under the dealership warranty and meets the lemon law qualifications, it can be processed in the same way a new vehicle would.

Dealership warranties are much shorter than manufacturer warranties. Under California law, auto dealers are required to offer a warranty that is good for at least 30 days or before 1,000 miles accrue on the odometer – at no extra cost to the consumer. Some dealerships might offer longer warranties or have them available for purchase.

The terms of the dealer warranty must be specified in the buyer’s guide, which should be displayed on the vehicle.

Implied Warranty of Merchantability

The implied warranty of merchantability is a bit of a gray area – as it’s not provided to the consumer in writing. In a nutshell, the implied warranty of merchantability is a promise that the vehicle is in good condition to provide safe, reliable transportation over a certain timeframe. It goes into effect as soon as the vehicle is purchased.

However, this warranty is NOT a promise that every single part of the vehicle will work perfectly. Generally, it will only apply to the essential parts of the car. The radio and speaker systems would not be covered.

The implied warranty of merchantability can be thought of as a basic warranty that only covers the vehicle parts that are critical to its functionality. In accordance with California lemon law, this warranty is implied for at least 30 days after the purchase date.

“As Is”

Buying a vehicle “as is” means there is no warranty in place and you – as the consumer – take full responsibility for any and all issues.

When you buy a car from a private seller, you are more than likely buying it “as is” – unless it is still under the original manufacturer warranty. Some vehicles at dealerships are sold “as is”. However, this must be clearly indicated on the buyer’s guide – per California warranty law.

If the “as is” clause is not indicated on the buyer’s guide – and there is no other written warranty specified – the implied warranty of merchantability may be in effect.

As California lemon law lawyers, we advise that you avoid buying vehicles “as is”. In the unfortunate scenario the car is defective (and not covered under any warranty), your options are very limited.

Wrapping Up

Understanding your car warranty rights is not always easy – as these documents are jam-packed with fine print. Fortunately, that’s what California lemon law lawyers are for!

If you have any questions about your new, used, or leased vehicle’s warranty, don’t hesitate to reach out. We’ve got answers. No matter what issues you’re facing with your vehicle, we’ll make sure you understand how your situation factors into California lemon law.

Give us a call at 888-982-6915, send an email to or fill out a FREE case evaluation.

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