The California Lemon Law FAQs We See the Most

Lemon law exists in every state to protect consumers against manufacturers that sell defective products – namely vehicles. Mistakes in the factory happen, and the big brands need to be held accountable if those mistakes are passed unto the buyer.

 As helpful as California lemon law can be, it’s full of gray areas and subtle details. 

Unfortunately, big auto manufacturers have no intention of taking responsibility for selling defective products. For one, refunding a consumer in a full lemon law buyback can cost tens of thousands of dollars – maybe more. Second, automakers have a global brand to protect; admitting fault in producing/selling shoddy products damages the reputation.

That said, automakers go to great lengths to avoid refunding consumers for their own mistakes. So, in addition to hiring the best legal defense money can buy, they have no problem leading consumers astray with bad information.

If you’re reading this post, chances are you’re dealing with a defective vehicle for the first time. I want to steer you in the right direction by discussing the California lemon law FAQs we see the most – and providing honest answers.

Q1. When is a Vehicle Ruled a Lemon?

Let’s start with one of the most common California lemon law FAQs.

 Lemon law exists across the entire United States. But the criteria of what defines a “lemon” varies from state to state. Generally, a vehicle is deemed a lemon if the manufacturer is not able to repair the issue after a “reasonable” number of attempts.

Under California lemon law, the baseline requirements of lemon are:

  • The manufacturer has made at least two failed attempts to fix a problem covered under warranty.
  • The vehicle has been out of service for more than 30 total days for warranty-covered repairs.
  • The defect was not a result of driver abuse.

Q2. Does Lemon Law Only Apply to Passenger Vehicles?

No, most state lemon laws apply to a wide range of vehicles. In California, the lemon law applies to a range of new or used vehicles, including:

  • Cars
  • Trucks
  • SUVs
  • Vans
  • Motorhomes/RVs
  • Scooters
  • Motorcycles

Q3. Can A Used Vehicle Be a Lemon?

This is another one of the common California lemon law FAQs.

The short answer is yes, but it depends.

Generally speaking, a vehicle can be ruled a lemon as long as the manufacturer warranty is still in effect. If the original warranty is expired, it’s a different story. 

Most states only have lemon laws that cover new vehicles – but a handful has laws protecting used ones. Fortunately, California is one of those states. Used vehicles sold with a dealer warranty can be processed like a new vehicle if it is defective.

However, dealer warranties are short – usually good for 30 days after the purchase date or before 1,000 miles accrue on the odometer. If the vehicle is sold “as is” – which is generally the case in private car sales – there is no warranty.

Q4. Is Arbitration a Good Idea for a Lemon?

No! Manufacturers will try to convince consumers that arbitration is a quicker, cheaper alternative to pursuing a lemon claim in court. While it may be “faster,” it’s only “cheaper” for the manufacturer. Arbitration is sponsored by the automaker – and the arbitrators may or may not be biased.

Nine times out of ten, arbitration ends in the consumer getting a low-ball cash settlement instead of a full buyback. Make no mistake, taking your claim in front of the court system with a specialized California lemon law lawyer is ALWAYS the better option.

Additionally, good California lemon law attorneys do not charge consumers anything out of pocket to take the case. Once the vehicle is deemed a lemon, the manufacturer is responsible for all legal fees and court costs.

Some automakers – like Tesla and BMW – sneak forced arbitration clauses into their purchase orders. This essentially signs away your lemon law rights. Be extra careful to opt out of this.

Q5. What if My Warranty is Expired?

The warranty is the foundation for all lemon law cases. A vehicle can be ruled a lemon as long as the defect was first reported to the manufacturer while the warranty was still active. Any subsequent repairs would count towards the claim – even if the warranty expires.

This is why it’s so important to report defects to the manufacturer ASAP. If the defect is reported after the warranty expires, pursuing a claim will be very difficult – even with a good California lemon law lawyer at your side.

Q6. How Long Can the Repair Facility Keep My Car?

This is another one of the lemon law FAQs that depends on the state. In California, the repair facility can keep your car for up to 30 days. After that, the vehicle can be ruled a lemon. This 30-day stretch does not have to be consecutive.

Q7. What if the Vehicle Was Purchased Out of State?

This is one of the most tricky California lemon law FAQs.

Generally, California lemon law only applies to vehicles purchased in California. Moreover, the vehicle must be registered in CA, and the repair attempts must be carried out in-state. But there are exceptions to this rule.

Consumers who are active-duty military might be eligible for benefits under CA lemon law if they purchased the vehicle in the United States from a brand that sells vehicles in California. The consumer must also be a) a California resident or b) stationed in California when the vehicle was purchased or at the time the lemon law claim was started.

A California lemon law lawyer can provide more information about these exceptions.

Q8. What is the Statute of Limitations on Lemon Law Claims?

In California, the statute of limitations to file a lemon law claim is four years.

Even though this might seem like a long window, we encourage consumers to contact a California lemon law lawyer as soon as they notice something is wrong. Every day you drive with a defective vehicle puts you, your passengers, and other drivers at risk.

Q9. How Much Do I Need to Pay for a California Lemon Law Lawyer?

This may be the most important of all the California lemon law FAQs.

Ideally, consumers pay nothing for a lemon law attorney.

Once the consumer wins the case, the manufacturer is legally required to pay for all legal fees and attorney expenses. A skilled and trustworthy lemon law attorney will not demand any out-of-pocket costs to handle the case. Moreover, they won’t take your case unless they believe they can win it.

The most important piece of advice we can give consumers is to avoid cut-rate California lemon law attorneys. Many of these firms make their money on case volume alone. This means they charge the consumer upfront for their fees, then encourage them to take a small cash settlement from the manufacturer to end the process quickly. You DO NOT want this.

In Need of a California Lemon Law Attorney?

This list only scratches the surface of the lemon law FAQs we get. 

The most important thing to keep in mind throughout the process is the manufacturer is not on your side. The answers they give you are meant to suit their best interests, not yours. Some of the advice they might give you can completely ruin your claim.

Keep in mind, the only party on your side is the lemon law attorney you hire.

If you have any questions about the lemon law process, your best move is to contact a specialized lawyer. Most attorneys know you’re in this situation for the first time. In other words, don’t be intimidated to ask a question.

There are no stupid questions in lemon law, just stupid, uninformed actions.

Please do not hesitate to reach out to Cline APC if you have any concerns about your defective vehicle. Even if you do not have a claim, we are happy to put you on the right track.

Call our office at 877-226-5717 or send an email to

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