Does California Lemon Law Apply to a Vehicle If Bought from Another State?

California lemon law protects consumers if they purchased or leased a defective vehicle in California. The law holds manufacturers to the promises they made in the terms of the warranty – and requires them to fix defects that occur within the specified timelines. If they cannot fix the vehicle, consumers have the right to file a lemon law claim and seek compensation.

But what if the defective vehicle was purchased in a different state?

Can you seek California lemon law benefits?

The short answer is (for the most part) no. But there are exceptions.

In this post, we’ll discuss the finer details of lemon law, what your options might look like, and your next move in seeking justice. Let’s get going.

Federal Lemon Law Versus State Lemon Law

Lemon law exists on two levels: federal and state.

Federal lemon law – known as the Magnuson-Moss Consumer Warranty Act – was enacted in 1975 to hold manufacturers to the terms of their warranties. The law applies across the country but allows the states to create their own protections for consumers.

That said, the law differs from state to state.

Generally, a state’s lemon law only applies to vehicles purchased within the respective state. Say you purchased a defective vehicle at retail in Maryland then moved to California. Even though lemon law exists across the nation, you may have to go back to Maryland to seek lemon law benefits, unless you are active duty military when the vehicle was purchased. California has a specific exception for active duty military members.

How Does California Lemon Law Work?

California arguably has the most consumer-friendly lemon laws in the country. Known as the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, California lemon law protects consumers who purchased or leased the following vehicles from an authorized California dealership:

  • Car
  • Truck
  • Van
  • SUV
  • RV
  • Motorcycle
  • Scooter

To be ruled a lemon, the vehicle must meet the following qualifications:

  • The defect was first reported to the manufacturer within the terms of the warranty; and
  • The defect is substantial in that it impairs the use, value, or safety of the vehicle; and
  • The manufacturer was unable to repair the defect with a reasonable number of repair attempts (usually at least two); or
  • The vehicle has been out of service for repairs for 30 or more days; and
  • The defect was not caused by driver abuse or neglect.

California lemon law is one of the few states that extends benefits to used vehicles. Used vehicles may be sold with a dealer warranty – which is usually good for 30 days or 1,000 miles after purchase. A vehicle can be processed like new if it meets the state’s lemon law qualifications.

California Lemon Law Exceptions

Typically, California lemon law benefits do not extend to vehicles purchased in another state. However, there is one exception.

The lemon law in California allows certain protections for military personnel. The person must be on full-time active duty in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, National Guard, or Coast Guard. Military personnel may pursue lemon law benefits if they purchased a vehicle from a manufacturer that sells vehicles in California.

Say an active duty member of the Marines purchased a Ford vehicle in New York – then got stationed at Camp Pendleton in California. If the vehicle meets lemon law qualifications, they may pursue benefits in California, as Ford sells vehicles in both states.

Active duty members in California may pursue benefits under the state’s lemon law if:

  1. They were stationed in California at the time the vehicle was purchased; or
  2. They were stationed in California at the time the lemon law claim was filed.

This amendment to California’s lemon law took place in January of 2008. As of this writing, this is the only exception allowing consumers to seek benefits for vehicles purchased in another state.

What’s the Next Move?

The most important thing you can do in the lemon law process is to hire a lemon law lawyer. Consumers who choose to represent themselves almost always end up on the losing side – regardless of the circumstances.

Global automakers have extremely high-powered legal teams helping them avoid liability for selling/leasing defective vehicles. The manufacturers even spend untold amounts of money on skilled ad campaigns to dissuade consumers from hiring lawyers. A skilled attorney will make sure you are properly represented to earn the maximum compensation. Just as your first call should not be to an insurance company after an auto accident, the same is true for a lemon law claim. Call your lawyer first!

Many people believe they can’t afford a lemon law attorney to manage their claim – they are wrong. Manufacturers are required to pay for all court and attorney fees as part of the lemon law buyback. Trustworthy lemon law attorneys work on a contingency fee agreement, but with a very important twist. Lemon law lawyers should not take any percentage fee from the buy back settlement paid out by the automaker. With a lemon law claim, the manufacturer reimburse your lawyer for your incurred fees and costs, in addition to your settlement, and only AFTER they prevail in your case.

Consumers do not have to pay their attorney a penny out-of-pocket. In other words, everyone can afford a good lemon lawyer.  

At Cline, APC, we are happy to answer any questions you might have about the state’s lemon law. Get in touch with a lemon law attorney in California from our office by calling 888-982-6915, sending an email to, or filling out a free case evaluation.

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