California Lemon Law Basics Every Consumer Should Know

No one thinks they’re going to end up with a lemon. Most people have no idea what lemon law is until they come face-to-face with it. But what is the lemon law exactly? Why does it exist?

Lemon law – known as the Magnuson-Moss Consumer Warranty Act – exists to protect consumers if they purchase or lease a defective vehicle. The law holds manufacturers to the terms of their warranties and requires them to take responsibility for selling a defective product.

Unfortunately, consumers cannot simply stroll back into the dealership with a receipt and expect the manufacturer to cut them a check. It must meet the state’s lemon law guidelines first.

The good news is consumers don’t have to be experts in lemon law to receive fair compensation from a manufacturer. The attorney you hire will manage all the heavy lifting to negotiate your buyback (or settlement). However, it will be extremely beneficial to understand the basics – as this can be the difference in earning justice.

In this post, we discuss the California return policy law for vehicles, and what your next steps are in earning compensation. Let’s dive in.

What is The Lemon Law in California?

Lemon law exists across the entire country – but the details vary from state to state. California lemon law – known as the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act – is arguably the most consumer-friendly of all the states.

For a vehicle to be legally ruled a lemon in California, it must meet the following qualifications:

  • The vehicle was covered under the manufacturer or dealer warranty when the defect or nonconformity was first reported; and
  • The defect or nonconformity substantially impairs the vehicle’s use, value or safety; and
  • The manufacturer has been given a reasonable number of repair attempts to fix the defect or nonconformity (usually at least two); or
  • The vehicle has been out of service for repairs on one or more defects/nonconformities for at least 30 days; and
  • The defect or nonconformity was not caused by driver abuse or neglect.

You’ll need to have documentation from the manufacturer-certified repair facility to prove your vehicle meets the qualifications.

California Lemon Law Covers Used Vehicles

California is one of the few states that extend lemon law benefits to used vehicles. To qualify, the vehicle must be sold at retail with a dealership warranty. These warranties are usually good for 30 days after purchase or before 1,000 miles accrue on the odometer.

If your vehicle meets California’s lemon law qualifications during these terms, the vehicle will be processed in the same way as a new one.

Now, if the vehicle was sold “as is”, you will not likely be eligible for any lemon law benefits. “As is” agreements mean the consumer takes full responsibility for any defects once they drive it off the lot.

Dealers are required to specify whether there is a warranty or “as is” agreement on the buyer’s guide. If there is no indication of either, the vehicle has an implied warranty of merchantability, meaning the vehicle is fit for its intended purposes. Implied warranties are good for 60 days or up to a year.

What the Lemon Law Pertains to

Lemon law pertains largely to cars or other vehicle types. In California, this includes:

  • Cars
  • Pickup trucks
  • SUVs
  • Vans
  • Motorhomes
  • Recreational vehicles
  • Scooters
  • Motorcycles

Any of these vehicles sold with a manufacturer or dealer warranty may be eligible for lemon law benefits.

There is also lemon law for electronics and appliances. This includes (but is not limited to):

  • Dishwashers
  • Dryers
  • Washing machines
  • Ovens
  • Microwaves
  • Stoves

Consumers who purchased a defective item over $50 may be able to seek compensation via lemon law California for electronics.

What Are You Entitled to Under California Lemon Law?

If you can prove your product or vehicle meets the qualifications of California lemon law, the manufacturer is required to provide a buyback.

A buyback is essentially a refund for the defective product, in addition to every other cost incurred. The recoupable costs include (but are not limited to):

  • Full reimbursement for the defective vehicle minus a mileage offset (down payment, monthly payments made, remaining balance of the loan).
  • All official costs paid for the vehicle (registration, sales tax, etc.)
  • All incidental costs incurred from the lemon (towing fees, cab fares, rental cars, etc.)
  • All court fees.
  • All the consumer’s attorney fees.

The most important thing is that you have documentation for ALL these costs. Be sure to hold onto your purchase order for the vehicle, loan terms, warranty, etc. Your attorney will advise you on everything you need to seek maximum compensation.

Hiring a Lemon Lawyer in California Won’t Cost you a Penny

Some consumers believe they don’t need a lemon law attorney. Perhaps this is because they believe their lemon law claim is very strong – or maybe they don’t think they can afford a good lawyer. Both of these assumptions are incorrect.

It’s important to remember that automakers are global companies with deep pockets. They have extremely high-powered legal defense teams helping them avoid lemon law buybacks. To reiterate, most consumers have never dealt with the lemon law process before. Manufacturers will take advantage of this to avoid responsibility for selling/leasing you a defective vehicle.

Plain and simple, it will be nearly impossible to earn a fair settlement without a skilled lemon law attorney. The good news is ANYONE can afford to hire one. This is because lemon lawyers do not work on a contingency fee agreement. Rather, lemon law attorneys know they will recoup their fees and costs, separate and apart from your buyback settlement, and from the manufacturer after they prevail in your claim.

Trustworthy lemon law lawyers never charge consumers a penny upfront to take their case. Moreover, they won’t take the case unless they think they can win.

The Next Move

The importance of hiring a lemon attorney cannot be understated. If you’ve got a defective vehicle, get in touch with one as soon as possible. The worst thing you can do with lemon is wait. Not only will this weaken your claim, but it also puts you and other people at risk.

Even if you’re not sure what to do, it never hurts to talk to an attorney for advice. Most understand that you’re in this situation for the first time – and will have no problem pointing you in the right direction. If you’ve got even a slight hunch that your vehicle is defective, call Cline APC for answers. We’re always happy to put your mind at ease.

Call 888-982-6915, send an email to or fill out a free case evaluation.

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