Can Dealerships Hold Your Car for More Than 30 Days For Repair?

There’s nothing more frustrating than purchasing or leasing a vehicle to find it has manufacturer defects. Fortunately, there are laws in place to protect you and hold the manufacturer/dealership accountable. These laws are called lemon laws.

Lemon law exists across the United States – and each state has unique specifications of what constitutes a lemon vehicle. At Cline APC, we are a California lemon law firm.

Under California lemon law, car dealerships are legally obligated to repair manufacturer defects. If they are not able to do so with a reasonable number of attempts, the consumer can file a lemon claim to receive a replacement or a buyback of the vehicle.

But how long can a dealership hold your car for repair?

Many consumers do not realize there is a time limit for dealerships to perform repairs.

In this post, we want to explain the basics of California lemon law – and what you can do if the car repair is taking longer than expected.

How Does California Lemon Law Work?

Under California lemon law – known as the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act – manufacturers/dealerships are required to provide a replacement or buyback of a defective vehicle if it meets the following qualifications:

  • The vehicle’s warranty was valid when the consumer reported the defect; and
  • The defect is substantial, meaning it impairs the vehicle’s safety, functionality, or value; and
  • The defect was not caused by the consumer’s carelessness, neglect, or abuse; and
  • The dealership has been given a reasonable number of attempts to fix the defect; or
  • The vehicle has been out of service for repairs for 30 or more days.

But how many repair attempts before lemon law claims are validated?

California lemon law requires consumers to give manufacturers a “reasonable” number of repair attempts to fix the defect – which sounds ambiguous. In most cases, two unsuccessful repair attempts can warrant a lemon claim. In certain scenarios, one unsuccessful attempt may suffice.

If you have documentation to prove your vehicle meets the criteria of California lemon law, the next step is to file a claim with the help of a California lemon law lawyer.

Start by Checking the Warranty

First and foremost, you need to understand the warranty terms before you attempt to seek benefits under California lemon law. The vehicle must be covered under the original warranty when the defect was first reported to the manufacturer.

Even if the warranty expires during the repair process, you may still have a valid claim if the manufacturer’s certified technicians are not able to fix the defect. You’ll need to provide your California lemon law lawyer with a copy of the warranty terms (including the date it went into effect) and documentation showing when you reported the defect to the manufacturer.

California is one of the few states that extend lemon law rights to used vehicles – in addition to new vehicles. Used car warranties are usually good for 30 days or 1,000 miles after purchase.

Used car dealerships are required to disclose if the vehicle is being sold with a dealer warranty or an “as is” agreement. An “as is” agreement means you take complete responsibility for any defects or issues with the vehicle – and there is no warranty in place.

How Long Does it Take to Repair A Car?

The duration of the repair process can vary based on the defect.

However, a manufacturer-certified repair facility may hold your car for no more than 30 cumulative days.

If this is the case, you may file a lemon claim with the help of a California lemon law lawyer – even if the facility has not completed the repair attempt.

When you bring your vehicle to the manufacturer’s repair facility, they will open a repair order. This order will specify the date the vehicle was brought in and the date the attempt was completed – indicating how many days the vehicle was out of service.

Regardless of how many attempts the facility makes, you’ll need to hold onto your repair order to clarify how many days the vehicle has been in the shop. If the number exceeds 30 days (consecutive or not), you may have a valid lemon claim.

What was the Agreement with the Dealership?

When answering the question of how long can a dealership hold your car for repair, it’s important to have a documented agreement regarding the expected duration for repairs. Even though there’s no legal obligation for a pre-repair signed contract, it’s strongly suggested to have a written commitment noting the projected timeframe.

This agreement provides concrete evidence in your lemon case if the dealership keeps your vehicle longer than anticipated.

It should be noted that insurance companies generally set a repair window of about 10-20 days – which is generally sufficient for warranty repairs. However, the period could fluctuate based on the complexity and nature of the defect.

If the repair duration exceeds the agreed-upon time or there are substantial delays without a credible reason, referencing the written agreement can aid in negotiation and could potentially lead to a more favorable resolution.

What About a 3rd Party Mechanic?

Do not – under any circumstance – take your vehicle to a 3rd party mechanic to repair a manufacturer defect while the warranty is still active. This can potentially void your warranty and invalidate a lemon law claim.

If the warranty is expired, you are more than welcome to take your vehicle to a trusted 3rd party mechanicand the question “how long can a dealership hold your car for repair” is no longer relevant.

What to do if the Dealership Holds the Car Too Long

If the car repair is taking longer than expected – and exceeds 30 cumulative days – your first step is to contact a California lemon law lawyer. Your attorney will instruct you on all the necessary documentation to build your claim.

As a baseline, this will include:

  • A copy of the warranty terms
  • Documentation of when you reported the defect
  • All repair orders (indicating the dates the vehicle was out of service)

The more documentation you can provide to your lawyer, the more evidence you’ll have to build a strong claim.

Speak to a California Lemon Law Lawyer

Ending up with a lemon is rare – and knowing what to do as a consumer is not always clear.

Even if you’re not sure what your next move is, it never hurts to call a lemon law lawyer with questions. Most attorneys know you’ve probably never been in the situation before and are happy to provide guidance.

At Cline APC, we offer FREE consultations to determine if you have a valid lemon law claim. We’ll assess your situation, records, warranty terms, and everything else to understand your rights. If you’re asking yourself the following questions:

  • How long can a dealership hold your car for repair?
  • How long does it take to repair a car
  • How many repairs before lemon law claims are valid?

Get in touch with our firm today.

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

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