What are the Differences Between Federal Lemon Law and California Lemon Law?

For many people, buying a car is more than just a purchase. It’s an investment. Naturally, the last thing you want is to end up with a “lemon.” But should that happen, there are two sets of laws, the California lemon law, and the federal lemon law, protecting consumer rights. 

Unfortunately, people end up with a lemon more often than you think. Research shows that two-thirds of lemon cars start showing symptoms of problems after only one month of purchase. The issues range from a check engine light to a non-starting vehicle. And more importantly, 65% of lemon cars came from a dealership. In other words, the chances of you ending up with a “lemon” are more likely.

When that happens, you’ve to be ready. This is where knowing the differences between federal lemon law and California lemon law can help. It will help you understand which laws apply best to your situation.

Let’s get started.

What Is Federal Lemon Law?

In the United States, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act is referred to as the federal lemon law. It was established in 1975 to regulate warranties for consumer products. In other words, lemon law federal does not specifically pertain to automobiles. It applies to all consumer products.

But as you can imagine, this law applies to vehicles purchased or leased from a manufacturer, dealership, or owner in the United States. It protects both new and used car owners. In general, this lemon law federal states that if a manufacturer cannot repair a consumer product (including a vehicle) after a “reasonable number of attempts,” the manufacturer must permit the consumer to choose either a refund or replacement of the said product.

The law also allows you to recover any damages caused by your lemon. Plus, you can recover your attorney fees and costs should your case prevail in a federal court. But you should consult a lawyer practising lemon law federal before going ahead. They can help you decide the best legal action depending on your situation.

What Is California Lemon Law?

Unlike the lemon law federal, this is a state law. That means it applies specifically to vehicles purchased or leased in California. The California Lemon law protects consumers who buy or lease new or used vehicles with persistent defects or issues that substantially impair their use, safety, or value.

But to qualify for protection under the California lemon law, your vehicle must have a substantial defect that substantially impairs its use, value, or safety. The manufacturer’s warranty must cover the said defect. And it should not result from abuse, neglect, or unauthorized modifications with after-market parts to the vehicle.

Key features of the statutes of CA lemon laws include:

1. Extensive Coverage

The law covers new and used vehicles purchased or leased in California. It includes cars, trucks, SUVs, motorcycles, motorhomes, and a few other types of motor vehicles.

2. Timeframe and Mileage

Generally, the law offers protections for a specific period or mileage after the original purchase or lease. The exact timeframe and mileage limits can vary depending on the nature of the issue.

However, you may be eligible for a refund or replacement if a safety defect occurs twice or more within the first 18 months of the purchase or the first 18,000 miles, whichever comes first. Likewise, you can also ask for a refund or replacement if a non-safety defect occurs four or more times during the same timeline.

3. The number of Repair Attempts

The statutes of CA lemon laws also clarify that you must give the manufacturer or its authorized repair facilities a reasonable number of repair attempts to fix the problem. If the issue persists after a certain number of attempts, the vehicle may be considered a lemon.

In California, these reasonable number of repair attempts are usually two for a safety defect and three or four for a non-safety defect. Alternatively, if the said defect keeps your vehicle out of service for a total of 30 days or more, it may qualify as a lemon.

4. Replacement or Refund

When your vehicle qualifies as a “lemon,” you can get a replacement or a refund. The refund includes the purchase price plus taxes, registration fees, and other related expenses. However, the manufacturer can deduct any use of the vehicle when making a refund.

The manufacturer may also have to pay other expenses, such as rental cars, storage, registration for subsequent years, and towing fees. However, it’s best to speak with a CA lemon law attorney to understand the scope and eligibility of your case.

Understanding the Differences Between Federal and CA Lemon Laws

Both Federal and CA lemon laws help protect consumers who purchase defective vehicles. But there are a few key differences between the two.

1. Jurisdiction

This is perhaps the most critical difference between the two laws. The California lemon law applies specifically to vehicles purchased or leased in California. However, the federal lemon law applies to all consumer products nationwide.

2. Coverage

Federal law governs warranties on consumer products, including vehicles. However, the state law addresses vehicles and provides more comprehensive coverage for new and used cars. It covers trucks, SUVs, motorcycles, motorhomes, and some other motor vehicles.

3. Defect Threshold

Federal law doesn’t specify a specific number of repair attempts or defects. Instead, it focuses on the manufacturer’s failure to meet warranty obligations. However, the state law establishes a threshold of two or more repair attempts for safety defects or four or more for non-safety defects within the first 18 months or 18,000 miles.

4. Legal Remedies

Usually, both lemon laws offer different legal remedies. Federal law allows you to sue for damages resulting from the breach of warranty. On the other hand, the California state lemon law helps you get a replacement vehicle or a refund of the purchase price. Of course, there will be a deduction for any use of the vehicle.

How Do You Protect Your Rights as a Consumer?

As you can see, California lemon law can be more protective if you have purchased or leased a vehicle in the state. But in some cases, federal law may be the best suited to recover damages. And to make this decision, you must consult a competent lemon law lawyer as soon as possible.

An experienced lawyer will study your case and help you take the right legal steps. They often have a strong understanding of which vehicles are eligible and how to start the process. here’s what you can expect from your lemon law lawyer.

  • Determine if your case is actionable.
  • Gather and preserve the required evidence.
  • Handle all your communication with the manufacturer, verbal and written.
  • Find and hire expert witnesses.
  • Talk to eyewitnesses.
  • Create and document all the paperwork pertaining to your case.
  • Prepare the case for litigation (if needed).


Nobody wants to end up with a lemon, whether they buy a new or used vehicle. But you will have to be ready should that happen to you. Knowing which laws apply to your situation can help you make an informed decision. And hopefully, this post will help you understand the differences between federal and California lemon laws. Needless to say, you will have to consult a lemon law lawyer first.

Are you looking for a lemon law attorney? Look no further than us. At Cline APC, we help Californians protect their consumer rights. Call 888-982-6915, email info@clineapc.com, or fill out a free case evaluation form now!

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