California Lemon Law Facts and Statistics to Know Before Buying a Car

Most of us do not think manufacturers sell and lease defective vehicles. These global companies have rigorous quality assurance protocols on the factory floor to ensure every vehicle meets functionality standards.

But no auto brand is perfect.

While relatively rare, mistakes in the factory happen – and sometimes consumers end up buying or leasing vehicles with defective components.

Automakers have no intention of taking responsibility for selling/leasing defective vehicles.

Fortunately, lemon law – which was enacted in 1975 –exists to protect consumers in these scenarios.

Cline APC is a California lemon law firm dedicated to helping California’s consumers seek justice from global auto manufacturers and earn rightful compensation.

In this guide, we want to provide a complete picture of:

Let’s get into it.

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How Many Cars Are Sold in California?

California has THE largest car market in the United States – by a long shot. Currently, there are almost 14.3 million vehicles registered in the state.

In fact, California has one of the largest car markets in the world!

To give you an idea, California has the 10th largest car market on the planet – with the next largest being Italy, France, and the UK. With so many vehicles being sold annually, there are bound to be defects.

The New Car Market

There were approximately 1.91 million new cars sold in California in 2022. While this number is impressive, the amount of new cars sold declined over the past few years – and is slowly recovering. New light vehicle registrations were at a peak in 2016, with 2.21 million sold.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 saw the fewest new vehicle registrations since 2012, coming in at 1.64 million.

The Used Car Market

The used car market in California saw a nice uplift in sales following the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this trend has curbed – with used vehicle sales down roughly 12 percent in 2022.

Most Popular Car Brands in California

Across the new car and used car markets, here are the most popular brands of cars sold in California, listed from highest to lowest:

Dealerships in California

As of this writing, there are 10,335 total car dealerships in the state of California.

Used car sales have always had a considerable number attached to them. That being said, used car dealerships in California significantly outnumber new car dealerships. The used car industry is expected to reach $17.37 billion by the end of 2023.

California’s car dealerships span a wide range of makes and models. These dealerships include both large chains selling new and used vehicles to small, independent dealers offering used cars and/or specific brands.

All dealerships in California are regulated by the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). They are held to strict guidelines and laws designed to protect consumers – which include disclosure requirements and laws against deceptive practices.

A unique aspect of the California car dealership industry is the Golden State leads the charge in the electric vehicle (EV) market. Home to the top EV brand, Tesla, many dealerships sell both electric and hybrid vehicles from various manufacturers. This is partly driven by California’s emission standards, which are among the strictest in the U.S.

Most importantly, car buyers in California also have strong protections under the state’s lemon law – which is known as the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act. This requires both new and used car dealers to repair, replace, or provide a refund for a vehicle sold with persistent problems they are unable to repair.

How Does the California Lemon Law Work?

Lemon law exists across the country, but each state has unique requirements for what constitutes a lemon. California is widely considered to have the most consumer-friendly lemon laws in the United States.

To be eligible for legal recourse under California lemon law, your defective vehicle must meet the following qualifications:

You will need documentation (warranty terms, repair orders, invoices, etc.) to prove your vehicle meets the requirements above to file a claim with the help of a lemon law attorney.

Looking for a lemon law lawyer in California to represent your case?

How Do Warranties Work in California Car Dealerships?

Warranty terms can vary based on the brand of vehicle and whether the car is new or used.

New vehicles follow similar warranty terms across the country – and are more related to the auto manufacturer.

New Car Warranties

Generally, most new vehicles are sold with a bumper-to-bumper and powertrain warranty.

Bumper-to-bumper warranties cover nearly all mechanical and electrical components of the vehicle, including air conditioning, the electrical system, suspension, software, and more.

Powertrain warranties cover the vehicle’s essential components. This would include the engine, transmission, and drive system. These components are supposed to stand the test of time, which is why powertrain warranties are generally longer than bumper-to-bumper warranties.

The timelines and mile limitations vary from brand to brand.

Automaker Bumper-to-bumper Powertrain
BMW 4 years / 50,000 miles 4 years / 50,000 miles
Cadillac 4 years / 50,000 miles 6 years / 70,000 miles
Chevrolet 3 years / 36,000 miles 5 years / 60,000 miles
Ford 3 years / 36,000 miles 5 years / 60,000 miles
Honda 3 years / 36,000 miles 5 years / 60,000 miles
Hyundai 5 years / 60,000 miles 10 years / 100,000 miles
Infiniti 4 years / 60,000 miles 6 years / 70,000 miles
Kia 5 years / 60,000 miles 10 years / 100,000 miles

The warranty terms should be spelled out with documentation during the purchasing/leasing process.

Used Car Warranties

California lemon law requires dealerships to sell used vehicles with either a dealer warranty or an “as is” agreement.

Most used car bumper-to-bumper warranties in California are good for at least 30 days or 1,000 miles.

An “as is” agreement means the consumer takes full responsibility for issues with the vehicle once they drive it off the lot – and there is no warranty or lemon law protections in place.

Dealerships are required to disclose whether there is a warranty or “as is” agreement on the buyer’s guide – which will be attached to the window of the vehicle while on display.

If there is no indication of a dealer warranty or “as is” agreement, the vehicle will likely have an implied warranty of merchantability. This is an unspoken agreement that the vehicle is fit to serve its intended purpose. These implied warranties cover the essential components of the vehicle and are typically good for 60 days up to a year.

Important: To have a valid lemon law claim, the warranty (dealer or manufacturer) must be in effect when the defect was first reported. You will need documentation that proves this. Even if the warranty expires while the vehicle is being serviced, the claim will still be valid.

Lemon Cases Filed in California

Auto manufacturers have rigorous quality assurance checks that are carried out before a vehicle leaves the factory – but no company is perfect. The good news is the chances of ending up with a lemon are very, very rare.

To give you an idea, there were 34,397 lemon law cases filed between 2018 and 2021 in California.

This may sound like a lot, but it’s marginal in comparison to the 7.6 million vehicles sold during that time. That equates to less than 1 percent of the vehicles sold in California ending up as lemons.

Many different elements influence the frequency of lemon law cases.

The overall quality of the vehicle plays a large role, as do other aspects such as the timeliness and efficiency with which the manufacturer-certified repair technicians manage issues brought forward by consumers.

To reiterate, the manufacturer must repair the defect within 30 days after it was reported.

This means the manufacturer’s ability to address skilled automotive technicians and software engineers for defect diagnosis/mitigation plays a large role in lemon law cases.

For instance, a defect may require a simple fix – but if there are not enough repair technicians available within a 30-day timeframe, the vehicle may be ruled a lemon.

Total Number of Car Complaints and Recalls By Brands

No auto manufacturer has a spotless track record of zero car complaints in the eyes of lemon law. But some brands have more issues than others. We’d like to start this section on a positive note and discuss the most reliable auto brands.

Top 3 Brands with the LEAST Lemons

Toyota

Toyota sold 1,527,887 vehicles from 2018-2021. Out of all those vehicles sold, there were 753 lemon law cases filed – making it the most dependable car brand on this list. The brand had 13 recalls in 2022.

Mazda Motor of America

Mazda Motor of America sold 175,930 vehicles from 2018-2021, with only 112 of those vehicles resulting in a lemon law case. There were zero recalls for Mazda vehicles in 2022.

Tesla

Tesla sold 337,077 vehicles in California from 2018-2021. Of that number, there were 112 lemon cases filed. The brand had a total of 20 recalls in 2022.

Top 3 Car Brands with the MOST Lemons

General Motors

General Motors sold 771,809 vehicles from 2018-2021. There were 9,892 lemons sold out of that number. The brand also recorded 67 total car recalls in 2022.

Jaguar Land Rover North America

Jaguar sold 85,087 vehicles from 2018-2021 and recorded 1,021 car complaints that resulted in lemon law cases. The company had 8 total car recalls in 2022.

Fiat

Fiat sold 618,355 vehicles from 2018-2021 – and had 5,798 lemon cases stemming from car complaints. The company had 5 vehicle recalls in 2022.

Repair Attempts Allowed Before Filing A Lemon Law Claim in California

Under California lemon law, the manufacturer must be given a “reasonable” number of repair attempts to fix a defect before it is ruled a lemon. The term “reasonable” is ambiguous – and auto brands may argue they were not given an appropriate number of attempts to fix the reported nonconformity.

Lemon claims are generally accepted if the manufacturer’s certified repair facility was given at least 2 repair attempts – of which were unsuccessful.

However, this depends on the nature of the defect.

For defects impacting the essential components of the vehicle – engine, transmission, drive system, etc. – you may be able to file a lemon law claim after only 1 unsuccessful repair attempt.

Reminder

The manufacturer’s certified repair facility only has 30 days to complete the repair process – regardless of how many repair attempts have taken place. Even if the manufacturer fails to complete one repair attempt, the vehicle being out of service for 30 total days (consecutive or not) may validate a California lemon law claim.

Due to the ambiguity regarding a “reasonable number of repair attempts”, it is very important that you hire a trustworthy California lemon law attorney to build your case. Manufacturers use many tricks and tactics to avoid lemon law cases. Trying to represent yourself against a global auto brand’s legal defense team will almost certainly end in a lowball settlement – or less.

The Average Settlement For Lemon Law Claims in California

As much as we’d like to give you a distinct number here, there is no “average” lemon law settlement in California. Even if there was, it wouldn’t be a valuable piece of information – as there are many, many factors that come into play, including (but not limited to):

When it comes to California lemon law settlements, there are a few different outcomes to consider.

Lemon Law Buyback

The most common outcome is a lemon law buyback – or a refund for the purchase price and other incurred expenses. This option is the most beneficial for the consumer and requires the manufacturer to provide compensation for every last dollar lost due to the defective vehicle, including (but not limited to):

The lemon law buyback is generally the worst outcome for the manufacturer. Not only are buybacks expensive, but it compromises the global reputation they are working to maintain. These companies have high-powered legal defense teams to avoid lemon law buybacks.

You need an experienced California lemon law attorney to fight for fair compensation.

Lemon Law Replacement

A lemon law replacement involves the manufacturer or dealership providing a new vehicle of the same make/model or one of similar value. Unlike a lemon law buyback, the manufacturer is not required to provide a replacement vehicle – both parties must agree to it.

Cash-and-Keep

The cash-and-keep option involves the manufacturer providing the consumer a sum of money for their troubles in addition to letting them keep the vehicle. There are some instances in which this option is ideal.

For instance, let’s say the defect is non-life-threatening – like a window that won’t roll down. The fix is relatively simple, but the manufacturer’s repair facility is too busy to complete the job promptly. In this situation, receiving a sum of cash for the repairs at a later date or through a 3rd party may be ideal.

We generally recommend against cash-and-keep settlements. Consumers tend to come out on the losing side. If you’re not sure, reach out to a California lemon law attorney for advice.

Wrap Up

Ending up with a lemon is a rare occurrence.

In fact, most consumers we deal with did not even know California lemon law existed until they have a defective vehicle. If you purchased or leased a faulty vehicle in CA, the best thing you can do is reach out to a lemon law lawyer in California.

Most attorneys understand you’re in this unfamiliar situation for the first time. At Cline APC, we have no problem answering your questions and steering you in the right direction – even if you don’t have a valid claim.

Always remember: there are no stupid questions you can ask about California lemon law. There are, however, certain uninformed actions that can compromise your claim.

That’s why we provide FREE consultations to anyone who believes they may have a lemon on their hands in California.

Additionally, we operate on a contingency fee agreement. This means you pay nothing to hire us – as we make our fees as part of the total settlement paid by the manufacturer AFTER we win.

If you have questions, concerns, or anything else related to California lemon law, don’t hesitate to call our office at  888-982-6915, send an email to info@clineapc.com, or fill out a case evaluation.

Dealing with a lemon car? Talk to our expert attornies about your case.