Lemon Law in California

California Lemon Law

If your new car is spending more time at the repair shop than it spends with you, you might have a lemon on your hands. Thankfully, the California lemon law is in place to protect consumers facing a sour deal.

Generally, the lemon law covers new vehicles with serious defects/malfunctions for a certain amount of time or mileage. If your vehicle can't be fixed after a reasonable number of repair attempts by the manufacturer or its authorized dealer, you'll likely be entitled to a replacement vehicle of equal value or a total refund.

On this page you'll find a general overview of California's lemon law and what to do if you find yourself with a defective car.

When Is a California Vehicle a "Lemon"?

In California, a vehicle is presumed to be a “lemon" by the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act if, within 18 months of the vehicle's delivery to the buyer (or 18,000 miles on the odometer):

  • 2 attempts or more have been made by the manufacturer to repair a warranty problem that could result in death or serious injury.
  • The manufacturer has attempted to repair the same warranty problem at least 4 times.
  • The car has been out of service for 30 days or more for repair to warranty problems.
  • Problems to the vehicle are not the result of abuse by the owner.

If your car qualifies as a lemon, the manufacturer has the responsibility of either:

  • Replacing your vehicle.
  • Refunding you for the vehicle's purchase price.

If your manufacturer refuses or unreasonably delays doing either of the above, you can:

Start Keeping Records

While many car dealerships/manufacturers are great about helping you get a lemon repaired or replaced, don't count on them to keep track of everything related to your problems. Keep records of all the time you've lost from work, time the vehicle has been in the shop, and the exact nature of any problems.

Look over each service write-up when you take your car in. Unscrupulous repair people have been known to switch a problem diagnosis, or attempt to report an ongoing problem as new, in order to buy the dealership more time on a possible lemon.

What to Do if You Have a Lemon

If the dealer won't help you adequately, turn to the manufacturer. Take these steps:

  1. Write a letter to the manufacturer asking it to buy back your car. This letter should be sent via certified mail, with a return receipt requested, to the address listed in your vehicle owner's manual.
  2. If the manufacturer balks at repurchasing your vehicle, you have two options: Hire an attorney that specializes in Lemon Law, or ask the manufacturer if it has an arbitration program.
  3. Check to see if the manufacturer offers an arbitration program by looking in your owner's manual, or by calling California's Bureau of Automotive Repair Hotline at (800) 952-5210. Request an application form and a copy of the manufacturer's arbitration program regulations.
  4. If at all possible, attend the arbitration hearing in person. You can either accept or reject the findings of the arbitration panel. Should you decide to reject the offer, or if the panel votes against you, don't despair. If you are not satisfied with the results, you can always file a suit against the manufacturer through the courts.

Hiring a CA Lemon Law Attorney

A lemon law attorney knows the ins and outs of the CA lemon law and can help you manage your case and receive the highest amount possible.

Other benefits of letting an attorney handle your case include:

  • Your lawyer knows your consumer rights.
  • You may end up getting a resolution much quicker than attempting to deal with the issue yourself.
  • You will have more negotiating power with an attorney at your side that knows the law.
  • Your attorney can handle correspondence with your manufacturer so you can avoid making statements that could damage your case.

What Is Arbitration?

Before deciding to hire a lemon law attorney, you may wish to consider arbitration. In the process of arbitration, a neutral arbitrator helps resolve the dispute between you and your vehicle manufacturer.

You can seek arbitration if:

  • You've already attempted to resolve the dispute with your manufacturer.
  • The warranty problem has not been repaired and is substantially hampering the use or safety of your vehicle.
  • The problem is covered by the original warranty.


  • Arbitration is free.
  • The decision is not binding for the consumer in California.
  • It does not require you to hire an attorney.

Potential Drawbacks

  • You may end up receiving less than the California Lemon Law allows.
  • You may get stuck in arbitration for long period of time.
  • The rules of discovery are limited in arbitration, which means it can be harder for the consumer to prove his case through evidence.

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