What Am I Entitled to Under the California Lemon Law?

By Contributing Writer

  • Overview

    What Am I Entitled to Under the California Lemon Law?
    The California "lemon law" provides a remedy for consumers who purchase a new car that just won't run right, or is unsafe. According to the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, if within 18 months of purchasing or leasing your new vehicle, it malfunctions and cannot be repaired, you are entitled to a replacement vehicle or a refund. But to receive all the benefits due to you under California law, you first need to know if your vehicle qualifies and what considerations you must allow to the manufacturer.
  • Identification

    To be covered by the California lemon law, your vehicle must be purchased or leased for personal use, and it must be purchased while still under the manufacturer's new car warranty. If you purchase a used vehicle that is still under its original manufacturer's warranty, the lemon law is applicable until the expiration of the warranty. This applies to all types of newly purchased motor vehicles, but used motorcycles and other off-road vehicles may not be covered by the specific terms of the lemon law.
  • Repair Attempts

    Under the California lemon law, the manufacturer of your vehicle is allowed to make a "reasonable number" of attempts to repair your car. For conditions that could result in bodily injury, two repair attempts are considered reasonable. For other defects, four repair attempts are considered reasonable. The lemon law also applies when a vehicle has numerous problems that cause the vehicle to be nonoperational for 30 cumulative days within the first 18 months after purchase. These are general guidelines, not firm rules. Judges or arbiters may rule differently in certain cases.


  • Warning

    In all cases, the auto manufacturer must be notified of the defect as soon as possible, and in accordance with the manufacturer's warranty. Repairs must be made by an agent authorized by the manufacturer. The manufacturer should always be notified directly. You should not rely upon the dealership to communicate with the manufacturer. If you have repairs made by an independent repair shop, you could jeopardize your California lemon law rights.
  • Benefits

    According to the California lemon law, if your vehicle cannot be repaired, you have the right to receive a refund for the purchase price of the vehicle or to receive a new vehicle. You are allowed to select which remedy you prefer. A refund from the auto manufacturer will include the base vehicle price plus manufacturer installed items, but features added by the dealer are not covered. Transportation, sales and use taxes, registration and other fees are included, as well as expenses you've incurred as a direct result of the malfunction of the car, such as towing, repairs and car rental.
  • Considerations

    The California lemon law allows an automobile manufacturer to deduct from your refund a charge for your use of the vehicle. The amount charged is based on the mileage of the car before the first documented occurrence of the problem. Examples of documentation are your certified mail return receipt for your complaint filing and receipts from an authorized repair shops.
  • Differing Rules

    The California lemon law offers some protection for buyers of used cars warranted by the dealer instead of the manufacturer; however, the rules differ somewhat. For instance, while the dealer may charge the purchaser for use of the vehicle before the problem occurred, there is no predetermined method of calculating those charges. Also, what constitutes a "reasonable" number of repair attempts may vary from those recommended in the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act.
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