By: Brett Shainfeld

Is My Car a Lemon?


Any new car with multiple problems could warrant the question “is my car a lemon?”. It doesn’t matter which manufacturer you buy or lease your car from, or how much you paid for the car. Even reliable car companies, like Honda and Toyota, and luxury ones, like Audi, Mercedes-Benz, and Tesla, have all put out vehicles that have been lemons. No matter how much research you do, or how reputable the car company you buy from is, you’re still at risk for purchasing a lemon.

Statistically, around one percent of new vehicles are classified as lemons each year. That’s over 176,000 vehicles across the country that seem great when you take them home, and then quickly deteriorate. Legally, to be considered a lemon in California, your car must be plagued with serious issues that affect the safety, value, and reliability of the vehicle.

It must have a “substantial defect” that’s covered by a warranty and occurs within a certain period of time after the purchase (the most common terms are 18 months or 18,000 miles, whichever comes first). And the defect continues to be a problem after a “reasonable number” of repair attempts.

This wording is  fairly vague — it’s difficult to know exactly what falls under the categories of “substantial defect” and a “reasonable number of repair attempts.”

The type of issue your car is having will mainly determine whether or not it’s considered a lemon. For example, if the door handle falls off, or the heating system only puts out lukewarm air, but the car still operates fine and poses no safety risks, it’s likely not a lemon (just a car you probably shouldn’t have bought).

But if you’re faced with transmission or engine problems, or the brakes don’t work as they should, it’s more likely to be considered a substantial problem. If you’ve tried repeatedly to fix the vehicle with no luck, you may find yourself wondering, “Is my car a lemon?” And the answer very well could be yes.

What Makes A Car A Lemon?

Is my car a lemon? What is considered a “substantial defect” and a “reasonable number of repairs,” along with the length of the coverage, is going to vary depending on the state you’re in. Most people think there’s one federal lemon law that pertains to the entire country, but that’s not the case. All states have individual lemon laws, and they each vary across the country. The exact wording for what constitutes a lemon car will depend on the state where your vehicle is registered.

To demonstrate the differences in what constitutes a lemon car, we’ll discuss the lemon law in three different states.

In California’s lemon law, most vehicles including motorcycles, it requires four or more repair attempts for the same problem before the car can be considered a lemon.  However, there are exceptions to the number of repair attempts required for issues that pose the risk of substantial injuries or death to a driver.

Georgia’s is a bit more complicated and makes allowances for different types of defects in the car. They determine a reasonable amount of repairs have been made if the brakes or steering has been fixed once during the first year of ownership, or if any other serious defect has been repaired two or more times within the first two years (with one of those repairs taking place the first year).

In New York, they also require just four or more repair attempts for the same defect, or the car be out of service for 30 or more days.

One of the biggest differentiators in each state’s lemon law is the time allowance. For example, using the same states as above, California allows a time period of 18 months or 18,000 miles, whereas Georgia allows for 12 months or 12,000 miles, and New York calls for a period of 24 months or 18,000 miles. Fortunately for you, you don’t have to file your lemon claim during this time period — you just need to be able to prove that the car was suffering from lemon issues during this time. Receipts and repair records should be sufficient to prove the timing of the problem, so be sure to gather those if you’re considering pursuing a lemon case.

Because of these year and mileage limits, lemon laws typically only apply to new cars — even though a used one is more likely to be a lemon. However, an exception occurs if you buy a relatively new used car that still falls under warranty or within these mileage limitations.

You can easily check your state’s lemon laws to find out what constitutes a lemon car.

What Does it Mean if My Car is a Lemon?

If you believe your car to be a lemon, you could have protection under your state’s lemon law. To begin the California lemon law process, he first thing you should do is to contact a qualified lemon law attorney to discuss your lemon law rights.

After a certain number of repair attempts (again, varying by state), lemon laws protect you by ensuring that you’re compensated by the manufacturer in one of the following ways:

  1. They repurchase the defective car (as a refund of all the money you’ve put toward the car, minus the use value before it started encountering issues)
  2. They replace the defective car
  3. They offer you a cash settlement

Should this matter go to trial, the manufacturer will be required to pay for all your attorney fees and associated costs that arose from your lemon case.  But in all circumstances, the manufacturer will be required to pay reasonable attorney fees and costs.

Protect Your Rights as a Consumer

A lower price tag may be appealing, especially on a purchase as expensive as a vehicle. But seeking the best bargain isn’t always the right way to go. Be mindful of “sold as-is” stickers at the dealership and deals that seem too good to be true. Trust your instincts, and be sure to thoroughly evaluate a car before you drive it off the lot.

But, if it’s too late, and you believe the car you purchased is a lemon, you are protected. If you live in California and believe your car might be a lemon, and the manufacturer you purchased it from isn’t cooperating to offer a refund or a replacement, contact a qualified California Lemon Law attorney at Lemon Law Now, by calling (310) 295-1888. We’ll look over your case and provide you with a thorough evaluation of your lemon claim.

Buying a lemon is discouraging, but you are protected under your state’s lemon laws. Don’t get stuck in a never-ending cycle of repair shops and phone calls that never get you anywhere. We’ll help you get back on the road in a more reliable ride.