By: Brett Shainfeld

Most people have heard of the lemon law, but do you really know what it is? “Lemon Law” is the common term for state laws that follow the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act. It provides protection to consumers who purchase goods under warranty which end up being defective. The lemon law is most commonly associated with vehicle coverage, but it actually covers anything you could buy with a warranty such as kitchen appliances and fancy electric toothbrushes.

Because lemon laws are state regulated, each state’s law is slightly different. They all amount to the same protections but have slight variations on the length of coverage, types of defects that are covered, and how many times you have to try to repair it before you’re entitled to compensation.

In California specifically, a vehicle must meet the following criteria within 18 months or 18,000 miles (whichever comes first) of owning a car:

  • The manufacturer has made two or more repair attempts to fix a warranty problem that could result in death or serious injury
  • The manufacturer has made at least four repair attempts to fix the same warranty problem, and the issue still persists
  • The car has been undrivable for at least 30 days because of warranty repair problems
  • Any issues the car is having are not the result of abuse by the owner

Whether you’re driving a new car or a used one, you could qualify for protection under the California lemon law if you meet the above criteria. Below, we’ll give you more information on protection for new cars, legal rights when buying a used car from a dealer, and what it means to purchase a car “as is”.

Is My New Car Covered Under the Lemon Law?

One of the benefits of buying a new car is that you shouldn’t have to deal with any major maintenance issues for a while after you drive it off the lot. The odometer basically reads zero, you can go longer between oil changes, and you don’t even have to get emissions testing for a few years. So the last thing you expect to be faced with is a major malfunction or defect.

If your brand new car starts acting up, it can be a major source of stress and frustration — particularly if the problem is with a major component of the vehicle such as the brakes or steering. Fortunately, new cars are typically always covered under California lemon law because they’re likely to still be under warranty from the manufacturer, and any apparent defects are likely to show within the 18 month/18,000 mile time restriction.

The exceptions to new car coverage under the lemon law are things that aren’t covered under the car’s warranty. So while it might be annoying that the door handle falls off or the heating system isn’t as toasty as you like it, if it’s not covered under the warranty and it doesn’t pose a serious threat to safety, you might be on your own for repairs.

Always read the fine print on any documentation concerning your car warranty so you can be informed of the coverage you’ve been promised by the manufacturer. This type of knowledge will be invaluable when it comes to pursuing a lemon law case in California.

What Are My Legal Rights When Buying a Used Car?

Even if you buy a used car, you shouldn’t have to worry about major mechanical issues right off the lot. A few dents and scratches are reasonable, but failing brakes shouldn’t be sending your car in for repairs time and again. Unfortunately, sometimes people opt to sell a car with major issues and try to pass it off as safe rather than deal with repair headaches.

If this has happened to you, under used car laws in California, you’re still entitled to protection under the state lemon law as long as your car has an active warranty when you buy it. However, an active warranty can mean a few different things.

Sometimes, even used cars still fall under the original manufacturer’s warranty. In cases such as this, you’re entitled to all the same protections as a new car within the same time limit. So if the car has less than 18,000 miles on it, and suddenly things aren’t working the way they should, you can still be compensated under the California lemon law.

However, your car doesn’t have to have the original manufacturer warranty to get coverage. Used car laws in California also allow for a dealership’s express written warranty in order to qualify for lemon law protection. In this case, your legal rights when buying a used car from a dealer are similar to the ones you’d have when buying a new car from a dealer. This is also true for lemons that have been previously repurchased by the manufacturer, repaired, and resold with new express written warranties that cover that particular defect.

Lemon law cases for used cars can often be much more complicated than cases with new cars. While you may still have a good chance of winning a lemon law claim with a used car, the compensation amounts may be quite different from new cars. There are often guidelines and formulas in place for calculating fair compensation with new cars, because their value can be easily determined. But that’s not always the case for a used car. So while used car laws in California do provide lemon law coverage, you’ll want to be sure you work with an expert attorney in the event of a claim or lawsuit.

What Does “As-Is” Mean For Lemon Law Coverage?

Sometimes, used cars are sold at dealerships with “as-is” stickers on them. This means that any defects or mechanical issues are the responsibility of the buyer/owner. The dealer has labeled the car “as-is” in order to waive any responsibility through either written or implied warranties. This is something you should be very careful when considering purchasing one of these vehicles.

But, you may still have legal rights when buying a used car from a dealer, even if it was sold “as-is”. Sometimes, dealerships don’t follow proper procedures when selling these cars and an implied warranty could still exist on the vehicle. Or, when you approach the dealership about issues you’re having with the car, some dealers will try to make you believe you bought the car as-is, when it fact it wasn’t labeled as such.

If you do buy a car that is clearly marked “as-is” or “with all faults”, then you might be stuck paying for repairs and can say you learned a costly lesson in car buying. But a lemon law expert will help you determine if that’s the case, or if you may be entitled to fair compensation.

Your Rights Under California Lemon Law

Under California lemon law, you’re protected in the event you purchased a lemon. If you’ve followed the appropriate steps in attempting to get the car repaired and it’s still suffering from substantial defects that are covered under warranty, the manufacturer is required to compensate you. They can do this in one of three ways:

  • The car company can buy the car back from you (minus any reasonable amount for use you’ve already gotten out of it).
  • They can replace the defective car with a new one that works properly and is free of issues.
  • They can offer you a cash settlement.

If you contact the manufacturer or dealer and present your case with all supporting documentation and they won’t replace or repurchase the vehicle, you have a couple of options for getting your money back. You can start an arbitration process, which is where you’ll present your case out of court to a panel or a single arbiter. The car’s manufacturer will be able to present their case as well, and the arbiters will settle the dispute.

Or, you can hire an expert lemon lawyer to present your case for you in court.

Shainfeld Law Can Help You

At Shainfeld Law, we have over 10 years of winning lemon cases behind us. We specialize in California lemon law specifically, so we can help you navigate every angle of your case. Whether you’re sure you have a lemon and are ready to fight for your rights, or you’ve been heading to the shop a lot lately and aren’t sure where you stand, we’re here to help.

You can contact us for a free consultation, where we’ll evaluate your case and determine the best next steps for you to take. And in the meantime, our site is full of useful resources to help you better understand California lemon law.