What You Need to Know About California’s Lemon Law for Used Cars

Lemon laws exist to protect consumers from purchasing defective vehicles that may significantly impact functionality, value, and safety. In California, these laws are considered some of the most stringent and comprehensive in the country. They cover new vehicles and used cars that are still under the applicable manufacturer’s warranty. This article aims to provide essential information about California’s lemon law concerning used cars, helping to ensure that consumers know their rights and can act accordingly.

California’s lemon law, officially called the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, applies to used vehicles in specific circumstances. When a used car is bought with an existing manufacturer’s warranty, the lemon law can safeguard the buyer against dealing with persistent vehicle issues that remain unaddressed after multiple repair attempts. It is crucial to understand that the statute does not cover used vehicles sold “as is” or without an active manufacturer’s warranty. Therefore, buyers should pay close attention to the warranty status of any used car they consider purchasing.

Knowing one’s rights under California’s lemon law for used cars can significantly impact the buyer’s overall experience and satisfaction. If a vehicle is determined to be a lemon, the consumer may be entitled to a replacement or repurchase from the manufacturer. Exploring the specifics of these laws and how they relate to individual circumstances is paramount for any used car buyer in California.

California Lemon Law Overview

California Lemon Law protects consumers who purchase or lease used cars with a warranty. This law ensures that vehicles are safe, reliable, and defect-free. Suppose a used car in California is found to have significant issues that are not resolved after reasonable repair attempts. In that case, the consumer may be eligible for remedies under the Lemon Law.

A used car is considered a “lemon” under California Lemon Law because it has a substantial defect that impairs its use, value, or safety. This means the problem is more than a minor inconvenience – the defect must negatively impact the car’s basic functions or compromise its safety.

To qualify for California Lemon Law protection, the used car must be covered by a warranty at the time of purchase or lease. If a defect is discovered during the warranty period, the consumer should notify the manufacturer or dealer immediately. They are then given a reasonable number of attempts to repair the defect. California law considers four repair attempts or thirty days out of service reasonable.

If the defect cannot be fixed after the given repair attempts or within the designated time frame, the consumer may be entitled to a replacement vehicle or a refund of the purchase price. The choice between the two remedies is typically left up to the consumer.

It is essential to remember that California Lemon Law applies only to vehicles that have been sold or leased with a warranty. Vehicles purchased “as-is” or without a warranty may not qualify for legal protection.

In conclusion, California Lemon Law protects consumers who purchase or lease used cars with a warranty. By ensuring that vehicles are safe, reliable, and free from significant defects, this law helps to maintain trust and confidence in the used car market.

Eligibility Criteria

Used Cars

Lemon law in California applies to used cars under specific conditions. To be eligible for protection under the Lemon law, a used car must:

  • Have a purchase price of $1,500 or more
  • Be registered primarily for personal, family, or household purposes
  • Still within the duration of the implied warranty, usually 30 or 60 days based on California’s “as-is” law or any remaining portion of the manufacturer’s warranty

Certified and Pre-Owned Vehicles

Certified pre-owned (CPO) vehicles are often eligible for the California lemon law. However, these vehicles must meet certain criteria:

  • The car must be certified by the vehicle manufacturer or its authorized dealer
  • The vehicle’s certification comes with an extended warranty from the manufacturer or dealer that goes beyond the original manufacturer’s warranty.
  • Not older than the model year that is 7 years before the current year

Warranty Specifications

Warranty coverage plays a critical role in determining lemon law eligibility in California. Key aspects to consider include:

  • The car must be covered by either the original manufacturer’s warranty, a manufacturer’s extended warranty, or a CPO warranty
  • The car must have been brought in for repairs during the warranty period for the same defect
  • Three or more unsuccessful attempts to fix the defect or the vehicle has been out of service for more than 30 cumulative days due to the defect.
Condition Warranty Coverage Required
Original ✔️
Manufacturer’s extended ✔️
CPO ✔️

Remember to keep all documentation related to repairs and warranty information, as they are crucial in the lemon law claims process.

Understanding Defects

Regarding the California Lemon Law and used cars, it’s crucial to understand the two main types of defects: safety and non-safety. Both can impact a vehicle’s performance and value, but safety defects pose a more immediate risk to drivers and passengers.

Safety Defects

Safety defects are those that have the potential to cause serious bodily injury or death if not addressed. These defects may include issues with the following components:

  • Braking systems
  • Steering mechanisms
  • Seatbelts and airbags
  • Fuel systems

Some examples of safety defects may include:

  • Faulty airbags that fail to deploy in a crash
  • Accelerator pedals that stick, causing unintentional acceleration
  • Brake failure due to poorly manufactured parts

It’s essential to promptly address these defects, as they can cause hazardous situations on the road.

Non-Safety Defects

On the other hand, non-safety defects do not necessarily pose an immediate risk to one’s safety but can significantly affect a vehicle’s performance, value, and usability. Examples of non-safety defects may include:

  • Problems with the electrical system
  • Defective paint or bodywork
  • Issues with the air conditioning or heating systems
  • Malfunctioning power windows or doors

While these defects may not directly impact a driver’s safety, they can lead to inconvenient and irritating problems for the vehicle owner, potentially resulting in costly repairs.

In summary, understanding the distinction between safety and non-safety defects is essential for vehicle owners and legislators in the context of the California Lemon Law. Assessing these defects’ severity and potential consequences helps determine the appropriate course of action to ensure safe and reliable transportation.

Manufacturer’s Responsibility

Repair Attempts

Under California’s lemon law, manufacturers are responsible for fixing a used vehicle’s defects within several repair attempts. The exact number of attempts varies based on the severity of the defect and if the defect poses a risk to the vehicle’s safety:

  • Two attempts for life-threatening defects
  • Four attempts for less severe defects

If the manufacturer fails to fix the defect within the allowed number of attempts, they must proceed further to provide a suitable resolution for the buyer.

Replacement or Refund

California Lemon Law mandates that if a manufacturer cannot repair a used vehicle within the allowed number of repair attempts, they are required to either:

  1. Replace the vehicle with a comparable model, or
  2. Refund the purchase price to the buyer minus a reasonable usage fee.

The choice between replacement or refund depends on the buyer’s preference. The usage fee is determined based on the vehicle’s mileage when the defect is first reported.

Manufacturers must comply with these regulations promptly to ensure customer satisfaction and maintain adherence to California state law.

Lemon Law Remedies

Lemon laws in California cover used cars and offer several remedies to consumers who have purchased a vehicle with unresolved issues. Two primary options are compensation and repurchase.


Lemon law compensation varies based on factors such as the nature of the defect, repair attempts, and the vehicle’s age. The owner may be entitled to reimbursement for expenses directly related to the issue:

  • Repair costs
  • Rental car fees
  • Towing fees

Moreover, the compensation may also include reducing the vehicle’s purchase price to account for the diminished value due to the persistent defect.


If the manufacturer cannot repair the vehicle after a reasonable number of attempts, they may be required to repurchase it. Factors that determine repurchase eligibility include:

  • Time spent in the repair facility
  • The severity of the defect
  • The number of repair attempts

When repurchasing, the manufacturer may deduct a reasonable usage fee based on the car’s mileage before the first repair attempt. The owner is typically entitled to the full purchase price, including taxes, registration, and fees. Additionally, any expenses related to the issue, such as towing and rental car costs, may be reimbursed.

Lemon law remedies aim to protect consumers from the financial burden and inconvenience of purchasing a defective, used vehicle. By understanding these remedies, consumers can better navigate their rights and options.

Arbitration Process

In California, the Lemon law includes an arbitration process to provide a quicker and more cost-effective resolution for disputes regarding used cars. Consumers and manufacturers can settle their disagreements without going to court.

To initiate the arbitration process, the consumer must first notify the manufacturer in writing of any defects or issues they encounter with their used vehicle. The manufacturer then has a limited time to rectify the problems before arbitration begins. During this time, an authorized representative from both parties is contacted to resolve the matter amicably.

If a settlement is not reached through negotiation, a neutral third party called an arbitrator is appointed to oversee the arbitration proceedings. The arbitrator reviews the case, evaluates the evidence, hears arguments from both parties and ultimately makes a decision.

The arbitration decision may consist of one or more of the following outcomes:

  • A complete repurchase of the vehicle by the manufacturer
  • A replacement vehicle of equal or greater value
  • Compensation for the diminished value of the car due to its defects
  • Repair costs reimbursement
  • Other monetary compensations

Both parties are informed of the arbitrator’s decision, which is legally binding and must be carried out. There is the possibility of appealing the arbitration outcome within a specified time limit, but it may be subject to additional procedures or legal fees.

Dealer and Manufacturer Warranties

Implied Warranty of Merchantability

The Implied Warranty of Merchantability is a legal protection for consumers that ensures a used vehicle meets certain basic and reasonable expectations of quality and functionality. This implied warranty applies to all used car sales in California unless the sale is made “as-is.”

Under the Implied Warranty of Merchantability, the dealer guarantees that the vehicle:

  • Is safe to operate on the road
  • Can perform the vehicle’s ordinary purposes, such as transportation
  • Has no significant defects or malfunctions

The duration of the implied warranty varies depending on the vehicle’s mileage at the time of sale. For cars with less than 60,000 miles, the implied warranty lasts for 30 days. For cars with 60,000 – 119,999 miles, the warranty lasts for 15 days; for 120,000 miles or more, the warranty lasts 5 days.

Dealer Warranty

In addition to the Implied Warranty of Merchantability, the dealer may offer a separate warranty on the used vehicle. Such warranties can be limited or comprehensive, depending on the coverage provided by the dealer. A Dealer Warranty generally covers specific parts or systems in the vehicle and can vary in terms of the duration and the conditions under which it applies.

Some common elements of a dealer warranty include:

  • Specified coverage period (e.g., 3 months, 6 months, or longer)
  • Listed components or systems covered by the warranty
  • Details of deductible, if applicable
  • Any limitations or exclusions

It is important for the buyer to carefully review and understand the terms of any dealer-provided warranty before agreeing to the purchase.

Manufacturer’s Warranty

A used car may also come with a remaining portion of the Manufacturer’s Warranty. The vehicle manufacturer provides this type of warranty and typically covers defects in materials or workmanship for a predetermined period or mileage.

The remaining Manufacturer’s Warranty generally transfers to the new owner upon the sale of the used vehicle. However, the specific terms and conditions of coverage can vary among manufacturers; therefore, the buyer needs to review the warranty documentation and understand the scope of coverage and any applicable limitations.

Key elements of a Manufacturer’s Warranty can include:

  • Coverage period (specified in years or mileage)
  • Coverage details (e.g., powertrain, emissions, corrosion)
  • Limitations (e.g., exclusions, transferability)

Legal Support for Lemon Law Cases

In California, lemon law attorneys assist clients with their lemon law cases for used cars. These legal experts have extensive knowledge and experience with California’s lemon law statutes and can help navigate the complexities of the legal process.

A lemon law buyback occurs when a manufacturer repurchases a vehicle deemed a “lemon.” This typically happens when the vehicle has been subject to repeated repairs for the same issue or has been out of service for an extended period due to defects. An experienced California lemon law attorney can help evaluate if a consumer’s vehicle is eligible for a lemon law buyback and guide them through the process.

In a lemon lawsuit, the consumer files a legal claim against the vehicle’s manufacturer, seeking compensation for the defective vehicle. The attorney will assess the case’s merits and gather evidence supporting the claim. This may include repair orders, invoices, and documentation of the vehicle’s history of issues. They will also ensure compliance with the California lemon law’s requirements, such as the timeframe to file a claim and the number of repair attempts made.

Below are some key elements a California lemon law attorney will focus on in a case:

  • Reviewing and analyzing the client’s case
  • Providing guidance on the Lemon law buyback process
  • Filing a lemon lawsuit against the manufacturer
  • Presenting evidence to support the claim
  • Ensuring compliance with California lemon statutes

When pursuing a lemon law case, it’s essential to work with an attorney knowledgeable about California’s lemon law and with a proven track record of success. By doing so, consumers can improve their chances of receiving a favorable outcome in their lemon lawsuit, resulting in either a lemon law buyback or monetary compensation for their used vehicle.

Additional Consumer Protection Laws

In addition to California’s used car lemon law, federal laws provide consumers with protection when purchasing a used vehicle. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) enforces the Used Car Rule, which requires dealers to provide specific information about the vehicle’s history and condition through a Buyers Guide.

The Buyers Guide must disclose information such as:

  • Whether the vehicle is being sold “as is” or with a warranty
  • What percentage of the repair costs will the dealer cover under the warranty
  • A list of major mechanical and electrical systems in the car, including potential problems to look out for
  • Recommendations to have the vehicle inspected by an independent mechanic before purchasing

Additionally, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act is a federal law that protects consumers who purchase vehicles with written warranties. This act ensures that warranties are transparent and consumers understand what they agree to when signing a purchase agreement.

California also has specific consumer protection laws for used cars. The California Car Buyers Bill of Rights requires dealers to offer customers an option to purchase a 2-day return policy for used vehicles under certain conditions. This policy allows a consumer to return the vehicle for any reason within 2 days of purchase if it meets specific criteria. The law also prohibits dealers from selling a used vehicle without clearly disclosing the vehicle’s history, including any previous damage or rebuilds.

Furthermore, California’s lemon law applies to new cars and used vehicles still under their original manufacturer’s warranty. If the vehicle has persistent defects that the manufacturer cannot repair after a reasonable number of attempts, the consumer may be entitled to a replacement or a refund.

In conclusion, federal and California state laws offer various protections for consumers purchasing used vehicles. These laws aim to increase transparency and ensure buyers know the vehicle’s history, warranty information, and rights after purchase.


What is the California Lemon Law for used cars?

The California Lemon Law, officially known as the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, protects consumers who have purchased or leased new or used vehicles with a manufacturer’s warranty. The law states that if a vehicle has significant defects that persist after a reasonable number of repair attempts, the manufacturer must either replace the vehicle or provide a refund.

How does the Lemon Law apply to used cars?

The California Lemon Law applies to used vehicles if:

  • The original manufacturer’s warranty still covers the vehicle.
  • The vehicle was purchased from a licensed dealer.
  • The problem occurred within 18 months of delivery or 18,000 miles, whichever occurs first.
  • The vehicle was purchased for personal, family, or household use.

What are some examples of defects covered under the Lemon Law?

Some defects covered under the California Lemon Law include:

  • Engine failure
  • Transmission issues
  • Brake problems
  • Suspension problems
  • Electrical system issues

What steps should I take if I think my used car is a lemon?

  1. Document all repairs and problems with the car.
  2. Notify the manufacturer or dealer of the problem(s) and request repairs.
  3. Allow the manufacturer a reasonable number of attempts to fix the problem(s).
  4. If the manufacturer cannot fix the problem(s) after a reasonable number of attempts, request a refund or replacement.

What if my used car is no longer under the manufacturer’s warranty?

If your used car is no longer under the manufacturer’s warranty, the California Lemon Law may not apply. However, you may still have legal options such as filing a breach of contract claim or pursuing other consumer protection laws if the vehicle was sold with undisclosed defects.

Is there a time limit to file a claim under the Lemon Law?

Yes, the statute of limitations for filing a claim under the California Lemon Law is four years from the date you discovered the problem or should have discovered it. If you believe you have a valid claim, acting quickly and consulting with a knowledgeable attorney is essential.