What Is the Lemon Law?


These questions and responses DO NOT constitute legal advice. They are intended to provide general information to improve your consumer literacy and give a broad understanding about how the marketplace works in the areas discussed. Consumer protection laws differ in different states. Even in California laws frequently change through legislative amendments, developing case law, and sometimes the effect of overriding federal regulations. Your legal rights and remedies will depend on your particular circumstances, documents and evidence.

If you have further questions, just give us a call. You can order Nancy Barron’s book “Return to Sender – Getting a Refund or Replacement for Your Lemon Car” from the publisher www.nclc.org or on www.amazon.com.

What is the Lemon Law?

The basic idea of the lemon law is to allow consumers to get a refund or replacement of a defective product, which the manufacturer cannot repair within a reasonable time or number of attempts.

What Kinds of Things are Covered by the Lemon Law?

In most states, the Lemon Law only covers vehicles. But that’s not true in California. The Lemon Law covers consumer goods from cars and trucks to boats and wheel chairs, personal computers and even grand pianos. However, a portion of the California Lemon Law gives special treatment to cars, trucks and the chassis portion of motor homes.

Does the Lemon Law Apply to Used Cars and Trucks?

In some cases, yes. If a used car was sold with part of the new car warranty still left, it may be covered under the California lemon law.

What if I’m Out of Warranty?

Dealers will tell you that you are out of luck. That may not be true. If you took your car in for a problem during the warranty period and it didn’t get fixed, the warranty may be extended by law to cover that defect. This will depend on the circumstances, and sometimes require an independent expert report.

Do I Have to Take the Car in Four Times Before It’s a Lemon?

No. Despite what the car dealer might tell you, the test is what constitutes a “reasonable” opportunity to repair. If, within the first 18 months or 18,000 of driving, you have taken it in 4 times for the same problem or just twice for some safety defects, or else it has been in the shop 30 days for a variety of problems, the law may presume a reasonable opportunity is met.

What if I Used the Car or Truck for Business Purposes?

In California you still have Lemon Law protection if you are a small business with only five vehicles registered for use in California. This “small business use” exception to the definition of “consumer” is one which significantly expands the Lemon Law to persons who work out of their home, are independent contractors, are self-employed, or are required to provide their own car for work-related duties.

What if the Authorized Dealer Refuses to Repair the Defect or Insists There is “No Problem Found”?

The manufacturer is required to maintain authorized dealers in this state that can repair the vehicle. If the repair order simply states “no problem found,” in response to a particular defect, it may still count as a repair attempt under the Lemon Law. An independent expert can evaluate the vehicle, and we often seek independent experts’ advice.

Do I Need to Go Through Arbitration Before Bringing a Lemon Law Case?

No, you don’t. And if you do go through the manufacturer’s sponsored program, the result is binding on the manufacturer, but not on you, the consumer. In most cases you can reject the decision and still go to court. Often, it is just a waste of time.

Do I Have to File Suit Within One Year of Purchase?

Not at all. Often you don’t even know you have a problem by then. While you should never sit on your rights when you have a valid complaint, the Lemon Law gives the consumer four years from the discovery that the vehicle was a lemon. This is usually from the time of the last repair attempt that gives rise to the claim.

What if the Dealer is Out of Business?

The claim under the Lemon Law is basically against the manufacturer (although we always look at lender liability and dealer liability on related claims). Therefore, the dealer’s disappearance or demise has very little effect on the Lemon Law claim. The bankruptcies of Chrysler and GM took a temporary toll on some Lemon Law claims, but we see little effect at the present time.

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