What Makes a Car a Lemon?

A car, truck or SUV may be a “lemon” in California if it has a significant defect that impairs use, safety or value, occurs during the warranty period and cannot be fixed within a reasonable number of repair attempts.

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    Does your vehicle have recurring problems?

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    Does your manufacturer’s warranty cover these problems?

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    Do these problems affect your vehicle’s use, safety or value?

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    Have you been giving your local dealership or auto repair shop a reasonable number of chances to repair your vehicle?

If you answered YES to these questions, you may have a lemon. To explore your options, consult a lemon law attorney and get a thorough review of your repair orders.

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When the California Lemon Law is Applied

You may be able to apply the California Lemon Law to a vehicle when a dealership or auto repair shop has failed to repair it within a reasonable number of attempts.

There is no set number of attempts considered “reasonable” under the California Lemon Law. However, this number will instead depend on the facts of the case. Thankfully, part of the lemon law offers a guideline, which is known as the lemon law presumptions. Moreover, if a vehicle meets these presumptions, it is likely to be a lemon.


Under the Tanner Consumer Protection Act, a vehicle is presumed to be a lemon if, within 18,000 miles or 18 months (whichever is first) it:

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    Impairs use, safety or value and couldn’t be fixed within four repair attempts.

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    Could cause injury or death and couldn’t be fixed within two repair attempts.

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    Results in the vehicle being kept at the repair shop for more than 30 cumulative days.

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Vehicles Covered by Lemon Law

The California Lemon Law covers new or used vehicles with a valid warranty from the auto manufacturer. Most importantly, the lemon law sets specific criteria for vehicles to be considered defective.

  • Cars, trucks, vans, SUVs and other motor vehicles
  • New, used or Certified Pre-Owned vehicles
  • Dealer-owned vehicles or “demonstrators”
In addition, the vehicle must be:
  • Registered for personal, family or household use, or
  • Registered to businesses with no more than five registered vehicles and,
  • Bought or leased from a licensed dealership in California
These vehicles are NOT covered under the lemon law:
  • Not registered under the California Vehicle Code
  • Purchased outside of California (unless serving in Armed Forces)
  • Purchased from private sales or auctions
  • Sold “as-is”
  • Purchased after the manufacturer warranty has expired
  • Problems caused by abuse or lack of maintenance

Lemon Law Rewards

If your vehicle is a lemon, the auto manufacturer has to repurchase your vehicle or replace it with a substantially identical vehicle. Similarly, the auto manufacturer also has to pay your attorney’s fees and costs if you win your lemon law claim.

Should the auto manufacturer repurchase defective vehicles, they have to be titled as a “Lemon Law Buyback.” Because the auto manufacturer may attempt to repair this vehicle before putting it back on the market, it’s important to note that the “lemon law buyback” title will appear on the vehicle record.

Determining Your Payout

Two things determine the amount you are given for your vehicle: the total amount paid or payable to your vehicle and a mileage offset based on the mileage at which the defect first appeared.

The total amount paid or payable includes the vehicle’s purchase price, along with other expenses. Mileage offset is the amount taken off what the auto manufacturer owes you. If the defect first appears while your vehicle has higher mileage, the auto manufacturer is responsible for paying you less for your vehicle.

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Think You Have a Lemon?

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