California Lemon Law News + Info

A Guide to California Used Car Lemon Laws

Does the Lemon Law Apply to Used Cars?

If you bought a used car, truck or other motor vehicle, you may wonder if the California Lemon Law offers you any protection. Many state lemon laws offer varying protections to new motor vehicles, as long as they were bought with warranties from the manufacturer. However, not every state lemon law offers similar protections to used vehicle owners.

The common question for California drivers is “Does the lemon law apply to used cars?” The answer is yes. California Used Car Lemon Law covers used, certified pre-owned and refurbished cars that were purchased with manufacturer-backed warranties and experienced significant manufacturing defects.

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California Lemon Law for Used Cars

The California Lemon Law considers a used car to be a lemon if it has a problem that affects its use, value or safety, the problem is covered under the manufacturer’s warranty, and the dealership or authorized repair facility could not repair the vehicle within a reasonable number of repair attempts.

Under the California Lemon Law, the auto manufacturer has an affirmative duty to ensure that your vehicle (new or used) conforms to the terms of its express warranty. In the event that your vehicle cannot be repaired within a reasonable number of repair attempts, the auto manufacturer has the affirmative duty to offer a replacement car or a refund of what you paid for the vehicle, minus the good miles you got out of it.

If your used car is found to be a lemon, you may be eligible for a replacement vehicle that is substantially identical to your current vehicle model, or for a repurchase of your vehicle. The amount offered to repurchase your vehicle is determined by what you paid for the car, minus an amount that is based on the “good miles” driven before the defect first surfaced.

You may get certain out-of-pocket expenses reimbursed, such as rental fees, towing costs, or out-of-pocket repair costs. However, this depends on the circumstances of your used car lemon law case.

Which Cars Qualify For California Used Car Lemon Law?

A used car is protected under the California Lemon Law if it fits the following criteria:

  • The car was bought or leased with the manufacturer’s warranty.
  • The car was purchased by a California resident from a licensed dealership in California.
  • The car was set aside for personal, family or household use.
  • The car has a warrantable defect that surfaced during the warranty period.

These protections also apply to used trucks, vans, chassis or chassis cabs of motor homes, and other motor vehicles.

The California Lemon Law does not cover the following used cars:

  • Used cars set aside for business*
  • Used cars purchased out of state*
  • Used cars purchased “as is”, with no warranty, or with an expired warranty.
  • Used cars bought from private sales or auctions.
  • Used cars where problems were caused by:
    • Abuse, misuse or lack of maintenance, or,
    • A vehicular accident or a natural disaster.

*Certain exceptions exist for used cars, trucks, vans or other vehicles that were set aside for business use or that were purchased out of state. California Used Car Lemon Law may benefit certain small businesses, but not accommodate large fleets of vehicles. While California civilians may only benefit if they purchased used vehicles in state, members of the Armed Forces benefit from a modified criteria.

Businesses and California Used Car Lemon Law

The California Lemon Law mostly covers vehicles set aside for personal, family or household use. However, the California Lemon Law also protects certain new and used vehicles set aside for business use.

A used car set aside for business may qualify for the California Lemon Law if:

  • The used car was purchased with an active warranty from the auto manufacturer.
  • The used car has a gross vehicle weight under 10,000 pounds.
  • The business to which it is registered has no more than five vehicles registered in California.
  • The used car has a defect that affects its use, safety or value.
  • The dealership or repair shop could not fix the used car’s defect within a reasonable number of repair attempts.


California Used Car Lemon Law for Military

The California Lemon Law protects California residents who bought or leased their vehicles from authorized dealerships in California. For the most part, the California Lemon Law does not cover vehicles purchased out of state. However, it provides an exception for Members of the Armed Forces.

If you are serving in the Armed Forces, your used car may be covered by the California Lemon Law if:

  • The used car was purchased with an express warranty from an auto manufacturer that sells vehicles in California,
  • The used car has a defect that affects its used, safety or value,
  • The dealership or repair shop could not fix the used car within a reasonable number of repair attempts, and;
  • You were stationed in California EITHER when you purchased the vehicle OR when you filed the lemon law claim.

Time Limit for California Used Car Lemon Law

You have four years from when you discover your used car to be a lemon to file a claim under California Used Car Lemon Law.

Number of Required Repair Attempts

The California Used Car Lemon Law does not set a specific number of repairs as a requirement for your used car to be considered a lemon. Instead, it states that a “reasonable number” of repairs are required – the rest is determined by the specific facts of your case.

While there is no set number that is “reasonable,” a specific section of the California Lemon Law does offer a rough guideline. It sets criteria under which your used car may be presumed a lemon. That does not mean you are automatically eligible for lemon law restitution. It just means that the burden of proof shifts onto the auto manufacturer if and when you decide to pursue a lemon law claim.

Your used car may be presumed if the following occurs within 18 months or 18,000 miles (whichever comes first):

  • Four or more repair attempts were made for a defect impacting use, value or safety,
  • Two or more repair attempts were made for a defect that can cause death or serious bodily injury, or,
  • A defect results in your used car being stuck in the repair shop for more than 30 cumulative days.

However, this presumption only takes effect if you went through an arbitration process and received an unfavorable outcome. Keep in mind that these criteria offer a rough benchmark, not a hard-fast rule. Many California lemon law claims for used cars do not strictly fit these criteria, and the used car owners or lessees were still able to obtain a vehicle replacement or lemon law buyback.

Warranties for Used Car Lemon Law

Buy-here-pay-here dealers are legally required to sell used cars with a written warranty with a minimum of 30 days after the purchase or 1,000 miles after what is shown on the contract, whichever happens first. However, most express warranties on used cars are far more generous.

These warranties will protect your used car, truck or SUV under the California Lemon Law:

  • New Car Warranty – If the car is resold while under the original warranty, the used car is still under that warranty when it gets a new owner. Check the mileage and time limits in your warranty booklet and compare it to the mileage recorded when you purchased the used car.
  • Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) Warranty – The auto manufacturer issues an extended warranty on cars labeled “CPO.” To be considered “CPO,” the car has to be inspected by the auto manufacturer and fit certain requirements.

The warranties have to be issued by the auto manufacturer. Dealerships may try to offer so-called “extended warranties.” However, these are essentially service contracts, and do not qualify under the California Lemon Law.

Guidelines on Certified Pre-Owned Cars

People buy certified pre-owned cars because of certain guarantees that the vehicle meets specific requirements. For example, certified pre-owned cars are supposed to undergo rigorous inspection and are sold with warranties back by the auto manufacturer. However, this does not guarantee that a certified pre-owned car won’t be a lemon.

Certification programs aren’t identical across auto manufacturers. However, there are certain rules that auto manufacturers must follow if they want to call their used cars “certified pre-owned.” A vehicle cannot be “certified” if:

  • The odometer is wrong.
  • The dealer knows or should have known that the vehicle is a lemon law buyback.
  • The vehicle has a title that indicates significant vehicle damage, such as flood titles or salvage titles.
  • The vehicle has frame damage or sustained damage from car crashes, fires or floods.
  • The vehicle wasn’t properly inspected.
  • The vehicle is being sold “as is” or “with all faults.”

What Should I Do if My Used Car is a Lemon?

If you suspect that your used car is a lemon, follow these steps:

  1. If you haven’t already, take your car to the dealership for repairs. Make sure that, at the end of each repair visit, you receive a repair order. This document will have an itemized list of the repairs performed on your car.
  2. Get your documents in order. You will need your repair orders, your warranty document and any documents related to your ownership or lease of the vehicle. If you communicated with the dealer or auto manufacturer in any way, keep records of these communications (emails or notes).
  3. Remember: time is of the essence. Once you discover the defect in your car, you have four years to file a claim. Don’t wait to get your repairs and documents in order. In addition, check the terms of your warranty. An express warranty will state specific limits based on mileage and time of ownership of your car.

If you’re not sure what to do next, contact a lemon law firm for further guidance.

Consult a California Lemon Law Attorney

Lemon laws for used cars have certain nuances that you shouldn’t navigate alone. Knight Law Group can help lemon owners get rid of their defective used cars and get their money back.

It starts with a free consultation. During your first phone call with us, you can expect to be asked about your vehicle model, vehicle problems, the time you’ve owned or leased the vehicle and the repairs you’ve gotten on it. Once the consultation is done, you may be asked to submit repair orders and other documents for additional review. Keep in mind that none of our services cost you anything out of pocket. We only get paid if you win; the California Lemon Law requires the auto manufacturer to pay your attorney’s fees and costs.

To start the lemon law process for your used lemon, complete the consultation form below or call us at 877-217-7676.

Lemon Law Help by Knight Law Group is an automotive lemon law firm that exclusively practices in California. If you are a California resident who purchased or leased a defective vehicle from a licensed dealership in California, we may be able to help you get rid of your potential lemon and recover significant cash compensation. Model year restrictions apply: 2017–Present vehicle models only.

However, we cannot help those who reside outside of California or purchased their vehicle outside of California unless they are active duty members of the Armed Forces, nor will we be able to refer those to a lemon law firm in their states.

To learn more about the California Lemon Law and your legal rights, visit our guides on the California Lemon Law and Used Car Lemon Law for more information.

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