California Lemon Law. Directory of Attorneys

Consumers and the “Lemon Law”

A purchaser or lessee of a new or used motor vehicle under warranty in the state of California has various rights under both the California lemon law, and federal lemon law if the vehicle does not perform as provided under the express warranty provided by the vehicle’s manufacturer.

Warranty laws can be complex, and it is not practical to describe comprehensively all of the law in just a few paragraphs. The following information briefly explains the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act and what is popularly known as the California lemon law.

Coverage for New Motor Vehicles.


The Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act (beginning with Civil Code section 1790.2) provides protection for consumers who lease or buy new motor vehicles. The law requires that if the manufacturer or its representative in this state, such as an authorized dealer, is unable to service or repair a new motor vehicle to meet the terms of an express written warranty after a reasonable number of repair attempts, the manufacturer is required promptly to replace the vehicle or return the purchase price to the lessee or buyer. The purchase price that must be returned includes the price paid for manufacturer-installed items and transportation but does not include the price paid for non-manufacturer items installed by the dealer. The manufacturer is to repurchase the vehicle, or if agreed upon by both vehicle owner and manufacturer, a new replacement vehicle may satisfy the claim (replacement only on vehicle’s purchased or leased as “new”). Whatever the choice, the manufacturer is also responsible to pay for sales or use tax; license, registration, and other official fees; and incidental damages that the lessee or buyer may have incurred such as finance charges, repair, towing, and rental car costs.

The lessee or buyer may be charged for the use of the vehicle regardless of whether the vehicle is replaced or the purchase price is refunded. The amount that may be charged for use is determined by multiplying the actual price of the new vehicle by a fraction having as its denominator 120,000 and as its numerator the number of miles traveled by the vehicle before it was first brought in for correction of the problem. For example, if the car had traveled 6,000 miles before it was first brought in for correction of the problem, the lessee or buyer could be charged 5% (6,000/120,000 = 5%) of the purchase price for usage.

The law applies for the entire period of your warranty. For example, if your vehicle is covered by the primary “bumper-to-bumper” warranty (typically 3 years/36,000 miles, 3 years/50,000 miles, or  4 years/50,000 miles) and you discover a defect during that period that has been subject to an unreasonable number of repair attempts under warranty, the manufacturer would be required to repurchase the vehicle and reimburse you as outlined above if the manufacturer or its representative is unable to conform the vehicle to the express warranty after a reasonable number of attempts to do so. Many manufacturers offer longer-term “power-train” warranties. These warranties typically cover the engine, transmission, and final drive/driveline components from internal failure/malfunction. A lessee or buyer has the same warranty rights under the statute on these “power-train” warranties as is with the “bumper-to-bumper” warranty.

Song-Beverly does not apply if the problem was caused by abuse after the vehicle was delivered, or if aftermarket non-factory performance equipment was added that negatively impacted the vehicle’s mechanical components, thus voiding factory warranties. Be sure you follow the terms of the warranty for maintenance and proper use of the vehicle.

Although technically there is a statute of limitations to bring a law suit for breach of warranty or for violations of Song-Beverly , you should act promptly by contacting a qualified lemon law attorney to work to resolve the problem as fairly and quickly as/if possible.


What is considered a reasonable number of repair attempts will depend on the circumstances including the seriousness of the defect. For example, one or two repair attempts may be considered reasonable for serious safety defects such as brake failure, depending on the exact situation. The most common “number” for an un-reasonable number of repair attempts is four for the same complaint/symptom. A recent appeals court decision favored California consumers by more clearly defining what a “repair attempt” is – more specifically  - so long as the consumer presents the vehicle to an authorized dealer for the manufacturer with a reasonable explanation of the symptom/defect on the Repair Order, the authorized dealer does not necessarily have to verify or perform a warranty repair for the visit to be considered a “repair attempt” under the statute.

A special provision in the "Lemon Law," helps determine what is a reasonable number of repair attempts for problems that substantially impair the use, value, or safety of the vehicle during the first 18 months or 18,000 miles, whichever comes first, which is known as the “presumption period”. The "Lemon Law" applies to these problems if they arise during the first 18 months after the consumer received delivery of the vehicle or within the first 18,000 miles on the odometer, whichever occurs first (presumption period). During the first 18 months or 18,000 miles, the "Lemon Law" presumes that a manufacturer has had a reasonable number of attempts to repair the vehicle if either (1) The same problem results in a condition that is likely to cause death or serious bodily injury if the vehicle is driven and the problem has been subject to repair two or more times by the manufacturer or its agents, and the buyer or lessee has at least once directly notified the manufacturer of the need for the repair of the problem as provided in the warranty or owner's manual or (2) The same problem has been subject to repair four or more times by the manufacturer or its agents and the buyer has at least once directly notified the manufacturer of the need for the repair of the problem as provided in the warranty or owner's manual or (3) The vehicle is out of service because of the repair of any number of problems by the manufacturer or its agents for a cumulative total of more than 30 days since delivery of the vehicle.

The "Lemon Law" presumption is a guide, not an absolute rule. Your rights to a “unreasonable number of repair attempts” extends to all applicable “bumper-to-bumper” and “powertrain warranties”. The consumer is NOT limited to the 18 month/18,000 mile presumption period. A trial jury can assume that the manufacturer has had a reasonable number of chances to repair the vehicle if all of the conditions are met. The manufacturer, however, has the right to try to prove that it should have the chance to attempt additional repairs, and the consumer has the right to show that fewer repair attempts are reasonable under the circumstances.

Be sure to check your warranty and owner's manual for instructions. You may be required to directly notify the manufacturer of the problem(s). In California, the writing of a Repair Order and the customer complaint, coupled with the dealers attempt to repair is considered to be “notification”, as a “warranty claim” is made with the manufacturer. You may also choose to send your own written notice to the manufacturer at the address shown in the warranty or owners manual by certified mail, return receipt requested so that you have proof that your letter was received. Keep a copy of all correspondence with the manufacturer.


The law applies to a new motor vehicle that is bought or used primarily for personal, family or household purposes. The law also applies to a new motor vehicle with a gross vehicle weight under 10,000 pounds that is bought or used primarily for business purposes by a person, including a partnership, limited liability company, corporation, association, or any other legal entity, to which not more than five motor vehicles are registered in this state.


The lemon law discussed above applies to "new motor vehicles." (Certain limited protection may apply to used vehicles as described in Section 2.) The term "new motor vehicle" includes not only new motor vehicles but also demonstrators; the chassis, chassis cab, and propulsion system of a new motor home; and any other motor vehicle sold with a manufacturer's new car warranty. For example, a two-year old used car sold with the remaining one year portion of a manufacturer's three-year new car warranty would be treated as a new motor vehicle. The term "new motor vehicle," however, does not include motorcycles or exclusively off-road vehicles.

Coverage For “Used” Vehicles Under Warranty

Although the special provisions discussed above apply to new motor vehicles, Song-Beverly has many general rules that apply to any consumer product sold with an express written warranty. As a result, there is important coverage for motorcycles, the living quarters of a mobile home, used vehicles sold with a dealer's express written warranty, "lemon" vehicles repurchased by the manufacturer and sold to consumers with an express written warranty covering the defect.

A full description of warranty rights is beyond the scope of this message, but you should be aware that coverage is not identical to the coverage for new motor vehicles. For example, a warrantor who is unable to conform a consumer product to its express warranty within a reasonable number of attempts is required to repurchase the goods and return the purchase price less an amount attributable to the consumer's use. Unlike the special rules on new motor vehicles, however, there is different formula for determining the charge for the consumer's use before the discovery of the defect (the difference between the odometer reading at purchase, and the odometer reading at the first of the repeated warranty non-conformity), and the Lemon Law presumption only applies if the vehicle is within 18 months or 18,000 miles of it’s original in-service date. For complete advice concerning your legal rights, you should consult an experienced lemon law attorney familiar with these matters.

Coverage for “Certified Pre-Owned Warranty”  

Vehicles in the state of California that are sold by authorized dealers of a specific manufacturer may come with a “CPO” (Certified Pre-Owned) warranty from that vehicle’s manufacturer. “CPO” warranties provide the same “lemon law” consumer protection as does any used vehicle that still has the unused portion of the manufacturers original New New Vehicle Limited Warranty still in effect/in force.  The “lemon law” protection afforded would be limited to the covered components/systems as listed in the manufacturers “CPO” warranty booklet or brochure. Vehicles that were modified by the previous owner, dealer, or current owner may be disqualified from lemon law protection if the problem was caused by abuse after the vehicle was delivered, or if aftermarket non-factory performance equipment was added that negatively impacted the vehicle’s mechanical components.

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