When Can You Use California’s ‘Lemon Law’ for a Car Problem?

Know what the California Lemon Law covers - and what it doesn't

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Yegor AleyevTASS via Getty Images

What to Know

  • California's 'Lemon Law' covers new and used vehicles that are still under the manufacturer's warranty
  • An automaker / dealership must make a 'reasonable' number of attempts to repair a vehicle before the Lemon Law is used
  • If you qualify for relief under California Lemon Law, the manufacturer may be required to buy-back or replace your car

NBC Bay Area Responds hears from viewers like you every week who have car trouble.

Some have complaints about relatively new cars that aren't working properly. When the dealership doesn't have a solution right away, many consumers ask us about California's 'Lemon Law', and whether it applies.

The short answer: it depends.

In brief, here's what you need to know about the California Lemon Law, formally known as the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act  and Tanner Consumer Protection Act:

  • It covers all new vehicles, as well as used and leased vehicles that are still covered by the manufacturer's new vehicle warranty.
  • It only covers vehicles sold or leased in California. So, if you bought your vehicle in another state, it doesn't qualify.
  • It covers vehicles for the first 18 months after purchase / lease, OR with less than 18,000 miles driven, whichever comes first.
  • It requires automakers to replace or buy back a vehicle that doesn't function properly, under its written warranty, after a "reasonable" number of attempts.
So, what's "reasonable"? The law doesn't give an exact number, but it does specify some general guidelines:
  • The manufacturer / dealership has tried at least two times to repair a problem with the vehicle that, if unrepaired, could cause injury or death.
  • The manufacturer / dealership has tried at least four times to fix the same problem.
  • The vehicle has been "in the shop" for repairs, for more than 30 days total, leaving the owner unable to drive it for at least that amount of time. It doesn't have to be 30 consecutive days; if multiple visits add up to 30 days, the Lemon Law may take effect.

Keep in mind, California's Lemon Law does not cover vehicles that don't meet the above criteria. So, if you buy a used vehicle with more than 18,000 miles or that is more than 18 months old and no longer under the new vehicle warranty, it wouldn't be covered.

Here's the good news: the California Department of Consumer Affairs Arbitration Certification Program will help you determine if your vehicle qualifies for a buy-back or replacement under state law. DCA services are free -- they're paid for with your tax dollars!

You can learn more about the Lemon Law by taking a look at this state-issued guide.

If you're having trouble getting a vehicle repaired, we want to hear from you, too. Please contact us here, or call 888-996-TIPS.

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