The purchase of a used car can be a smart and cost-effective decision for many consumers. However, even the most well-researched and carefully selected vehicle can turn out to be a lemon – a vehicle with persistent and significant defects. Fortunately, the state of California has a Lemon Law in place to protect consumers in such situations. This law provides legal remedies for consumers who have purchased or leased a vehicle that turns out to be a lemon. 

However, like any other law, there are exemptions and limitations that must be understood in order to fully utilize its benefits. In this article, we will delve into the exemptions and limitations of the California Lemon Law for used cars. 


Understanding the California Lemon Law

The California Lemon Law aims to offer assistance to consumers who buy or lease vehicles that have significant warranty defects that cannot be fixed by the dealer or manufacturer after several reasonable attempts. This law covers not just new cars, but also extends its protection to used cars, although there are specific limitations for used vehicles.


Exemptions Under the California Lemon Law

The California Lemon Law does not apply to all vehicles. Some exemptions are:


Definition of a Lemon Vehicle

The Law is specifically targeted toward vehicles that meet the criteria of being classified as “lemons”. A vehicle is considered a “lemon” if it maintains a warranty defect(s) that significantly diminishes its value, safety, or functionality, even after multiple repair attempts have been made.


Exemption for Used Cars

Age and Mileage Restrictions

As long as a used car comes with a manufacturer’s warranty, it can be eligible for protection under the California Lemon Law. Nevertheless, vehicles that are either over seven years old or have exceeded 70,000 miles are exempt from this law.


Coverage Under Manufacturer’s Warranty

If a car does not have a manufacturer’s warranty, it will not be protected by the California Lemon Law. This applies to both cars sold “as is” and those with only a dealer warranty.


Purchase from Private Sellers

Private sellers are not protected by the California Lemon Law, which only applies to vehicles bought from a dealership or licensed retailer.


Special Cases

Salvage-Titled Vehicles

In California, the Lemon Law does not typically apply to vehicles with salvage titles, indicating that they have been declared a total loss by an insurance company due to significant damage or theft.


Vehicles with No Warranty

The Lemon law does not apply to vehicles that are sold without any warranty, such as “as is” vehicles, and therefore they are not eligible for any remedies.


Limitations of the California Lemon Law


Proving the Defect

Documenting Repairs

In order to be eligible for lemon law safeguards, it is imperative for the consumer to possess comprehensive evidence of both the vehicle’s flaw and the subsequent repair attempts. Failing to provide such documentation can pose a significant obstacle in establishing the vehicle as a lemon.


Number of Repair Attempts

The California Lemon Law comes into effect when the dealer or manufacturer fails to fix a warranty defect after several reasonable attempts. The definition of reasonable may differ, but typically it means four or more attempts for the same defect or two attempts if the defect is serious enough to result in death or serious injury.


Manufacturer’s Right to Repair

In accordance with legal regulations, the manufacturer is granted the privilege of making an effort to fix the flaw prior to being obligated to exchange or reimburse for the vehicle.


Legal Recourse for Consumers

In the event that a manufacturer refuses to comply with the California Lemon Law, consumers frequently find themselves compelled to pursue legal action in order to obtain compensation. This undertaking can be arduous and time-intensive.


Timelines and Deadlines

Consumers must adhere to specific time and mileage restrictions when seeking protection under the Lemon Law after purchasing or leasing a vehicle. Generally, claims must be filed within 18 months of delivery or before reaching 18,000 miles, whichever occurs earlier.


Attorney Fees and Costs

Although the Lemon Law mandates that the manufacturer covers the consumer’s legal expenses in case of a successful outcome, pursuing a legal case can still incur supplementary costs. Moreover, if the consumer loses the case, they may be held accountable for their attorney fees.


Steps to Take If Your Used Car is a Lemon

If you suspect your used vehicle is a lemon, don’t panic. There are several steps you can take to address the issue and potentially receive compensation:

  • Document everything: Make sure to keep a detailed record of all repairs, conversations, and transactions associated with your vehicle. This documentation will be extremely important in case you need to provide evidence that your car is defective.
  • Contact the dealer or manufacturer: Make sure to let them know about the difficulties you are encountering so that they can be given a chance to rectify the situation.
  • Follow the repair process: The dealer or manufacturer should be given a fair opportunity to rectify the problem, typically consisting of four attempts for the same defect or two attempts in cases where the defect poses a risk of serious harm or fatality, as is commonly recognized in California.
  • Seek a second opinion: If the problem persists despite multiple attempts to fix it, it may be worth seeking a second opinion from a different mechanic.
  • Consult a lemon law attorney: In case the issue persists, it is advisable to seek assistance from a lemon law attorney. They possess the expertise to navigate the legal proceedings and provide clarity on your rights and choices.
  • File a claim: If the problem is not resolved by the dealer or manufacturer, you have the option to file a lemon law claim. This can be a complicated procedure, so it might be advantageous to seek legal representation.
  • Negotiate a settlement: In accordance with your specific circumstances, it is possible for you to engage in discussions with either the dealer or manufacturer in order to come to an agreement. This agreement could potentially involve obtaining a new vehicle, receiving a reimbursement, or being provided with financial compensation.



Tips for Protecting Yourself When Buying a Used Car

When buying a used car, there are several steps you can take to protect yourself from ending up with a lemon:

  • Research the car’s history: Use the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) to check the vehicle’s history for any red flags.
  • Inspect the car: Have a trusted mechanic inspect the car before purchase. They can spot potential issues that you might not notice.
  • Check for a warranty: Ideally, buy a used car that’s still under the manufacturer’s warranty, or get a warranty from the dealer.
  • Avoid “as is” sales: These types of sales often don’t come with any warranty, leaving you unprotected if there’s an issue with the car.
  • Ask for service records: These can give you a good idea of how well the car has been maintained.
  • Negotiate the price: If there are minor issues with the car, you might be able to negotiate a lower price.
  • Know your rights: Familiarize yourself with your state’s lemon laws. Some states have specific protections for used car buyers.
  • Document everything: Keep all paperwork related to the purchase and any subsequent repairs. This will be crucial if you need to make a lemon law claim.


In conclusion, the California Lemon Law offers important protections for consumers who purchase defective used cars. While there are certain exemptions and limitations to this law, it still serves as a valuable tool for holding car dealers accountable and ensuring that consumers are not left with unreliable vehicles. It is important for anyone considering buying a used car in California to be aware of these laws and to seek legal help if they encounter any issues with their purchase. With proper knowledge and understanding of the California Lemon Law, consumers can make informed decisions and protect their rights as car buyers.