Does the California Lemon Law Protect Used Cars?

by Aryn Plax

Feb 24, 2021

Most state lemon laws protect owners of new vehicles that end up being clunkers. The vehicle could have a failing engine, a faulty transmission, unpredictable electrical systems or other problems that make the vehicle less valuable, less reliable, and even less safe. Lemon laws provide some legal remedy to owners stuck with clunkers.

The idea that the California Lemon Law doesn’t protect used cars is a popular misconception. The California Lemon Law is distinct from other states’ lemon laws precisely because it protects both new and used cars. Not only that, there is no set number of repairs your car has to experience before it’s considered defective under the California Lemon Law.

However, the California Lemon Law does not protect all used cars. Here are some of the limits that the California Lemon Law puts on used cars for lemon law cases.

Which used cars are covered under the California Lemon Law?

The criteria for a used lemon car is pretty much the same as the criteria for a new lemon car.

To be eligible for lemon law protections, a used car, truck or other vehicle must have been bought or leased from a licensed California dealership and be set aside for personal use. However, if the vehicle is used for business, the vehicle has to be equal or under 10,000 pounds in curb weight. Not only that, it has to be registered to a business with no more than five vehicles registered in California.

There are special protections for active duty members of the Armed Forces. If you are an active duty member of the military, your car, truck or other vehicle could have been bought or leased from a licensed California dealership before you were stationed elsewhere, OR bought or leased from a licensed dealership elsewhere in the United States before you were stationed in California.

Which used cars are excluded from California Lemon Law protections?

The California Lemon Law can only protect used cars if they were purchased from licensed dealerships and had active warranties at the time of the sale. That means if your used car, truck or other vehicle wasn’t sold with a warranty, it does not qualify for those protections.

Your used car, truck or other vehicle does not qualify if you bought the vehicle from a private seller. That means no sales between you and a private owner, and no vehicles obtained at an auction.

If your vehicle has a recurring problem because you abused your vehicle or didn’t follow the proper maintenance schedule, your vehicle isn’t protected under the California Lemon Law.

What kind of warranties can your used car have?

Not all warranties will qualify your used car for California Lemon Law protections. For the most part, only warranties issued by the manufacturer will preserve your California Lemon Law rights. The first defect-related repair has to occur within that warranty period for lemon law protections to kick in.

There are a few warranties that will protect your used car, truck or other vehicle under the California Lemon Law.

In the background, a lifted vehicle's underside is being inspected.

Transferred New Car Warranty

When the car changes titles – and by that, we mean owners – while the car is still under a manufacturer-backed warranty, the car still possesses that warranty. Therefore, the car can still be protected by the California Lemon Law.

Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) Warranty

CPO cars have been lightly used, inspected by the manufacturer and then resold at licensed dealerships. Once the car is inspected, the manufacturer issues an extended warranty. It does not offer the same “bumper-to-bumper” coverage as a new car warranty. However, if a part that this warranty covers becomes faulty and can’t be repaired, you may have a lemon law case.

Re-Acquired Vehicle (RAV) Warranty

Also known as a lemon law buyback warranty, this is applied to a vehicle that had previously been bought back by the manufacturer after a lemon law case. The manufacturer may repair the lemon law buyback vehicle and then let a dealership resell the vehicle. The manufacturer will notify the dealership of the buyback status and offer an extended warranty on the previously faulty part. If the so-called fixed part still causes repeated problems, the car owner may have a lemon law claim.

Dealerships may try to offer so-called “extended warranties,” which are not true warranties, only service contracts. Because the manufacturer does not back these particular contracts, they do not qualify as warranties under the California Lemon Law.

If you have more questions regarding used cars and your lemon law rights, consult our California Lemon Law Guide and Frequently Asked Questions. If you want to know how Knight Law Group can help you, call us at 877-222-2222 or fill out our consultation form below.

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