California Lemon Laws for Used Cars

by admin

Aug 19, 2022

People used to buy used cars, trucks, or SUVs as a way to get a vehicle while saving some money. However, a shortage of new cars during the COVID-19 pandemic had more people looking into the used car market. The result? A spike in used car prices.

Given what you’re paying for a used car, truck or SUV these days, it’s all the more important that you have options if the car turns out to be defective. Good news: the California Lemon Law doesn’t just protect new cars. One of the strongest lemon laws in the nation, the California Lemon Law protects used and Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) cars.

The key requirement is that the used or CPO car has a warranty issued from the auto manufacturer.

Qualifications for Used Car Lemon Law Claims

The California Lemon Law places limits on claims made for defective used cars. Understanding these rules is key to retaining your lemon law rights when purchasing the car and to pursuing a lemon law claim if the worst situation happens.

Below is the criteria for qualifying for a used car lemon law claim in California:

  • • The used car was purchased from a licensed dealership in California, not from a private sale.
  • • The used car was purchased with a warranty issued by the auto manufacturer.
  • • The used car has a substantial defect that affects the vehicle’s use, safety or value.
  • • An authorized dealership or auto repair shop could not fix the defect even after a “reasonable” number of repair attempts.
  • • The used car’s problems aren’t from abuse or lack of maintenance.

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.

Types of Used Cars Covered by California Lemon Law

The California Lemon Law covers the following types of used vehicles that come with a warranty from the auto manufacturer:

  • • Used, Certified Pre-Owned or refurbished vehicles
  • • Cars, pickup trucks, vans and SUVs
  • • The chassis, chassis cab and drivetrain of a motor home
  • • Dealer-owned vehicles and “demonstrators” (new vehicles that the dealership uses to offer test-drives)
  • • Vehicles that are registered for personal, family or household use
  • • Vehicles registered to businesses if the business has no more than five registered vehicles, each under a curb weight of 10,000 pounds

The used car California Lemon Law does not cover the following vehicles:

  • • Vehicles purchased as-is
  • • Vehicles bought from private sales or auctions
  • • Vehicles purchased after the warranty expired
  • • Vehicles that experience problems due to abuse or lack of maintenance

Certified Pre-Owned Car Guidelines

People in the market for used cars may choose to buy Certified Pre-Owned cars because of certain guarantees that the vehicle meets specific requirements. However, a vehicle cannot be considered Certified Pre-Owned if at least one of the following occurs:

  • • The odometer is inaccurate.
  • • The dealer knows or should have known that the vehicle was bought back as a lemon.
  • • The vehicle has a lemon title, a salvage title, flood title or other titles that indicate significant vehicle damage.
  • • The vehicle has frame damage, or sustained damage due to a car crash, a fire or flood.
  • • The vehicle hasn’t been properly inspected.
  • • The vehicle is sold “as-is.”

Warranties for Used Cars | California Lemon Law

Your used car will not qualify under the California Lemon Law if it was not purchased with an active express warranty. However, not all warranties count under the lemon law. For the most part, only warranties issued by the auto manufacturer preserve your lemon law rights. To qualify for a lemon law claim, at least one repair for the defect has to take place during the warranty period.

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 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.

Lemon vehicles that have been repurchased by the auto manufacturer may be resold with new express warranties that cover the initial defect. The warranty allows these vehicles to be covered under the California Lemon Law.

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

How To Know If Your Used Car Is A Lemon

Your used car may considered defective under the California Lemon Law under these criteria:

  • • Your car has a problem that affects use, safety or value.
  • • The problem wasn’t caused by abuse or lack of maintenance.
  • • The problem started during the warranty period.
  • • The dealership or repair shop can’t repair the vehicle within a “reasonable” number of attempts.

There’s no fixed number of attempts considered “reasonable.” However, the lemon law presumptions provide a guideline. If your used car has a serious safety defect, the used car is presumed defective if the auto manufacturer or dealership doesn’t fix it within two repair attempts. If the used car’s defect pertains to use, safety and value broadly, the used car is presumed defective if it’s not fixed within four attempts. Alternatively, the used car can be presumed defective if it’s stuck in the repair shop for at least 30 days cumulatively.

However, each potential lemon is considered on a case-by-case basis. Consult with a lemon law firm for specifics.

What To Do If You Think Your Used Car Is A Lemon

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

  • • 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.
  • • 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).
  • • 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 877-222-2222.


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: 2015–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 California Lemon Law Guide for more information.