The California Lemon Law doesn’t just protect new cars. One of the strongest lemon laws in the nation, the California Lemon Law covers used, certified pre-owned and refurbished cars that were purchased with active warranties from the manufacturer.
A common question is: does the lemon law apply to used cars? In California, the answer is “yes.” The California Lemon Law protects used cars set aside for personal, family or household use, and that have experienced significant defects that could not be fixed under warranty.
How California Used Car Lemon Law Works
If you have bought or leased a used car, you may be entitled to a vehicle replacement, cash compensation or a refund if you meet the following lemon law qualifications:
- • You bought or leased the used car from an authorized dealership, not from a private individual.
- • The used car was purchased with a warranty that qualifies under the California Lemon Law.
- • The used car has a defect that affects its use, safety or value.
- • You gave a dealership or repair shop a “reasonable” number of chances to fix your used car during the warranty period.
The California Lemon Law will not protect your used car if:
- • You bought your used car “as is.”
- • You bought your used car from a private individual or an auction.
- • You bought your used car after the warranty expired.
- • Your used car’s problems are caused by abuse or lack of maintenance.
If a manufacturer cannot repair your used car within a reasonable number of attempts, it has an affirmative duty to repurchase or replace your defective used car. However, many California consumers find it necessary to bring a lemon law claim against the auto manufacturer in order to get a vehicle repurchase or replacement.
There is a four-year statute of limitations on claims under the California Lemon Law. The clock starts ticking after you first experience your vehicle’s defect. If you file a lemon lawsuit against an auto manufacturer and win, the auto manufacturer has to pay your attorneys’ fees and costs.
How Many Repair Attempts Should Be Made on a Used Car?
The California Lemon Law states that a “reasonable” number of repair attempts need to be made on a vehicle during the warranty period before it can be considered a lemon. The guidelines are the same for new and used cars. While there is no set number that is “reasonable,” the California Lemon Law does offer a rough guideline.
Your used car may be presumed a lemon if, within 18 months or 18,000 miles, whichever is first:
- • A defect is not fixed after four or more repair attempts.
- • A defect that can cause death or serious bodily injury is not fixed after two or more repair attempts.
- • A defect is not fixed within a cumulative total of more than 30 days.
However, this presumption only takes effect if you went through an arbitration process and received an unfavorable outcome. Keep in mind that these criteria offer a rough benchmark, not a hard-fast rule. Many California lemon law claims for used cars do not strictly fit these criteria, and the used car owners or lessees were still able to obtain a vehicle replacement or lemon law buyback.
Warranties for Used Car Lemon Law
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.
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 used 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.
The warranties have to be issued by the auto manufacturer. Dealerships may try to offer so-called “extended warranties.” However, these are essentially service contracts, and do not qualify under the California Lemon Law.
Guidelines on Certified Pre-Owned Cars
People buy certified pre-owned cars because of certain guarantees that the vehicle meets specific requirements. For example, certified pre-owned cars are supposed to undergo rigorous inspection and are sold with warranties back by the auto manufacturer. However, this does not guarantee that a certified pre-owned car won’t be a lemon.
Certification programs aren’t identical across auto manufacturers. However, there are certain rules that auto manufacturers must follow if they want to call their used cars “certified pre-owned.” A vehicle cannot be “certified” if:
- • The odometer is wrong.
- • The dealer knows or should have known that the vehicle is a lemon law buyback.
- • The vehicle has a title that indicates significant vehicle damage, such as flood titles or salvage titles.
- • The vehicle has frame damage or sustained damage from car crashes, fires or floods.
- • The vehicle wasn’t properly inspected.
- • The vehicle is being sold “as is” or “with all faults.”
Used Car Lemon Law for Businesses
The California Lemon Law mostly covers vehicles set aside for personal, family or household use. However, the California Lemon Law also protects certain new and used vehicles set aside for business use.
A used car set aside for business may qualify for the California Lemon Law if:
- • The used car was purchased with an active warranty from the auto manufacturer.
- • The used car has a gross vehicle weight under 10,000 pounds.
- • The business to which it is registered has no more than five vehicles registered in California.
- • The used car has a defect that affects its use, safety or value.
- • The dealership or repair shop could not fix the used car’s defect within a reasonable number of repair attempts.
Used Car Lemon Law for Armed Forces
The California Lemon Law protects California residents who bought or leased their vehicles from authorized dealerships in California. For the most part, the California Lemon Law does not cover vehicles purchased out of state. However, it provides an exception for Members of the Armed Forces.
If you are serving in the Armed Forces, your used car may be covered by the California Lemon Law if:
- • The used car was purchased with an express warranty from an auto manufacturer that sells vehicles in California,
- • The used car has a defect that affects its used, safety or value,
- • The dealership or repair shop could not fix the used car within a reasonable number of repair attempts, and;
- • You were stationed in California EITHER when you purchased the vehicle OR when you filed the lemon law claim.
What Should I Do if My Used Car is a Lemon?
If you suspect that your used car is a lemon, follow these steps:
1. 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.
2. 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).
3. 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: 2016–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.