Military Exceptions: The California Lemon Law

The California Lemon Law exists to provide California residents with legal remedies if their motor vehicles turn out to be defective. The Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act generally protects California residents who buy or lease motor vehicles from authorized dealerships in California if those motor vehicles were purchased with express warranties from the auto manufacturer.

California has one of the strongest state lemon laws and is home to one of the largest military populations across the United States. Approximately, 162,000* active duty members of the U.S. Armed Forces stationed in California can benefit from a special protection offered by the California Lemon Law: they can pursue California Lemon Law claims even if they purchased their vehicles outside of the state.

The roughly 1 million active duty military personnel elsewhere in the United States can also benefit from the California Lemon Law if they purchased their vehicles in California and otherwise fulfill the criteria for a California lemon law claim.

*September 2021 data from the Department of Defense

How does the California Lemon Law work?

If someone has a defective vehicle, otherwise known as a “lemon,” the auto manufacturer has an affirmative duty to repurchase or replace the defective vehicle.

The California Lemon Law states that a vehicle may be a lemon if it has a recurring problem that affects the vehicle’s use, safety or value. That problem has to be covered by the auto manufacturer’s warranty. The auto manufacturer or its dealerships have been given a reasonable number of chances to repair your vehicle during the vehicle’s warranty period. The number of repair attempts considered “reasonable” is determined on a case-by-case basis.

The California Lemon Law covers motor vehicles that are set aside for personal, family or household use. It also protects vehicles set aside for business use if that business has no more than five vehicles, with each having a curb weight of less than 10,000 pounds.

The California Lemon Law does NOT cover off-road vehicles, vehicles sold in private sales, or vehicles that have recurring problems due to neglect, abuse or lack of maintenance.

What is the California Lemon Law for Military?

Before 2008, the California Lemon Law did not contain any exception for members of the U.S. Armed Forces. Now, a full-time active duty member of the U.S. Armed Forces may qualify for the California Lemon Law if:

  • The vehicle was purchased with an express warranty from an auto manufacturer that sells motor vehicles in California, and;
  • The active duty member was stationed in California EITHER at the time of the vehicle purchase OR at the time of filing the lemon law claim.

This means it is possible for an active duty member of the U.S. Armed Forces to pursue a lemon law claim if he or she has purchased a vehicle elsewhere in the U.S. before being stationed here, or for that active duty member to have purchased a vehicle from a California dealership before being stationed elsewhere. Keep in mind that the vehicle otherwise has to fit the criteria set in the California Lemon Law (i.e. the auto manufacturer being given a reasonable number of chances to fix the car).

Who is covered by Military Lemon Law in California?

In order to qualify for the military exception in the California Lemon Law, you must be on full-time active duty in a branch of the U.S. Armed Forces. You must also have been stationed in California either at the time of the vehicle purchase, or at the time of filing the lemon law claim.

The U.S. Armed Forces include the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, National Guard, Coast Guard and Space Force. Full-time active duty also includes active military service at a military service school designed by law or the Adjutant General of the Military department concerned.

What should military personnel look for in a lemon law firm?

Anyone choosing a California lemon law firm should research the following facts: the firm’s record in obtaining favorable lemon law outcomes, firm experience in cases against your auto manufacturer, and any fees that the lemon law firm requires you to pay up front or out of pocket.

Knight Law Group offers free consultations to anyone who suspects that their vehicle is a lemon. If you are serving in the military and are obtaining an initial consultation with a lemon law firm, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Has the lemon law firm taken the time to listen to your experiences with your vehicle?
  • Have all of your questions been discussed and answered thoroughly?
  • Are they knowledgeable about the military? Do they take your schedule and availability into account?

Our lemon law team employs multiple veterans who understand the experiences of our active duty clients. Many military personnel may be stationed outside of California, rotate out of California, may be deployed elsewhere within the next few years, or otherwise have extenuating circumstances related to your military service. We understand the importance of confidentiality and security, and we can work around your circumstances. For further questions, please call us at 877-222-2222. Our initial consultation will cost you nothing.