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  • Ben Beck

Does California Lemon Law Apply to Cars Purchased Out of State?

When purchasing a new or used vehicle, consumers hope for a reliable and defect-free experience. However, not all vehicles meet these expectations, and some turn out to be lemons. This is where the California lemon law comes into play. Lemon laws are designed to protect consumers from being stuck with defective vehicles. They provide a legal recourse to obtain a refund or replacement vehicle if the car continues to have significant issues despite reasonable attempts to repair it.


Understanding lemon laws becomes particularly crucial when dealing with interstate vehicle purchases. Buying a car from another state can complicate matters, especially if the vehicle develops problems. However, applying lemon laws across state lines isn't always straightforward, as each state has its own set of rules and protections.


Does California Lemon Law apply to cars purchased out of state?

In this blog post, we will discuss the specifics of the California Lemon Law and its applicability to out-of-state purchases. We will also provide a guideline on what steps to take if you find yourself with a lemon bought outside of California.


Overview of the California Lemon Law

The California Lemon Law, also known as the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, is designed to protect consumers who discover that their vehicle has a substantial defect that cannot be repaired after a reasonable number of attempts by the manufacturer or authorized dealership. The primary purpose of this law is to ensure that consumers are not left with a defective vehicle that impairs its use, value, or safety and to provide remedies if such a situation arises.


Key Provisions of the California Lemon Law:

  • Coverage Period: California's lemon law covers new and used vehicles still under the manufacturer's original warranty. There is no specific mileage or time limit; the vehicle just needs to be under the original manufacturer's warranty.

  • Eligibility Criteria: The California Lemon Law stipulates that the vehicle must have a defect that substantially impairs its use, value or safety. This defect must persist after a reasonable number of repair attempts by an authorized dealer. The law typically considers 2-4 repair attempts as reasonable, but this can vary depending on the severity of the defect. Additionally, if the vehicle is in the shop for more than 30 cumulative days for warranty repairs, it may also qualify as a lemon.

  • Disclosure Requirements: Dealers must disclose if the new vehicle they are selling has been bought back under the lemon law before the sale is completed.


Types of Vehicles Covered Under the California Lemon Law:

  • New Vehicles: Both purchased and leased new vehicles are covered, including cars, pickup trucks, vans and SUVs.

  • Used Vehicles: Used vehicles are covered only if they are still under a manufacturer's new car warranty period.

  • Other Components: The law also applies to the chassis, chassis cab and drivetrain of a motorhome.

  • Other Registered Vehicles: This includes the buyer protection of demonstrator (demo) vehicles and many vehicles purchased for small business use (provided they meet certain criteria regarding size and use).


Understanding these aspects of the California Lemon Law is crucial for consumers, as it provides a clear framework for when and how they can seek remedies for a defective vehicle.


California Lemon Law Limitations

While the California Lemon Law covers a great deal when it comes to a lemon vehicle, it has a clear geographical limitation. California Lemon Law applies only to vehicles 'sold' in California by a retail seller (not a private seller). This means that for the most part, cars purchased from dealerships or private sellers in other states are not covered.


This limitation exists because the lemon law is designed to hold manufacturers accountable to California residents who have done business within the state. It ensures that dealerships operating in California adhere to high standards of quality and repairs for vehicles sold under warranty. Unfortunately, if you bought your car elsewhere, California's Lemon Law likely won't be applicable in your case.


Exceptions to California's In-State Purchase Requirement

While the California Lemon Law generally applies only to vehicles 'sold' in the state, there are some exceptions that might offer protection to out-of-state buyers. These include:

  • Military Personnel: Active-duty military stationed in California may be covered by the lemon law for vehicles purchased out-of-state, but only if:

  • The car is under warranty.

  • The manufacturer also sells cars in California.

  • You were stationed in California at the time of purchase or when filing the lawsuit.

  • Transferred Vehicles: California's commercial code defines the 'sale' location as where the seller completes the delivery. So, if you buy a used car that was originally purchased or leased in California with the manufacturer's warranty still active, you might be covered under the lemon law.

  • Out-of-State Consumers: Residency isn't a requirement for the lemon law. As long as you purchased or leased the vehicle in California, the law may still apply.


Important Caveat: These exceptions have limitations, so consulting an experienced California lemon law attorney is crucial to understand your specific situation and determine if you qualify for protection.


For lemon law protection, it is important to know that under the California Commercial Code, vehicle ownership title passes at the location where the seller completes the delivery of the vehicle and you don not need to be a California resident to invoke your rights under the California lemon law.

Do I Have Federal Lemon Law Protections?

The good news is that even if the California Lemon Law does not offer recourse for vehicles purchased out of state, consumers are not left without protection. The federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, otherwise known as 'federal lemon law,' offers a nationwide safety net for car buyers. This act applies to all vehicles purchased with a written warranty, regardless of where the sale took place.

  • Scope and Purpose: The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act was enacted in 1975 to ensure that manufacturers stand behind their warranties and to help consumers understand the warranty terms. It covers all consumer products, including motor vehicles, that come with a warranty.

  • Application to Vehicles: For vehicles, the Act requires that any warranty offered by the manufacturer be clearly written and easily understood. It mandates that manufacturers and dealers honor the warranties they issue.


Key Protections Offered by the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act:

  • Breach of Warranty: The Act provides remedies if there is a breach of warranty. If a consumer buys a vehicle with a warranty that fails to perform as stated, they can seek relief under this federal law.

  • Covered Products: It covers a wide range of consumer products, including vehicles, sold by licensed dealers, with written warranties.

  • Enforcement: Consumers can take legal action against manufacturers or dealers if they fail to comply with the terms of the warranty. This can include repairs, replacements or even monetary compensation.


While the Magnusson-Moss Warranty Act doesn't guarantee a specific outcome, it establishes a framework for resolving warranty disputes and potentially recovering your losses from a defective vehicle even if you bought it outside California.


"Reasonable number of repairs ” is defined as four or more attempts to fix the same problem or two attempts to resolve a defect that could cause serious injury or death.

Is the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act Sufficient if I Have a Lemon Vehicle?

While the California Lemon Law provides robust protections for consumers within the state, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act extends crucial warranty protections on a federal level. This is especially valuable for those who have purchased vehicles outside of California, ensuring that warranty rights are maintained across state lines.


However, it is important to emphasize that while the Mag-Moss Act offers nationwide coverage for warranted vehicles, the process for obtaining a replacement or refund in a lemon law claim might be less straightforward.


Choose The Beck Law Office to Fight Your Lemon Law Case

If you believe you have a lemon law case in California, consider partnering with an experienced legal team. Here's why our clients repeatedly put their trust in our lemon law lawyers at The Beck Law Office:

  • Focused Expertise: Our lemon law attorneys specialize exclusively in California lemon law. Our focused practice allows us to stay up-to-date on the latest legal developments and nuances specific to lemon law cases in the state.

  • Proven Track Record: Our successful track record of resolving lemon law claims in favor of our clients is invaluable in navigating the legal process and maximizing your chances of a positive outcome.

  • Client-Centered Approach: Here at The Beck Law Office we emphasize clear communication and personalized service. We understand the frustration and stress associated with a lemon car and strive to make the legal process as smooth and supportive as possible.

  • Fast Results: Getting your car back on the road or receiving fair compensation is our top priority. We are committed to achieving results quickly and efficiently.


Contact Us Today

Don't let a lemon car steal your peace of mind and drain your wallet!


If you suspect your vehicle qualifies under California's lemon law, contact us today for a free case evaluation. During this consultation, we will assess your situation, explain your legal options and strive to get you back on the road as soon as possible.

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