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Lemon Law for Used Cars in California

The Golden State and the sprawling suburbs of Los Angeles are awash with a wide array of cars to choose from and the used car industry is thriving. California has a dynamic car culture so finding a good private seller, a reliable car dealer, or a manufacturer is not difficult. While most sellers are not out there to deceive their customers, there are a few things you can do to minimize your chances of ending up with a lemon.

Lemon Law for Used Cars in California

What Constitutes a Lemon Car?

In order for your new or used vehicle to be considered a lemon in the state of California, your vehicle must have a defect that:

  • Is covered under the manufacturer's warranty;

  • Substantially impairs its use, value, or safety; and

  • Cannot be repaired even after a reasonable number of attempts by the manufacturer's authorized dealership.

What Happens if I Buy a Used Car That Turns Out to Be a Lemon?

The good news is that California's lemon law applies to used cars as well as new ones. In fact, California's lemon laws are one of the most protective and comprehensive anywhere in the US. Therefore, if you buy a manufacturer's certified pre-owned car from a dealer and it turns out to be a lemon, you may be entitled to the same relief as if you had bought it new.


If you did not buy it certified pre-owned but instead purchased it used while still under the original manufacturer's warranty then you still may be able to recover a cash settlement.

Knowing Your Car Lemon Laws is Key

If you suspect you may have ended up with a lemon, there are a few criteria you need to meet before you can head back to the dealership and ask for your money back.

Knowing what California's lemon law covers will put you in good stead.

  • The lemon law only applies to motor vehicles purchased from authorized dealers, not a private individual who is selling a pre-owned vehicle. This means that if you buy a used car from a friend or family member, or acquaintance, you will not be covered under the lemon law.

  • The lemon law in general does not require a car dealership to offer written warranties on used cars. While most dealers will offer some type of dealer warranty, they are not required to do so by law in most US states.

  • Purchasing a vehicle with an original manufacturer's warranty, or a certified pre-owned warranty, that is still within its valid warranty period is your best bartering tool for getting compensation.

  • You must be able to prove that the car has spent an excessive amount of time in a workshop being repaired for a substantially impairing defect but went unrepaired even after a reasonable number of unsuccessful repair attempts.

What's different about California's Used Car Lemon Law?

Car owners in the state of California are better protected as from 2013, California's lemon laws were amended to require "buy-here-pay-here" used car dealers to warranty cars sold for at least 30 days from the date of sale or to 1,000 miles from the mileage on the sales contract.

Does the Lemon Law Apply to Buyback Vehicles?

A lemon buyback is when a car manufacturer buys back a lemon vehicle from the customer and takes it out of circulation. The manufacturer then has to brand the title a "Lemon Law Buyback" or "Manufacturer Buyback" and disclose the defect that caused the manufacturer to but it back. The manufacturer then auctions the car for sale with the branded title so any new buyer is notified of the risks of buying the lemon car. If the manufacturer's original warranty is still in effect then it will continue to provide warranty coverage for defects. And most of the vehicles repurchased and branded a lemon law buyback will come with a 12 month/12,000 mile warranty on the defect that deemed the car a lemon.

The California lemon law may also apply to vehicles that have been repurchased as buybacks by the manufacturer, and resold with a new express written warranty covering the defects.

What to Look Out For When Buying a Used Vehicle?

When buying a used car, it is essential that you do your research on the vehicle as well as the car dealer you are buying from.

Used Car Buying Checklist:

  1. Buying from a reputable car dealer who has a good track record will give you a better chance of ending up with a quality used motor.

  2. Checking the vehicle history report is crucial as this will give you information on any accidents or damage that the car may have been involved in.

  3. Take the car for a test drive and have it inspected by a qualified mechanic for a diagnostic check before making your final decision. The California State Automobile Association provides a comprehensive list of mechanics who can help you with a high-quality diagnostic test.

  4. Asking the right questions when buying a used car is key.

  5. Make sure to ask about the warranty, service history, smog test certification, and what type of maintenance has been done on the vehicle.

  6. If the car dealer is not able to provide you with a written warranty or answer your questions about service history, this could potentially indicate a red flag and you should look elsewhere.

  7. Check the Carfax report to make sure there are no undisclosed accidents and that the vehicle was regularly maintained by the prior owner, although Carfax is not fool-proof it will help you determine the vehicle's condition before purchasing.

"As-Is" Vehicles in California

If a car is sold "As-Is" in the state of California, this means that the vehicle is not covered by a written warranty. Be aware that if you purchase a used car from a dealership and it is sold to you "as-is", you will not have any legal recourse if the car turns out to have hidden defects.

Read the Small Print

Always make sure that you read and understand all paperwork before signing anything when purchasing a used car. If you have any questions about what you are signing, make sure to ask the dealer for clarification.

If you do decide to purchase an "as-is" vehicle, it is essential that you get a comprehensive mechanical inspection done on the vehicle beforehand so that you are aware of any potential problems.

Implied Warranty of Merchantability

In the state of California, unless a used car dealer sold you a car "as-is", your vehicle is covered by an implied warranty of merchantability, even if the vehicle doesn't come with a valid written warranty.

The Implied Warranty of Merchantability applies to all sales of used cars by dealers and it means that the vehicle must be fit for the purpose it was intended.

For example, if you purchase a used car from a dealership and it is advertised as a "family car," it should be able to seat at least four people and have enough space for luggage. If the car cannot do these things, then it would be considered "not fit for its intended purpose" and you may have grounds to take legal action against the dealer.

The Implied Warranty of Merchantability also states that a used car must run properly and not have any major mechanical defects.

What Are Your Options if Your Used Car Is a Lemon?

The California Used Car Lemon Law provides consumers with protection when purchasing a used car. It is important to know your rights for lemon vehicles under your state's lemon law and to do your research before making any major purchase.

If you believe your used car is a lemon, the first step is to take your car to the manufacturer's authorized dealership for repair and inform them of the problem. Be sure to keep records of all communication including dates, times, names, receipts, and what was discussed. You will have to take your car back to the dealership for repairs so that they have a reasonable chance to fix the problem.

Lemon Laws For Used Cars Are Less Specific

If you have followed all the steps and your used or certified pre-owned car is still not repaired after a reasonable number of attempts, you may be entitled to a cash settlement or a refund or replacement vehicle under California's lemon laws.

Be aware that lemon law guidelines for used cars are less specific and your best option may be to consult with an experienced car lemon law attorney who can bridge some of the loopholes and advise you of your legal options.

What are My Legal Rights if I Bought a Lemon?

The good news is that certainly in the state of California, used vehicles fall under some level of lemon law protection if they are still within their original manufacturer warranty period, were purchased with a certified pre-owned warranty, have defects arising during a valid implied warranty of merchantability, or have defects that arise within the buy-here-pay-now dealer's warranty.

When Can I File a Lemon Law Claim?

If it turns out that the manufacturer's authorized dealership is unable to fix a substantially impairing defect even after a reasonable number of attempts, and you have a valid car warranty, you may be entitled to a refund or replacement car under California lemon laws.

The lemon law for used cars in California also provides for compensation for your legal and other expenses incurred in pursuing a claim under the law. In other words, when your attorney prevails on your lemon law claim the manufacturer must pay for their attorney fees.

If you find yourself in a situation where the legal route is the only viable option, you should contact an experienced lemon law attorney who can review your case and offer you advice.

Why Choose The Beck Law Office as Your Lemon Attorney?

The lemon law can be complex, and an experienced California lemon law attorney will know how to navigate the process and give you the best chance of success.

An experienced lemon law attorney will also be able to help you gather the necessary evidence and prepare your case. If you decide to go it alone, make sure you are familiar with the lemon law in your state and have all the required documentation before filing a claim.

California's Trusted Lemon Lawyers

Your lemon law attorney at The Beck Law Office will be experienced and knowledgeable in all areas of California's lemon laws. The firm has a decade of experience in applying lemon law protection to hundreds of claims in and around Los Angeles and the Golden State, and has a proven track record of success in helping clients get the results they deserve. The individualized and personalized approach makes the process less intimidating and helps you get to know your lemon law attorney and helps your lemon law attorney get to know you so that your story is told by a friend.

Don't hesitate to Contact Us

If you think your used car may be a lemon, don't hesitate to contact us for a free consultation. We will review your case and advise you of your legal options and discuss with you where California lemon law applies.

Let us help you get the justice you deserve in a quick, friendly, and efficient manner.

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