Does California Lemon Law Apply to Used Cars?
It can be a common misconception that you have to buy a car, truck, or recreational vehicle fresh from the factory to have legal rights under state consumer protection statutes. In fact, there are a number of California lemon law used car protections. Since many pre-owned vehicles may still be covered by an existing manufacturer’s warranty, or a new one in the case of a vehicle certified by a dealership’s mechanics, the Song-Beverly Act still applies. Even vehicles that are bought from “buy here, drive here” used car dealerships can qualify as a lemon.
Example of California Lemon Law for Used Cars
For example, our client purchased a pre-owned 2016 Cadillac Escalade from a General Motors dealership, which started having recurring issues soon after purchase. Despite taking the car to the dealership multiple times for repairs, the issues persisted and worsened. Our lemon law firm filed a lawsuit against General Motors, which resulted in a settlement of $50,000.
While the settlement did not include a replacement vehicle, it provided significant compensation to our client for the inconvenience, frustration, and financial losses he had suffered as a result of the defective car.
Vehicles Covered Under California Lemon Law Used Car
The same kinds of vehicles are covered whether they are new or pre-owned. Specific conditions for CA lemon law used car claims include:
- Cars, trucks or SUVs bought for personal or family usage or by a business with less than five vehicles
- Vehicles that have a gross weight below 10,000 pounds (five tons); and/or
- Vehicles that are still under a written warranty from a manufacturer or the dealership
CA Lemon Law Qualifications
One reason that lemon laws include used vehicles is that manufacturers often try to re-sell lemons again. Without these protections, a car buyer would simply face the same issues someone else already had! Other than that, the same qualifications for a new car apply to a used car. That includes:
- An express written warranty during which you find that there are issues with your vehicle;
- Issues did not arise because of your own driving habits or style;
- You gave the manufacturer a reasonable opportunity to fix the issues;
- The vehicle has the same problems as when you first noticed them.
One reason to work with a lemon law attorney, especially with used vehicles, is that manufacturers often try to arbitrate your claims about the defective vehicle. You have the right to ask them to buy back the vehicle, minus the value of the time you were able to use it, or to ask for a replacement vehicle. You are also allowed to ask for reimbursement of reasonable expenses caused by your inability to use the vehicle, such as towing fees, rental car bills, Uber or Lyft costs and many other charges.
Determining what damages you may be able to seek depends on the fact of your specific case, but an experienced lawyer will be able to help you understand what claims you have under the California lemon law for used cars.
Additionally, California’s lemon laws have civil penalty provisions. Those provisions allow owners to recover civil penalties of up to twice their actual damages if they can prove the manufacturer willfully violated the state’s lemon laws.
Manufacturer’s Duty to Repair Under the California Used Car Lemon Law
The manufacturer or their dealer representative must attempt to make your car, truck or SUV usable while it is within warranty. Manufacturers must be allowed to try to repair the defects before you are able to submit a claim for repurchase or replacement. The process follows:
- The vehicle must be under an express warranty from either the manufacturer or the dealership when the issue is detected;
- A manufacturer or dealership must have been able to attempt repairs, at least two for a defect that could cause injury or death, but at least four times for any other defect; OR
- The vehicle must have been in the repair shop or otherwise unusable by the owner for at least 30 non-consecutive days. This alone may give rise to a lemon law claim depending on severity.
However, these are not hard and fast rules. In the case of some safety defects like a transmission issue or an engine failure, a mechanic may be able to detect that it is a non-repairable condition the first time he or she sees it.
When the California Lemon Law Does Not Apply
If your vehicle has a substantial defect that you discover soon after you buy it, it is rare for you not to have a California lemon law used car claim. However, there are certain cases where you may be ineligible to make a claim for either a buyback or a replacement vehicle.
The first is when there is an *extended warranty* not issued by the manufacturer or dealership. These are often provided with monthly premiums as a sort of insurance. In California, however, they are considered “service contracts” and are not considered to be part of the lemon law process. This does not included Certified pre-owned vehicles, as these warranties are expressed warranties written by the manufacturer.
The second is in the case of “as-is” vehicle sales from either a private party or a dealership. Private party purchases are not covered by state consumer protection laws at all. Dealerships that properly advise buyers that the car is “as-is” and that they are responsible for any and all repairs and defects are also generally protected from lemon law claims. Even if the vehicle is sold as is and is still under the manful warty you will not be barred from filing a lemon law claim.
What Should I Do If I Believe I Have Purchased a Lemon?
If you suspect that you have unknowingly purchased a lemon—a used car with substantial defects—you should take immediate action to protect your rights and seek resolution.
Firstly, it’s crucial to maintain meticulous records of all interactions, including the purchase agreement, repair receipts, and any correspondence with the seller or manufacturer. These records will serve as valuable evidence if you need to escalate your case.
Next, contact the car’s manufacturer to report the issues and inquire about any available warranty or recourse programs. They might have specific procedures to follow or be willing to assist you.
Third, try to avoid arbitration when filing for a used car lemon law, as it often tilts the balance of power in favor of the automaker. In arbitration, the decision-making process is typically controlled by an arbitrator chosen by the manufacturer, leaving little room for impartiality and potentially biased outcomes. Furthermore, arbitration clauses commonly found in contracts restrict consumers from pursuing legal action, limiting their ability to seek a fair resolution through the court system.
Additionally, consulting with an experienced lemon law attorney can provide invaluable guidance and legal expertise. An attorney can help evaluate your case, navigate complex legal requirements, and negotiate with the manufacturer on your behalf. Remember to act promptly as lemon law statutes often have strict time limits for filing claims.