Does the California Lemon Law Apply to Vehicles Purchased Out of State?

Engine check light on car dashboard. 3D rendered illustration concept

Purchasing or leasing a vehicle only to find out it has unrepairable problems can not only be a hassle, but a financial burden. While California’s Lemon Law offers protections to consumers who bought defective vehicles within the state, it doesn’t cover all cars — the statute expressly precludes vehicles purchased across state lines. However, you may still have a few options when it comes to obtaining a remedy for a lemon car.

What is California’s Lemon Law?

No one should have to deal with the inconvenience that comes with having purchased a car with problems. But no matter how defective or faulty your vehicle might be, it’s crucial to understand that there are specific criteria that must be satisfied to assert your right to a legal remedy. To file a lawsuit under California’s Lemon Law, the vehicle must meet the following requirements:

  • The car must have been purchased within the state of California
  • The vehicle must still be covered by the original manufacturer’s warranty
  • There must be a substantial defect that affects the value or safety of the vehicle
  • The defect cannot be repaired after several reasonable attempts

Usually, four repair attempts are sufficient to invoke the lemon law. Only two are typically necessary if the defect involves a safety issue that could cause severe bodily harm or fatality to the driver, their passengers, or others on the road. There is also a presumption that a car is a lemon if the defect arose within 18 months of the vehicle’s delivery, or the first 18,000 miles were driven. No further proof is needed in such cases other than establishing that a reasonable number of repair attempts were made.

Exceptions to California’s In-State Purchase Requirement

While California’s Lemon Law criteria requires a vehicle to have been purchased in California, there are several exceptions that may apply when consumers have bought cars out-of-state. First, it’s essential to understand what constitutes an “in-state” vehicle purchase to qualify for the statute’s protections. It may be obvious in most cases what “sold in California” means, but sometimes it may not be as clear.

California courts have interpreted the text of the lemon law to mean the physical location where title passes from the buyer to the seller in California. Under the California Commercial Code, title passes at the location where the seller completes the delivery of the vehicle. In addition, case law has specified that a vehicle buyer does not need to be a California resident to invoke the state’s lemon law — and only one repair attempt must have taken place in the state.

The California lemon law also offers protections to members of the military who purchased their vehicles in a different state. Servicemembers on full time active duty in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, National Guard, or Coast Guard may be entitled to pursue a lemon law claim under certain circumstances. By law, an Armed Forces member can file a lemon law claim for a defective vehicle if it is under warranty and the manufacturer sells vehicles in California. The servicemember must also have been stationed in California either at the time the vehicle was bought or on the date the lawsuit was commenced.

Do Vehicles Purchased Outside California Have Any Federal Lemon Law Protections?

In cases where the California Lemon Law does not apply, a consumer may be able to rely on the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act. Often referred to as the “federal lemon law,” the Act governs warranties for a wide variety of consumer products, including vehicles that are covered by the manufacturer’s warranty. Although California law typically offers more protections, the federal law can provide an option for consumers who are unable to raise a claim under state law — such as in cases where a vehicle was purchased out of state.

Similar to California’s Lemon Law, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act requires that a manufacturer provide a remedy to a consumer who purchased a defective vehicle. If the car cannot be repaired within a reasonable number of attempts, the manufacturer must offer to buy it back. Importantly, the Act also allows consumers who prevail in their claims to recover their attorneys’ fees and litigation costs.

Contact an Experienced Southern California Lemon Law Attorney

If you purchased a vehicle in another state that turned out to be a lemon, it’s vital to understand your legal rights and remedies. An experienced California Lemon Law attorney can evaluate your case and advise you regarding your options. At the Ledbetter Law Firm, we have extensive experience guiding our clients through the process of filing a lemon law claim and helping them obtain the maximum compensation to which they’re entitled.

The Ledbetter Law Firm works with clients throughout Southern California who have purchased lemons and assists them with obtaining the refund or replacement vehicle they deserve from the manufacturer. With offices conveniently located in Torrance and San Diego, California, telephone and video conferencing options are also available. Call (310) 878-0067 to schedule a consultation with a California Lemon Law attorney today.