Leased Car Lemon Law in California

Row of new cars at a dealership concept

Having to deal with a lemon car can be costly and time-consuming. Importantly, California has very strong consumer protection laws that help to ensure those who have been burdened by vehicles that do not conform to their warranties get the refund or replacement they deserve. But many people may not be aware that California Lemon Law doesn’t only apply to cars that have been purchased outright — it also covers leased vehicles.

Does California Lemon Law Cover Leased Cars?

Due to the language of California’s Lemon Law, someone reviewing it might mistakenly believe that it only applies to buyers of new vehicles. Under California Civil Code § 1793.2(d), manufacturers are required to repurchase or replace lemon vehicles — but this section only covers “buyers” of “new motor vehicles.”

Critically, lessees with effective warranties are also afforded the protections of the lemon law under California Civil Code § 1795.4(b). The provision specifies that those who lease vehicles have the same consumer rights as if the vehicle had been purchased. Not only are leased cars covered by the lemon law, but pickup trucks, SUVs, chassis cabs, and vans used for personal purposes are all afforded protection by the law.

Are Leased Business Vehicles Covered by California’s Lemon Law?

Many leased vehicles are used for small business operations. In some cases, vehicles leased for business purposes may be covered by California’s Lemon Law. But it’s important to understand there are a few factors that determine whether the law can be applied. To qualify for coverage under the lemon law, a leased business vehicle must meet the following criteria:

  • The vehicle must have a substantial defect that impairs its safety or value
  • The vehicle must have a gross weight of less than 10,000 pounds
  • The company must have five or fewer vehicles registered to it

Notably, the weight rule for leased business vehicles looks at the vehicle’s gross vehicle weight (GVR), rather than the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) — which is the amount it is meant to weigh when fully loaded with passengers or cargo. The GVWR of a vehicle is always greater than its GVR.

In addition, business vehicles registered in other states do not count toward the lemon law’s five-vehicle limit.

When is a Leased Car a Lemon?

Just because a leased car has a problem doesn’t mean it is a lemon — there are specific legal criteria that must be satisfied to obtain a refund or replacement from the manufacturer. California Lemon Law claims can only be brought for vehicles purchased within the state, with few exceptions. In addition, the defect must be one that is substantial and makes the vehicle fail to conform to the manufacturer’s warranty. In other words, the issue must be one that a reasonable person believes would make the car unsafe to drive or impairs the vehicle’s value.

Several unsuccessful repair attempts must be made before a claim can be filed under the lemon law for a leased car. Usually, four documented trips to the dealership for repairs will suffice, but only two may be necessary if the defect was a safety hazard. A car can also qualify as a lemon if it was in the shop for a total of 30 days or more, whether repairs were ultimately made or not. Defects in connection with aftermarket parts, accidents, or driver abuse are not covered by the lemon law.

Under California’s Lemon Law, a vehicle is presumed to be a lemon if the defect arose within the first 18 months of delivery or the first 18,000 miles driven. This legal presumption can make it easier for consumers to prevail in a lemon law claim. In such cases, the burden of proof is on the manufacturer to demonstrate that they did not sell a lemon.

While you can file a lemon law lawsuit outside of the warranty period, the defect must have been discovered while the warranty was in effect. Critically, there is a four-year statute of limitations in place from the time the nonconformity arose to pursue a claim.

What Are Your Legal Remedies if You Leased a Lemon?

If you leased a lemon, the manufacturer may be required to replace or buy back the vehicle. If you opt for a refund, your lease would terminate early and you would recover the costs of all payments made, in addition to out-of-pocket costs and your legal fees. In cases that aren’t as strong, you may still be able to enter into a cash settlement agreement with the manufacturer for the inconvenience you experienced.

Contact an Experienced Southern California Lemon Law Attorney

If you leased a vehicle that turned out to be a lemon, it’s crucial to understand your legal rights and remedies. An experienced California Lemon Law attorney can evaluate your case and advise you regarding your option. At the Ledbetter Law Firm, we are committed to guiding each of our clients through the process of filing a lemon law claim and obtaining the compensation to which they’re entitled.

The Ledbetter Law Firm works with clients throughout Southern California who have purchased lemon vehicles 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.