Used Car Lemon Law: How to Tell if Your Car is Covered in California

auto for sale in a used car lot.

If you're in the market for a new car, you might be thinking about purchasing a pre-owned vehicle. Often, you can save a considerable amount of money on both the vehicle and insurance costs. You might also find a used car that looks brand new and only has a few thousand miles on the odometer. However, if you notice that your new pre-owned vehicle starts to run poorly and continues to malfunction after several repair attempts, it may not be because it's "used" — you may have been sold a lemon.

Not only can lemon cars be an inconvenience — they can be costly. If your new used car keeps breaking down despite multiple trips back to the dealer for repairs, you might be facing the question: is there a Lemon Law for used cars?

How Do I Know if My Used Car Is a Lemon?

It's always best to test drive a used car before purchase. However, some vehicle defects may not become apparent until you've driven the car for a few days or weeks — giving rise to your suspicion that the car you purchased is a lemon.

Lemon cars can have defects such as steering issues, transmission problems, airbag defects, faulty seat belts, bad brakes, malfunctioning air conditioning, and other kinds of defects that can make it unsafe or reduce its value. If the problems can't be repaired after a reasonable number of attempts, you might be entitled to a replacement vehicle or refund under the California Lemon Law.

Does Lemon Law Apply to Used Cars?

Just because you purchased a used vehicle doesn't mean that you need to accept the fact that it has problems. Although most people only think of new cars when it comes to invoking the Lemon Law, used vehicles may also qualify for protection under the statute.

California Lemon Law protects consumers from the harm that they could suffer due to being sold or leased a car that has substantial impairments that can cause safety issues or affect the car's value. Consumers who purchased pre-owned vehicles are also protected by the statute, as long as the car meets certain conditions:

  • The used car must have been purchased in California
  • The vehicle is still under the original manufacturer's warranty
  • The car has a substantial defect affecting its safety or value
  • The defect cannot be repaired after several reasonable attempts

The Lemon Law applies to used cars as well as used trucks, vans, SUVs, RVs, and most other vehicles for personal or family use.

Under the used car Lemon Law, if the vehicle is still under the manufacturer's warranty and doesn't conform to that warranty, the manufacturer must make several repair attempts. If the authorized dealer or manufacturer cannot repair the defect after a reasonable number of attempts, you may be entitled to a refund or replacement vehicle. The used car Lemon Law can also be applied if your pre-owned vehicle has been in the service shop for thirty days or more for a manufacturing defect.

How Do I Know If My Car is Under Warranty?

When you purchase a pre-owned car at an authorized dealership, it should come with the original manufacturer's warranty, depending on how many miles are on it and how old it is — typically, manufacturer's warranties cover a vehicle for three years or 36,000 miles. Upon transfer, the original warranty would cover you for the remainder left.

If you’re purchasing a certified pre-owned vehicle and the manufacturer's warranty no longer covers the vehicle, the dealership should provide a warranty. A dealer warranty may last from thirty days to three months or more, depending on the dealership.

In addition, California law places strict requirements on "buy here pay here" dealers. Specifically, the law requires that such a dealer must give the buyer a warranty lasting at least thirty days or up to the first 1,000 miles it is driven from the mileage specified on the contract — whichever happens first.

Is There a Lemon Law for Used Cars That Aren't Under Warranty?

It's not uncommon for people to purchase used cars that are no longer covered by a warranty. While buying a vehicle that doesn't come with a warranty might be less expensive, it's important to be aware that if the vehicle turns out to be defective, you won't be able to invoke the California Lemon Law if issues arise.

If you purchased a vehicle with an "as is" disclaimer and the dealership didn't follow the necessary legal protocol and labeling requirements, you might still be able to assert rights under the used car Lemon Law, in some cases. A Lemon Law lawyer can discuss the specific facts of your situation and advise you of your remedies.

Are Extended Warranties Covered Under Used Car Lemon Law?

Many dealerships offer extended warranties in the event that the original manufacturer's warranty has run out. These types of warranties are optional and generally have nothing to do with the original manufacturer's warranty. In many cases, extended warranties are effectively service contracts with the dealership and may not qualify for California Lemon Law protection.

Does Lemon Law Apply to Used Cars Purchased in a Private Sale?

The used car Lemon Law in California does not apply to vehicles purchased in a private sale. For example, you might purchase the vehicle from a car owner who placed an advertisement online — individuals are not subject to the same responsibilities and obligations that a dealership or manufacturer has to consumers under California Lemon Law.

Contact a Southern California Lemon Law Used Car Attorney

If you recently purchased a used vehicle in California that rises to the level of a lemon, you may be entitled to a replacement or refund. A California Lemon Law lawyer can advocate for your legal rights and advise you of your remedies. However, you only have a limited amount of time in California to file a Lemon Law case, whether the car is new or used. There's a 4-year statute of limitations that begins running from the date you found out about the defect.

The California Lemon Law lawyers at the Ledbetter Law Firm help people in Southern California who have experienced Lemon Law issues with their vehicles obtain a vehicle replacement or the refund that they deserve. With offices conveniently located in San Diego and Torrance, California, telephone and video conferencing options are also available. Call (619) 374-0252 to schedule a consultation with a California Lemon Law used car attorney today.