California Used Car Lemon Law

By John Landers
California's lemon law protects unwary car buyers from unscrupulous dealers.
towing truck image by Aleksandr Ugorenkov from

Individuals who buy used cars in California need to have the proper information concerning California used car lemon law statutes and other regulations to protect their rights. Find out if the vehicle you want to purchase has the manufacturer's warranty still in effect and what repairs the agreement covers. Sometimes dealerships offer warranties that protect the rights of car buyers. In some cases where the vehicle purchase represents an "as-is" sale, you may still have rights under California laws.


The California lemon law covers new cars that still have coverage under the original manufacturer's warranty. The law does not extend to the majority of used vehicles. To qualify for coverage under the law, the vehicle must have gone through numerous attempts to make repairs under the manfacturer's warranty within 18 months after purchasing the vehicle or 18,000 miles, whichever occurs first. In addition, the "three-day cooling-off period" that allows consumers to void a contract does not apply to the purchase of vehicles.

Legal Remedies Act

The California Legal Remedies Act deals with "unfair or deceptive" activities associated with the sale of goods or services. Dealers cannot lie or mislead car buyers in any way. They have an obligation to reveal material defects in their vehicles. Under questioning about the vehicle, dealers must demonstrate honesty or say they don't know. Dealers must inspect the vehicle, make necessary repairs and disclose any problems they did not fix. When dealers advertise vehicles as undergoing "full services and inspections" they must do so. Consumers have a right to have the vehicle independently inspected before making a purchase.

Prohibited Activities

Since the California lemon law mostly addresses new vehicles, used lemon vehicle purchases are often prosecuted under the CLRA. Issues related to odometer rollbacks, vehicles sold with "salvage" titles or failure to reveal lemon vehicles returned by previous owners may constitutes examples that violate the CLRA. Consumers who purchase lemon used vehicles based on false or misleading statement concerning the quality of the vehicles may sue for damages.

Bill of Rights

In July 2006, the California Legislature passed the Car Buyer Bill of Rights for new and used vehicles. Buyers may significantly protect themselves against winding up with a lemon by understanding the law. Among the items covered in this regulation is that dealers cannot certify a vehicle unless they perform a full inspection of the vehicle. Vehicles damaged in floods, accidents or fires must undergo repairs to standards prior to the incidents occurring. Another rule is that certified vehicles cannot include "lemon law buybacks," or vehicles that were previously found to be lemons and purchased back from buyers.

Expert Insight

Southern California attorney Howard Silver, who handles cases regarding the lemon law, used car repairs and other consumer-related issues, states that should you purchase a lemon, go back to the dealership and request a refund or an exchange. You may also ask the dealer to perform any warranty service you have with the vehicle. If the dealer does not treat you fairly, only then should you pursue litigation to get your money back from the dealer.

You have three years from the date of purchase to sue for the cost of the vehicle and the any repairs expenditures. The court may also award replacement transportation expenses, legal costs and expenses and other reimbursements. If the court determines the dealer's behavior as particularly egregious, you may receive punitive damages.

About the Author

John Landers has a bachelor's degree in business administration. He worked several years as a senior manager in the housing industry before pursuing his passion to become a writer. He has researched and written articles on a wide variety of interesting subjects for an array of clients. He loves penning pieces on subjects related to business, health, law and technology.