The California Lemon Law: When Your Secondhand Car Counts as a Lemon

The California Lemon Law: When Your Secondhand Car Counts as a Lemon

There are plenty of reasons why you might want to buy a used car over a new car. Used vehicles are significantly cheaper, you know how they run, and the insurance is less expensive because they’re not brand-new. However, many people hesitate to buy a used car because they’re afraid that they may wind up receiving a lemon.

In California, it’s well-known that new cars are protected by lemon laws that force manufacturers to repair or replace vehicles that weren’t built correctly. On the other hand, used cars are much less understood. Are they covered or not? When do they count as duds? Can you still get your vehicle  protected under the lemon laws at all?

The answer is: maybe. Many used cars are covered under the lemon laws, but not all. Keep reading to learn what the lemon law actually is, what it covers, and how to find out if your used vehicle counts.

California’s Lemon Law: What It Actually Covers

The Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act is the full title of the law called “California’s lemon law.” It’s a much broader law than most people realize. It’s intended to cover all types of consumer goods, not just new cars, which is good news for you.

In general, the Act sets out rules for how and when manufacturers and retailers need to respect their warranties. It also lays out instructions for how sellers need to offer warranties in the first place. As a result, the Act applies to any consumer good or product that’s covered by a warranty unless there’s a specific exception. The Act requires manufacturers to replace or refund these goods if they are defective.

Cars do have their own specific section of the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, in which the Act makes a few minor exceptions. Essentially, cars aren’t treated quite the same as a new microwave. However, they are still subject to replacements or refunds. The biggest difference is that the manufacturer can attempt repairs before being forced to repair or replace the vehicle.

Used Cars Under the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act

So what does this mean for used cars? That’s simple. A used car is covered under the Act if it’s under warranty. A used vehicle might have two types of warranty: a manufacturer warranty and a dealer warranty.

Manufacturer warranties typically last three to five years. If your car is a very recent year model, it may still be under the manufacturer’s warranty, and therefore treated just like a car you’d bought new.

Meanwhile, dealer warranties are specific policies put in place by dealerships. Not every dealer offers them, so read your purchase paperwork carefully to determine if your car has a warranty and when it expires.

Unfortunately, if you bought your vehicle from a private individual and it’s older than about five years, it’s unlikely that it’s still under warranty. These used cars are not covered by the Act.

When Is a Used Car a Lemon?

The requirements for a new car to be considered a lemon are straightforward. A brand-new vehicle is regarded as a dud if:

  • It’s been in the shop for 30 or more days
  • The manufacturer has attempted to repair non-fatal flaws four times or fatal flaws twice
  • The vehicle is less than 18 months old and has fewer than 18,000 miles
  • The problems weren’t caused by the owner.

This remains true even if the vehicle has been sold. For example, if you bought a truck that’s one year old, it should still be covered by the manufacturer’s warranty. You have six months to record your own attempts to repair any lingering problems. You can also talk to the previous owner or use a service like CarFax to collect the vehicle’s previous service records.

Things are a little different for used cars that are under a dealership warranty. Dealers obviously aren’t the manufacturer, so they may not have a vehicle to replace the lemon with. Furthermore, used cars aren’t explicitly covered under the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act.

Instead, they’re covered under a 2013 law that requires dealerships to offer a minimum of a 30 day or 1000 mile warranties on cars. To make a claim on these warranties, the vehicle must meet these qualifications:

  • It has an active warranty
  • It has a “substantial” defect
  • You’ve attempted to repair it a reasonable number of times
  • It’s been in the shop for an “excessive” amount of time

These requirements are both more and less strict than the requirements for a new car. They’re less stringent in that there are fewer specific numbers you need to meet. On the other hand, you need to prove that the vehicle’s defect is “substantial,” which is harder with used cars than with new ones.

How to Spot if Your Used Car Might Qualify Under Lemon Laws

If you’re not sure if your vehicle will qualify under lemon laws, you can do some research to find out.

  • Find the warranty. If you bought your car from a dealership in California, it was covered by a warranty at the time of purchase. Go find that warranty and figure out how long it lasts and what it covers. If your vehicle is still covered by the warranty, then you’ve met the first qualification.
  • Look for recalls. If your car is no longer protected by a warranty, you may still have options. You can look up recalls through a site like If your vehicle has been recalled, then you can send it to the manufacturer even if you’re not the original owner.
  • Discuss your case with a lemon lawyer. The last and most effective way to find out if your car meets lemon law requirements is to talk to an attorney. A good lawyer has the knowledge to advise you about whether you have a case.

Get More Out of Your Used Car

Used cars can be just as safe and reliable as any new car. Even better, they’re often covered by California lemon laws, especially if you bought them from a dealership. If you’re concerned that your vehicle is a lemon, get in touch with the Lemon Law Guys today for a consultation. Don’t wait any longer and put your safety at risk. Start your used car lemon law case today.

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