How Does California Lemon Law Apply to Replacement Vehicles?


There’s nothing like hitting the beautiful California roads for a driving adventure – and nothing more frustrating than finding out your vehicle has defects.

Fortunately, the law is on your side.

California is famous for having some of the most favorable lemon laws for consumers in the entire country. The Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act – known as California Lemon Law – was enacted to protect the state’s consumers if they purchased or leased a defective vehicle.

The law aims to hold manufacturers accountable for producing, approving, and selling vehicles with nonconformities – and provide financial compensation to the consumer.

If a vehicle is proven to be a lemon in California, the consumer has two options to earn justice:

  1. Request a buyback of the defective vehicle (a refund).
  2. Request a replacement vehicle of the same value.

While the consumer has a choice, the end result is not exactly straightforward.

In this post, we’re going to explain the ins and outs of replacement lemon vehicles – and the process to obtain one.

Understanding California Lemon Law

If you purchase or lease a defective vehicle in California, you can’t simply take it back to the dealership with a receipt and demand a complete refund or replacement. Auto sales are not like buying something from Walmart.

In order to be eligible for lemon law benefits in California, there is a due process the vehicle must go through. Here are the qualifications spelled out by California lemon law:

  • The vehicle should be under the protection of the manufacturer’s or dealer’s warranty when the issue was first flagged to the car maker.
  • The flaw is significant, affecting the car’s operation, safety, or worth.
  • The problem wasn’t a result of the driver’s mistake, carelessness, or misuse.
  • The car maker has had ample opportunities to fix the issue but failed to do so; or
  • The vehicle has been unavailable due to repair work for a combined total of 30 days or more.

If your vehicle meets these qualifications – and you have documentation to prove it – you may begin the process of filing a claim with the help of a California lemon law lawyer.

But this is just the beginning.

The Path to Justice Under California Lemon Law

Before we explain the details, we want to discuss the reality of lemon law:

Auto manufacturers have no intention of taking responsibility for selling defective vehicles. Not only is providing replacement vehicles and buybacks expensive, but it’s also a black mark against the global brand reputation they work to preserve.

So what does this mean for consumers?

To protect themselves against lemon law claims, automakers have extremely high-powered legal defense teams to deny responsibility – and avoid providing you with the lemon law benefits you deserve.

This is why it is crucial to hire a California lemon law attorney to fight for you.

Nearly all consumers are faced with the situation for the first time. The manufacturer’s legal teams have all sorts of tricks to take advantage of unsuspecting consumers.

Lemon law attorneys do not fall for these tactics and will fight to make sure you get everything you are owed.

Your Options: The Difference Between a Buyback and a Replacement

To reiterate, consumers have two options for lemon law benefits: a buyback or a replacement.

What is a Lemon Law Buyback?

A buyback is a refund for every dollar spent on the lemon vehicle. This includes:

  • The purchase price of the vehicle minus a mileage offset
  • Refund for all official costs (registration, sales tax, etc.)
  • Refund for all collateral costs (towing fees, cab fares, etc.)

A buyback is typically the more common outcome in lemon law cases.

What is a Lemon Law Replacement?

A lemon law replacement involves the manufacturer providing the consumer with a new vehicle to “replace” the lemon. This can be the same model or one of equal value.

Now, there is a big difference in the legality of these options.

The vehicle is proven to be a lemon; the manufacturer is REQUIRED by law to provide a buyback. They are not required to provide a replacement – they must AGREE to it.

The consumer may request a buyback from the manufacturer, but it’s ultimately up to them whether they want to provide a replacement or a buyback.

Summing Up Replacement Vehicles in California Lemon Law

You may be asking; why would a consumer want a replacement vehicle from the manufacturer that just sold them a defective one?

The reality is that lemon vehicles are very rare in the grand scheme of things. Many consumers are loyal to certain car brands and understand that mistakes happen in the factory from time to time. For these consumers, there’s nothing wrong with requesting a replacement.

The most important factor in earning a rightful buyback OR replacement is hiring a skilled California lemon law attorney.

If you have a lemon, the manufacturer is legally responsible for paying for all your attorney fees and court costs. This is why lemon attorneys work on a contingency fee agreement – meaning you pay nothing out of pocket to hire them.

The first step is speaking with an attorney. Most offer free consultations to understand your situation and if you have a valid claim. Check your local listings today!