How to File a Lemon Law Claim in California

Buying or leasing a chronically defective “lemon” vehicle can lead to endless repairs, arguments with manufacturers, and financial headaches. Fortunately, California's strong lemon law provides powerful consumer protections. This guide explains how to file a lemon law claim in California and maximize your rights to a refund or replacement vehicle.


Nothing sours a new car purchase like persistent defects and breakdowns that the dealer cannot seem to fix. Rather than tolerating an un-drivable lemon, California law gives vehicle owners powerful options to pursue repairs, refunds, or replacement cars.

This article will clarify key provisions of California's lemon law. It will outline the step-by-step process for filing claims with manufacturers, the California Arbitration Program, or small claims court. Tips on hiring a lemon law attorney and maximizing your compensation are also provided. Arm yourself with knowledge before filing your lemon law claim.

Understand California's Lemon Law

California's Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act establishes strong lemon law protections for vehicle purchasers and lessees. Here are some key provisions:


The law covers new vehicles, including cars, trucks, vans, SUVs, and motorcycles. Used and leased vehicles are also covered.


To qualify, the vehicle must have a significant defect covered under warranty that continues to exist after a "reasonable" number of repair attempts.

Burden of Proof

California puts the burden of proof on the manufacturer, not the consumer. This makes the consumer's case easier to prove.

Prepare Documentation

Meticulously organize all documents related to the vehicle defects, repair attempts, and communications with the manufacturer:

Repair Orders

Obtain a copy of every repair order and work order. Highlight unresolved defects.


Keep a paper trail of all calls and letters with the dealer and manufacturer.

Vehicle Contract

Have a copy of your vehicle purchase or lease contract handy.

File a Lemon Law Claim

In California, you can pursue a claim through the manufacturer, a state-run arbitration program, or small claims court:

With the Manufacturer

Send a demand letter detailing the issues and desired remedy (refund, replacement, etc).

California Arbitration Program

File a claim with CAP for free arbitration by state experts. Decisions are binding on manufacturers.

Small Claims Court

You can sue in small claims court if arbitration fails. The limit is $10,000 in California.

Hire a Lemon Law Attorney

An experienced lemon law attorney increases your odds of success and maximum compensation:

Benefits of Representation

Attorneys have expertise in building winning cases and negotiating top settlements.

Contingency Fees

Most lemon law firms work for a percentage of your final compensation. No win, no fee.

Maximize Compensation

To recoup your losses, be sure to seek:

Refund or Replacement

Demand an equivalent refund or a brand new replacement vehicle.

License Fees and Taxes

Recoup DMV fees, registration/title costs, sales tax, etc.

Non-Economic Damages

You may qualify for compensation for aggravation, lost work, rental cars, etc.


Here are answers to common lemon law questions:

What vehicles are covered?

Cars, trucks, SUVs, vans, motorcycles and RVs with serious defects are covered.

What is the time limit to file?

You must file a claim within 18 months for used vehicles. New vehicles have longer limits.

Can I still sue if I lose my CAP hearing?

Yes, you can reject the arbitrator's decision and pursue the claim in small claims court.


Don't waste time with a defective lemon. California's lemon law gives you powerful options to get a refund, replacement vehicle or cash settlement. With strong documentation and persistency, you can file a claim and regain the vehicle value you lost.

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