Woman Getting Car Repaired

California’s Civil Code requires that manufacturers offer lemon law buybacks to new car, truck, and SUV owners whenever a manufacturer is unable to repair within a “reasonable number” of attempts a substantial defect occurring during the warranty period. The question of what amounts to a “reasonable number” of attempts is a primary issue in many lemon law lawsuits.

This page will explain the general legal test for a sufficient number of repair attempts, discuss the minimum number of repairs required by California law, and explain how the lemon law statute’s presumptions affect the number of repair attempts needed before a car or truck is deemed a lemon.

The General Test for a Reasonable Number of Repair Attempts

You may have heard people say that once an automobile has four repair attempts (or some other number of attempts) that it qualifies for a lemon law buyback. This is untrue, and is a misunderstanding of the California lemon law’s requirements. In reality, in the vast majority of lemon law lawsuits there is no specific bright-line rule for determining whether or not a manufacturer has had a “reasonable number” of attempts to repair an automobile’s defect. Rather, subject to the minimum requirements of the lemon law statute (as discussed below), the question of whether or not a vehicle has had a reasonable number or repair attempts is a question of fact for the jury to decide. Because it is a question for the jury, in most cases there can never be absolute certainty about the number of attempts needed before a vehicle is a lemon.

That being said, California’s appellate courts have indirectly provided some guidance. In the case of Krieger v. Nick Alexander Imports, Inc., 234 Cal.App.3d 205 (1991), California’s Second District Court of Appeals analyzed when the statute of limitations begins to run for a claim under California’s lemon law statute (i.e., the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, Civil Code Section 1790, et seq.). To do so, it had to determine when the cause of action accrued. In the Krieger case, the Court of Appeal ruled that a California lemon law cause of action accrues when the buyer “determined that [the manufacturer] had been unable to repair his car.” Although the Krieger case analyzed the lemon law’s statute of limitations, there is a strong argument that its conclusion applies to determining when the manufacturer has had a “reasonable number” attempts. In theory a legal claim should not begin to accrue for statute of limitations purposes before you could assert it. Thus, as a broad rule of thumb a “reasonable number” of repair attempts probably means enough so that a hypothetical reasonable consumer would conclude that the manufacturer is either unable or unwilling to repair the problem.

Because there is no single bright line rule for determining when a vehicle is a lemon, the best way for consumers to find out whether or not they have a lemon law claim is to contact a lawyer with experience in lemon law cases.

California Lemon Law Requires a Minimum of Two Repair Attempts

Notwithstanding the vague “reasonable number” of repairs standard, California’s appellate courts have also established an absolute minimum number of attempts that must have been made before a consumer can proceed with a lemon law case. In the case of Silvio v. Ford Motor Company, 109 Cal.App.4th 1205 (2003), California’s Second District Court of Appeals ruled that a “reasonable number” of attempts must, as a matter of law, be at least two attempts.

The Lemon Law Statute’s Presumptions

The California lemon law statute includes three presumptions regarding when an automobile qualifies for a lemon law buyback. It is of the upmost importance to realize that these presumptions are not hard and fast rules. In some cases, consumers who have experienced fewer repair attempts may qualify for a buyback, while in others consumers with more repair attempts may not be entitled to one. Additionally, the presumptions may only be used in cases in which either (1) the manufacturer has not established the informal lemon law dispute resolution procedure outlined in the California lemon law statute, or (2) the consumer has already resorted to the manufacturer’s informal procedures. Since virtually all of the major automobile manufacturers have such programs, in most lawsuits the statutory presumptions do not come into play.

The presumptions are however useful as guidance and as a quick reference source regarding what the Sacramento Legislature thought would amount to a “reasonable number” of repair attempts. In particular, the presumptions in California’s lemon law deem that a reasonable number of repair attempts have occurred if:

  1. there have been two or more attempts to repair a malfunction “that is likely to cause death or serious bodily injury” within the vehicle’s first 18,000 miles or the first 18 months of ownership (whichever comes first) and the consumer has directly notified the manufacturer of the existence of the defect;
  2. there have been four or more repair attempts for the same malfunction within the vehicle’s first 18,000 miles or the first 18 months of ownership (whichever comes first) and the consumer has directly notified the manufacturer of the existence of the defect; or
  3. the automobile has been out of service under repair for a total of 30 or more days during the vehicle’s first 18,000 miles or the first 18 months of ownership (whichever comes first).


Want to Talk to a Lemon Law Specialist About Your Car?

If you think that your new car, truck, or SUV might be a lemon, or if you would just like to know more about your legal rights, the Vachon Law Firm offers free consultations. Call us today at 855-4-LEMON-LAW (-1855-453-6665) to learn more about lemon law, repossession, or car dealer fraud issues.