Buying a car – whether new or used – is one of the biggest purchases we make. It is important to take your time in deciding which car to buy and not be pressured by anyone who simply wants your money or your signature on a contract. Once you decide on the vehicle that best fits your needs and budget, shop around for the best price, know the vehicle’s history (if used), and be prepared to walk away from the deal if your questions are not being answered. Before you buy or lease a vehicle:
The Car Buyer's Bill of Rights gives you certain protections when you buy a new or used vehicle from a licensed California dealer:
For more information about the Car Buyer’s Bill of Rights, visit the DMV website.
Most new vehicles come with an express manufacturer’s warranty that gives you certain rights if the vehicle does not perform as promised. These warranties are included in the price of your new car. Car dealers may also sell service contracts—sometimes called extended warranties—for both new and used vehicles. Some service contracts offer good protection at a reasonable price, while others have exclusions that make them almost worthless. Because warranty law is complex, you should consult with a lawyer or other expert who can best advise you of your rights under the particular circumstances of your case. For more information about vehicle warranties and service contracts check out the California Department of Insurance’s “Guide to Automobile Service Contracts.”
The California Lemon Law (Civ. Code, § 1793.2 et seq.) protects you when your vehicle is defective and cannot be repaired after a “reasonable” number of attempts.
The Lemon Law applies to most new vehicles purchased or leased in California that are still under a manufacturer’s new-vehicle warranty. Full-time active-duty members of the Armed Forces stationed or residing in California at the time of purchase or lease are protected by the Lemon Law even if their vehicles were purchased or registered outside of California. The Lemon Law also applies to used vehicles when they are still under a manufacturer’s new car warranty. Any remaining time left on the warranty protects the car’s new owner.
Under the Lemon Law, the manufacturer may be required to buy back or replace your vehicle if, after a “reasonable” number of repair attempts, it cannot repair a problem that:
What is considered a “reasonable” number of repair attempts depends on many factors. While the following factors are not required, there is a rebuttable presumption that your vehicle is a lemon if:
If your vehicle is a lemon, the manufacturer must promptly repurchase or replace it. You have the right to choose a refund instead of a replacement.
Lemon vehicles that are bought back by dealers and then resold must be identified as a “lemon law buyback” and have a “lemon” sticker on their door. When lemon buybacks are not properly disclosed and sold “as is,” the buyer may still have rights under the Lemon Law. For additional information, see Lemon Law Buyback Vehicles.
Even if the Lemon Law does not apply in your case, other state and federal laws may protect you. These include laws that prohibit deceptive practices and require vehicles to meet minimum safety standards. For advice concerning your legal rights, consult an attorney.
All auto repair shops must be registered with the California Bureau of Automotive Repair (CBAR). To check if a repair shop is registered or if there has been any disciplinary action taken against it visit the CBAR website or contact them at (800) 952-5210.
By law, a vehicle repair shop must give you a written estimate before it makes any repairs. The repair shop cannot charge you more than the estimate without your permission. Ask if there is a charge for the estimate. After you receive the estimate, feel free to go to another shop for a second opinion.
To report a problem you are having with your repair shop or to file an online complaint, visit the California Bureau of Automotive Repair. CBAR will investigate your complaint and may be able to help you by negotiating with the repair shop on your behalf.
For additional information about auto repair shops and your rights check out "A Consumer's Guide to Auto Repair".
The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) licenses and regulates new and used motor vehicle dealers. If you would like to report a problem or dispute you have with a motor vehicle dealer, contact the DMV, Division of Investigations, or file a complaint online. DMV Record of Complaint Form.
The New Motor Vehicle Board has an informal mediation program to help you resolve disputes with new motor vehicle dealers. If you have a contractual dispute (purchase or lease) or a warranty/repair dispute, contact the Consumer Mediation Services Program for assistance.
In California, many vehicle manufacturers offer a state-certified arbitration program to resolve any warranty problems that you may have. Arbitration is a free and relatively simple way of resolving disputes. Both you and the manufacturer agree to allow a neutral third party, called an arbitrator, to decide whether a reasonable number of repair attempts have been made and what relief will be ordered. For more information about the Arbitration Certification Program and your rights, contact the California Department of Consumer Affairs or call them at 800-952-5210. Because not all vehicle manufacturers use this state-certified arbitration process, you may also want to try mediation through the New Motor Vehicle Board.
Many consumers feel it is worthwhile to contact their local Better Business Bureau (BBB) to register complaints about area businesses. The Better Business Bureau also provides a Lemon Law Dispute Resolution Program that covers car warranty issues with participating manufacturers.
If you have questions about vehicle service contracts, or have a dispute about getting a refund for your cancelled service contract, visit the California Department of Insurance or call their Consumer hotline at 1-800-927-HELP (4357).
Has the dealership where you purchased or leased your vehicle gone out of business and failed to honor the terms of your contract? The Consumer Motor Vehicle Recovery Corporation (CMVRC) has a Consumer Recovery Fund to help consumers when a licensed dealer files for bankruptcy or goes out of business. If the CMVRC approves your claim, you may be entitled to reimbursement for any economic losses that resulted from the dealer’s failure to honor the terms of your sales contract. For more information or to file a claim, visit the CMVRC or call them at 800-961-6175.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) provides information about vehicle safety issues and any recall information about your vehicle. It also provides extensive information about child safety seats including ratings, recalls and correct use. For more information, visit the NHTSA or call its Auto Safety Hotline 1-888-327-4236.