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An automobile is a lemon if, after a reasonable number of attempts to fix it, that automobile continues to be substandard or defective in some way. Nearly all states address the sale of lemons with lemon laws, which are statutes requiring that restitution be granted to purchasers of a new vehicle either in the form of a replacement vehicle or a refund in full if the vehicle in question is a lemon. These statutes also allow a purchaser to sue a dealer or manufacturer for damages or to enforce express or implied warranties for that vehicle.

In California, for example, CA Civil Code § 1793.2 provides remedies in the form of lemon law protections when that a buyer receives, attempts, and fails to fix a lemon. California’s Tanner Consumer Protection Act outlines when a vehicle’s nonconformities with its express warranties qualify it as a lemon and details the arbitration process that ensues. The Act stipulates that if one or more of the three following scenarios occurs, this constitutes a “reasonable number of attempts” made to fix the vehicle if satisfied within either an 18-month period following the vehicle’s delivery to the buyer or after 18,000 miles have been reached on the vehicle’s odometer, whichever occurs sooner:

  • 2 or more attempts made to remedy a lethal nonconformity in a new vehicle or
  • 4 or more attempts made to remedy a non-lethal nonconformity in a new vehicle or
  • the vehicle has been “out of service by reason of repair of nonconformities” for over 30 days

[Last updated in June of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]