Auto Return Law in California


Although California allows buyers to cancel some types of contracts within a few days of signing the contract, auto sales contracts are not among them. Therefore, there is no law stating that California buyers have an absolute right to return a vehicle within three days regardless of the circumstances surrounding the return of the vehicle. California does, however, have a lemon law to protect consumers from being stuck with defective vehicles.

30-Day Law

  • Although there is no three day auto return law in California as of May 2011, there is a 30-day "loss of use" law. If a vehicle owner is unable to use his vehicle for more than 30 days within the first 12 months or 12,000 miles of use, the manufacturer must replace the vehicle. The 30 days do not have to be consecutive as long as they all occur within the 12-month or 12,000-mile parameter.

Reasonable Repair Guideline

  • Vehicle owners may also return vehicles if they have serious maintenance issues that cannot be resolved after four attempts at repair. The vehicle owner should document each repair attempt, including any conversations the owner had with a mechanic regarding the issue, and should keep all paperwork related to repairs as evidence that the owner attempted to repair a defect four times within the course of the first 12 months or 12,000 miles of service.

Used Vehicles

  • Most used vehicles are not covered under the California lemon law statutes. However, if a used vehicle is still under its manufacturer's warranty -- in other words, the vehicle is less than 12 months old or has less than 12,000 miles on the odometer at the time of purchases -- the lemon law still applies until the warranty expires. Thus, vehicle owners may be able to return such vehicles if they have an irreparable defect or are out of commission for more than 30 days.


  • If a vehicle develops a problem within the first 12 months or 12,000 miles of use, the vehicle owner should first attempt to get it repaired. If the vehicle cannot be repaired within the lemon law parameters, the vehicle owner should consult his warranty booklet and follow its outlined procedures for returning the vehicle. In general, the owner must contact the dealer about the issue. If the dealer cannot satisfactorily resolve the problem, the owner must contact the manufacturer. If the owner and manufacturer still cannot resolve the issue, the owner may file for arbitration to get the problem resolved. This is a process in which a neutral party hears both sides of the dispute and brokers an agreement. The arbitrator has 40 days to consider whether the vehicle is a lemon; if he decides it is, the manufacturer must replace the vehicle.


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