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New report shows which car companies are sued most using California's Lemon Law

A new report is out showing which car companies are sued most often using California’s lemon law. KPBS reporter John Carroll talked to one San Diegan about her own “lemon horror story.”

In California, cars — and trucks — are king, with tens of millions out on the road. And in San Diego, many residents have to own one to be able to live and work.

But what happens when you buy a new car or truck, and it turns out to be a "lemon?" KPBS asked Clairemont resident Kim Lane.

“We came home one night, we were out in my car and the truck was in the driveway and the dashboard was lit up," Lane said.


Lane was talking about the dashboard on their recently purchased 2018 Dodge pickup. They couldn’t get it to turn off.

“It happened again and it happened again, and the last time it was in the shop, it was gone for six weeks," Lane said.

California’s Lemon Law actually came into effect in 1970 under then Gov. Ronald Reagan. But it was strengthened into the law we have now by 1982.

Today, three nonprofit public interest research groups published a report showing which auto manufacturers were sued most often under the law from 2018 to 2021. Topping the list is General Motors with one lawsuit for every 78 cars sold in the state. Toyota was sued the least with one suit for every 2,029 cars sold here.

“The auto manufacturers constantly are attacking California’s Lemon Law," Rosemary Shahan said during a webinar held on Tuesday to announce the findings of the report.


After buying a car that turned out to be a lemon back in 1982, Shahan successfully pressured lawmakers to put more teeth into California’s Lemon Law. She said the automakers that are sued the most under the law are the ones who try on a regular basis to get it repealed. But Shahan added that lemon lawsuits are filed on less than 1% of the vehicles sold in California.

“When you hear from auto manufacturers that there’s too much lemon litigation, it should be taken with an enormous, enormous grain of salt," she said.

Eventually, Lane and her husband were successful in their lemon lawsuit, but they had to hire a lawyer, and it took more than a year.

“These auto manufacturers are taking advantage of this misfortune with people to punish them for speaking out and that’s not right, it’s not fair," Lane said.

  • Records show staffers for local office holders use the encrypted messaging app Signal. Experts say this circumvents California’s public records law because there’s no way to check whether records that should be made public are actually disclosed.
  • This year’s point-in-time count by the Regional Task Force on Homelessness found increases in the number of senior, disabled and Black San Diegans who are living without permanent shelter.

KPBS has created a public safety coverage policy to guide decisions on what stories we prioritize, as well as whose narratives we need to include to tell complete stories that best serve our audiences. This policy was shaped through months of training with the Poynter Institute and feedback from the community. You can read the full policy here.