Not everyone has the money to invest in a new car. Used cars may come at a discounted price, but sometimes they also come with headaches.
What happens if you buy a used car from a dealer and something immediately goes wrong? You are not entirely out of luck and money. Depending on your circumstances, you may have rights under California’s lemon law.
California has one of the most protective lemon laws, not just for new cars. That’s right—California’s used car lemon laws provide certain protections for used car buyers. Dealers and manufacturers cannot get away with selling you a real lemon even if you don’t have the money to invest in a new vehicle.
California’s Used Car Lemon Law
A common question is: Does the lemon law apply to used cars in California? The answer is yes if the car fits specific criteria.
California’s lemon law for used cars protects a buyer who has purchased a used car, under warranty, that is defective or cannot be repaired after a reasonable number of attempts.
You must have bought the vehicle from a dealer or retailer, not an individual. Plus, the car must have a warranty to qualify under California’s lemon law.
Under California’s used car lemon laws, a manufacturer or dealer must repurchase or repair the vehicle if it has a significant defect or cannot be repaired within a reasonable number of repair attempts.
The manufacturer or dealer must pay your attorney fees, costs, and in some certain situations, civil penalties if the manufacturer willfully tries to evade the lemon law.
Used Car Warranties
California’s used car lemon laws apply to used cars with warranties. The vehicle may be purchased used but still under the manufacturer’s original warranty. The dealer may have also provided a dealer warranty.
In any event, you may have protections under the California lemon law when you purchase a used car that is still under the manufacturer warranty or that was provided with a dealer warranty.
Implied Warranty of Merchantability
Unless the dealer sold you a car “as-is,” your car is covered by an implied warranty of merchantability, even if it does not have a written warranty.
The implied warranty of merchantability is essentially an unwritten promise from the dealer that the car will do what it’s supposed to do. If your used vehicle has a significant defect and you believe it existed when you purchased it, the dealer may have violated this warranty.
Extended Warranty or Service Contract
Often, dealers offer extended warranties that are, in fact, just service contracts. Although this may mean that your repairs should be covered if something goes wrong with the vehicle, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is under manufacturer warranty.
You should check your used car’s buyer’s guide to see whether it came with a warranty and you should check to see if your car is still covered under the manufacturer’s original warranties.
Additionally, “buy-here-pay-here” dealers must include a warranty with their cars.
Under California’s lemon law, a “buy-here-pay-here” dealer must provide a minimum of a 30 day or 1,000 mile warranty, whichever comes first. The lemon law protects you if you buy a car from a buy-here-pay-here dealer and it dies or has significant issues soon after you leave the dealer.
If you are not sure whether your used car came with a warranty, look at the buyer’s guide. A buyer’s guide should indicate whether the vehicle is under warranty or “as is.”
Contact an experienced California used car lemon law attorney, such as the Lemon Law Experts, to help you understand your rights better.
What About Certified Pre-Owned Vehicles?
A certified used vehicle, also known as a certified pre-owned vehicle (CPO) is a previously owned vehicle that has been inspected, reconditioned, and has met minimum standards set forth by the manufacturer.
These vehicles typically come with an extension on the manufacturer limited and powertrain warranties, have fewer than 60,000 miles and are usually five years old or less.
Various auto manufacturers such as Toyota, Subaru, and Mercedes Benz sell tens of thousands of certified pre-owned vehicles from their inventories every year.
California Vehicle Code Section 11713.18 states that CPO vehicles must obtain the manufacturer’s permission to “certify” that these vehicles meet certain standards.
Certification is a way of removing any doubts regarding the condition of a certified pre-owned vehicle. A CPO vehicle comes with a detailed multi-point inspection and is backed by the original manufacturer for a specified period of time.
Although CPO vehicles go through rigorous inspections, this does not mean these vehicles are guaranteed safe or reliable vehicles. As with non-CPO vehicles, many of these turn out to be lemons.
Many instances of auto fraud involve the sales of used vehicles. Some dealers sell CPO cars for more than their worth, or falsely advertise certification of their vehicles. Others gloss over their inspections.
Additionally, not all certification programs across auto brands are the same. Vehicles that pass in some certification programs would be rejected in others. Unfortunately, due to these factors, many consumers end up with vehicles that are not what the dealer initially advertised.
When purchasing a used vehicle, it is important to ask for full inspection reports, research the vehicle history report, and to read the title closely. Red flag words on a used vehicle title include “lemon buyback,” “rebuilt,” or “salvaged.”
Keep in mind that there are some circumstances where a vehicle cannot be “certified.” These include when:
- The odometer is inaccurate
- The vehicle is sold “as-is”
- The vehicle has damage from collision, fire, or flood
- All systems are not in working order
- The pre-owned vehicle has frame or unibody damage
- Seller refused to provide the buyer with a completed inspection report
A dealer selling a vehicle with these concerns as a “certified pre-owned vehicle” is potentially committing fraud. Always review a CPO vehicle’s history and title to ensure that it qualifies as a “certified” used vehicle before purchasing.
Which Types of Used Vehicles are Covered?
A common question regarding California’s lemon laws is whether they apply to used vehicles or not. Luckily, they do. The Lemon Law covers consumers who purchase or lease a new or a used vehicle that is repeatedly repaired during the manufacturer’s warranty.
Should the repairs substantially impair the vehicle’s safety, use or value, the consumer is entitled to a repurchase or replacement plus the payment of related incidental or consequential damages.
Used vehicle and CPO vehicle consumers may be entitled to Lemon Law compensation If the following conditions are met:
- The pre-owned vehicle was purchased by a certified retailer and not a private individual
- The used vehicle is covered by a warranty
- Repeat repair attempts have been made for a same or similar issue
Lemon law issues do not necessarily appear shortly after the purchase of both used and new vehicles.
Drivers can experience lemon problems with their vehicles months or even years following the purchase. This is why it is important to purchase used or Certified Pre-Owned vehicles that are still covered by the manufacturer warranty from authorized dealers.
Purchasing a Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) Vehicle at a Used Car Dealership
According to state used certified car rules, dealers must disclose material facts about a pre-owned vehicle’s history, even if they are not asked.
Accident and repair history are examples of important items that a dealer should disclose. Additionally, the law obligates dealers to provide buyers with completed inspection reports with all used vehicle sales.
California’s Car Buyer’s Bill of Rights provides certain protections for people purchasing from licensed California dealers. These include buyer disclosures, right to cancel used car purchase, and limits on markups.
For used car buyers, any licensed dealer must offer them a 2-day sales contract cancellation option and can only market vehicles in their inventories as “certified used cars” if they meet manufacturer requirements.
For both used and new car buyers, dealers must provide an itemized price list of all items being financed and dealer compensation from financial institutions involved with financing the car must be limited.
When obtaining financing for either a new or used cars, dealers must give buyers a Notice to Vehicle Credit Applicant that shows the credit score utilized by the dealer along with information regarding the credit-reporting agency.
Please note that this law does not apply to private sales between individuals, off-highway motor vehicles, or motorcycles.
Certified Pre-Owned Warranties Under the CA Lemon Law
The California Lemon Law gives the manufacturer and authorized service providers a reasonable number of attempts to repair a defect during the vehicle warranty. Although not a hard and fast rule, a reasonable number of repair attempts may have been met when:
- The vehicle is out of service for 30 or more days for repairs
- 2 or more repair attempts have been made for a recurring defect than can cause injury or death
- Repairs have been attempted on the same defect over four times
If you are looking to purchase a used vehicle, you should consider purchased a pre-owned or CPO vehicle that is still under the manufacturer warranties. Make sure to keep track of all repair work that has occurred with your vehicle. You will need this information in the event your vehicle turns out to be a lemon.
How Do I Know If My Used Car Is a Lemon?
Whether a used car is a lemon depends on the circumstances. Your used car may be a lemon if your car exhibits one or more of the following characteristics:
- After a reasonable number of attempts at repair, the problem remains;
- Your car consistently fails in quality and performance;
- The car has a substantial defect that affects its safety; or
- The used vehicle spent an unreasonable amount of time in the shop (more than 30 days).
If you suspect that your car is a lemon, you must allow the manufacturer or dealer the opportunity to repair it within a reasonable number of repair attempts. Your vehicle is likely a lemon vehicle if it’s been in the shop for 30 days or more or hasn’t been repaired despite multiple repair attempts.
However, if you caused the problem with the used vehicle, you may not be protected by the lemon law. Additionally, if you used the car in a way that was not intended, your vehicle may not be covered under the lemon law. Last, but not least, if you caused damage to your car, the manufacturer may not be liable.
What Should I Do If I Think My Used Car Is a Lemon?
You need to be your best advocate if you believe your used car is a lemon. A manufacturer or used car dealer does not work for you.
They’d probably prefer that you never bring a warranty claim because that saves them time and money. Thus, the burden is on you to take the steps necessary to preserve your California used car lemon law claim.
Take Your Used Car in for Repairs
One of the elements for a claim under California’s lemon law for used cars is that the manufacturer or retailer be aware of issues with the vehicle. You must also allow them the opportunity to try to repair the car.
If the problem wasn’t on their radar, they can’t be held responsible. Do not procrastinate. Bring your vehicle in for repairs as soon as you believe there is a problem.
Disclose All the Vehicle’s Issues
When you take your vehicle in for repairs, tell them about all of the issues you have encountered. Double-check that your work orders accurately reflect the problems you reported.
Keep Good Records
You will need several documents for any claim under the California lemon law for used cars. First, find your warranty document and your car’s buyer’s guide. Then, collect all of the service orders for your vehicle. Lastly, take notes when you have conversations with your car’s dealer or manufacturer.
Note the name of the individual who helped you, the date and time of the conversation, and anything else you remember about the conversation. These details may help you down the road if you have to go to court.
Be Aware of Time
A used car must be under warranty to qualify for protection under California used car lemon laws. Unfortunately, the warranties for used cars are usually significantly shorter than warranties for new vehicles.
Many used warranties cover a certain period (e.g., 30 days) or a specific mileage (e.g., 1,000 miles), whichever comes first. You must bring your vehicle’s issues to the attention of the manufacturer or retailer before the warranty period expires, so keep an eye on your odometer as well as the days since purchase.
Additionally, you must bring any claim in court under the CA lemon law for used cars within four years of knowing about the car’s defect. Time passes quickly, so consult with an experienced lemon law attorney before too much time has passed.
Hire a Qualified California Used Car Lemon Law Attorney
Navigating California’s lemon law for used cars can be confusing and overwhelming. You do not have to do it by yourself. The Lemon Law Experts have handled thousands of lemon law claims.
We’ve represented used car buyers just like you and recovered millions of dollars for our clients. Our attorneys provide vigorous representation and individualized service.