It is commonly believed that purchasing a used vehicle can save you a substantial amount of money. While this is true in many cases, it is not true for all cases. There are tens of thousands of consumers who end up purchasing used vehicles that are lemons every year.  Although these consumers may have saved some money by purchasing a used vehicle, many of them find themselves in and out of the repair shop dealing with repeat concerns with their vehicles. The best way to avoid bringing home a vehicle that is a lemon is to do plenty of research before purchasing a vehicle, especially a used vehicle. This is essential with all the options available in today’s used auto market, from pre-owned to certified pre-owned vehicles. 

What is a Certified Pre-Owned Vehicle?

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’s 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.

Is my Certified Pre-Owned Car a Lemon?

Your certified pre-owned car may be a lemon if you have taken it in for multiple repairs under the limited or powertrain warranties. Commons defects that used vehicle owners should look out for include brake system failure, transmission issues, engine issues, defective latches, electrical problems, and more. Lemon problems can range from distracting to dangerous, so if you suspect that you have a lemon on your hands, it is important to learn more about your rights. 

The California Lemon Law can be tricky to navigate, particularly when involving used vehicles. For this reason, we advise that you consult with a highly experienced lemon law attorney. The Lemon Law Experts are more than happy to assist you in determining your legal rights and see if you qualify for a lemon law claim. We have secured thousands in compensation for clients throughout California. If you believe that you have brought home a lemon, take the first step in maximizing your recovery by reaching out to us today for a free consultation.