Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jun 19, 2018

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Lemon laws will likely cover used cars if the car was covered under a certain type of warranty. Despite the fact that a used car is a much more likely candidate to be a “lemon,” federal lemon laws generally cover only new vehicle purchases. But there is one major exception: if the owner has received an express written warranty along with the used vehicle, then federal lemon law will likely cover the used car. An express written warranty can include the balance of a manufacturer’s warranty, a separate limited warranty given by the dealer, or an extended warranty or service contract purchased from the dealer at the time of the vehicle purchase. Some used vehicles are certified by the dealer, which extends the existing warranty or creates an additional short warranty on the used vehicle. Having such a warranty will not only offer the potential for a breach of warranty claim, but federal lemon laws can also apply to the situation.

Some States Protect Consumers with Used Car Lemon Laws

The frequency and severity of consumer problems with used cars have led some state legislatures to pass new laws giving relief to used car purchasers. These state lemon laws may provide for a statutory used car warranty, often based upon the age or mileage of the car. If the car exhibits problems during the warranty period, the dealer is given a chance to repair them. If after several attempts (usually three) the fixes are unsuccessful, the dealer must then either replace the car or refund the purchase price to the buyer.

Other states have enacted statutory rights specifically for used car buyers. These laws either require warranties from all sellers or set minimum standards and inspection requirements prior to the sale of any used car.

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Seeking Remedy under State Consumer Protection Laws

In addition, some states have consumer protection statutes that prohibit deceptive acts in the sale of used cars. These laws generally require that a car dealer answer all of the buyer’s questions honestly. To the extent that a consumer purchases a used vehicle as a result of a false representation, he or she may have a claim against the dealership. Additionally, some states require that a dealership disclose certain facts about used cars, even if the consumer doesn’t ask, such as whether it was ever a rental, was salvaged, or was previously used as a demonstrator. Despite this, however, only some states require a dealer who has failed to disclose such facts to provide a replacement or refund for the car.

Clearly, doing your homework before purchasing a used car is a must. While no one can be absolutely certain that they’ll always get what they paid for, there are steps all consumers should take to make sure they aren’t being “taken” by an unscrupulous salesperson. Additionally, check your state’s lemon laws to see what legal protections are available in the worst-case scenario.