Lemon Law for Used Cars

A used car can qualify under the federal lemon laws for used cars as long as it was sold with a written warranty. If this is the case, then your used car may qualify for protection. Just enter your ZIP code below if you need legal help.

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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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Written by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer Jeffrey Johnson

UPDATED: May 5, 2022

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Despite the fact that used cars are much more likely candidates to be “lemons,” federal lemon laws generally cover only new vehicle purchases. Some laws may cover used cars under a certain type of express warranty. The older a car gets, the less likely this is to apply. It may be difficult to use the federal lemon law for a used car. However there are cases where the lemon law for used cars may apply.

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 acquired from the dealer at the time of 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 those situations. This may be a case when you can use the federal lemon law for used cars.

Read on to learn more about how does the lemon law cover used cars and what to do when you buy a used car that is a lemon vehicle. If you need further legal assistance, just enter your ZIP code below.

What is a lemon vehicle?

In short, a lemon car is a car with significant defects that go beyond the normal range. It could start with a window that doesn’t roll up all the way or a bad engine. Wherever it starts, owners have to document carefully and establish substantial defects in the motor vehicle, so make sure you understand how to demonstrate that your car is a lemon.

Before you can make a claim, the auto has to have a defect or combination of defects that substantially impair the functions of the vehicle in some way. Moreover, they have to be issues that are not corrected with reasonable attempts at repairs. New cars may cover much of this work under warranty repairs. If your car is determined to be a lemon, you are entitled to a full refund on the cost of the vehicle. But can the lemon law apply to used cars as well?

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Are used cars covered under the lemon law?

The frequency and severity of consumer problems with used cars have led some state legislatures to pass new laws giving used car purchasers some relief. 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 repairs 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.

In the the past, lawmakers have been hesitant because there could be many contributing factors in a used car. Especially if it’s within the original factory warranty and issues keep coming up, the original manufacturer may hold some responsibility.

Are lemon car owners protected under state laws?

Federal lemon laws give new and used car owners some legal rights. If you think you may have a lemon, document carefully and always call an attorney early. It’s essential to prove your case even if you’re not sure you’ll need it. Depending on where you live, there may be state laws to take into account as well. Laws are different in the different states. The MS lemon law for used cars will be different from the NY lemon law for used cars.

Some states have consumer protection laws that prohibit deceptive acts in the sale of used cars. A purchase contract cannot cancel out these protections, even if you’re buying “as is.” These laws generally require that a car dealer answer all of the buyer’s questions honestly. If the dealer is dishonest about impactful factors, he or she may have a claim against the dealership.

Additionally, some states require that dealerships disclose certain facts about used cars, even if the consumer doesn’t ask. An example would be whether it was ever a rental, was salvaged, or was previously used as a demonstrator. Despite this, however, only some states’ legal protection is limited to providing a replacement vehicle or refunding the car. The same laws don’t necessarily apply to a private seller in the same way.

What are the warranty requirements for the lemon law for used cars?

Regarding auto dealers, their obligations by law are to give you a written warranty that covers the following parts:

  • Engine (lubricated parts, water pump, fuel pump, manifolds, engine block, cylinder head, rotary engine housings, and a flywheel)
  • Transmission (the transmission case, internal parts, and the torque converter)
  • Drive Axle (the front and rear axle housings and internal parts, axle shafts, propeller shafts, and universal joints)
  • Brakes (master cylinder, vacuum assist booster, wheel cylinders, hydraulic lines and fittings, and disc brake calipers)
  • Steering (the steering gear housing and all internal parts, power steering pump, valve body, piston, and rack)
  • Other Parts: Radiator, Alternator, Generator, Starter, and Ignition System (excluding battery)

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 vehicle owners 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.

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Do you need legal help with the lemon law for used cars?

Whether you’re buying a car for personal or business purposes, you’re entitled to lemon law protections with certain vehicles. Of course you hope to buy a lemon free car, but there is no guarantee that the car you buy will be a lemon free auto, so you need to know what to do if this happen to you. You only have a limited period of time to file a claim, and dealers may challenge your lemon law claim if it’s not filed correctly. So be diligent about documentation. Also, make sure to go to repair shops that stand up to scrutiny.

An attorney in your state can assess your case and explore options. Some authorized dealers will respond to claims as soon as they see an attorney. Others may need more encouragement. Whatever the case, an experienced professional can help you.

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