What Are Your Rights Under Lemon Law for a Private Vehicle Sale?

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Used car marketing in the United States has seen a massive shift due to the pandemic. In what was once thought to be unheard of, people are now selling their used vehicles for more than the purchase price. Buying a vehicle from a private seller is oftentimes a smart decision – but what if the vehicle is defective?

Does lemon law for a private vehicle sale still apply?

The answer to this question is not black and white. In this post, we want to discuss everything you need to know about lemon law and buying a used vehicle from a private seller. Let’s get moving.

Private Sales Versus Dealership Sales

Generally, used vehicles are either purchased from dealerships or private sellers. The rise of platforms like Facebook Marketplace and AutoTrader have made it super easy for buyers and sellers to bypass dealerships.

There are a handful of differences between dealerships and private sellers. The biggest is the laws. When you purchase a used vehicle from a dealership, you have rights if they sell you a defective vehicle.

1. Dealerships and Lemon Law

In California, dealerships are required to disclose whether or not the vehicle is being sold with a warranty. Vehicles for sale must have a buyer’s guide displayed on the window. The buyer’s guide will detail the terms of the warranty or indicate if the vehicle is being sold “as is”.

Dealer warranties must be good for at least 30 days or before 1,000 miles accrue on the odometer. If the vehicle has any defects, the dealership is responsible to repair them while under warranty. In the scenario the used vehicle cannot be repaired (and meets the state’s lemon requirements), it can be processed like a new vehicle.

Here are the qualifications for a vehicle to be deemed a lemon in California:

  • The vehicle was covered under the manufacturer or dealer warranty when the defect was reported; and 
  • The defect is substantially impairs its use, value, or safety; and
  • The manufacturer or dealer has been given a reasonable number of repair attempts to fix the defect (usually at least two); or 
  • The vehicle has been out of service for 30 or more days for warranty-covered repairs; and
  • The defect was not caused by driver abuse.

2. The “As Is” Clause

The “as is” clause means there is no warranty in place. The buyer takes full responsibility for any defects once they drive the vehicle off the lot.

If there is no indication of a dealer warranty or “as is” clause in the buyer’s guide, the vehicle may have an implied warranty of merchantability. Implied warranties are unspoken and indicate the vehicle is fit for its intended purpose. These warranties are good for at least 60 days after purchase or up to a year, per California law.

3. Private Vehicle Sale Lemon Law

Buying a vehicle from a private seller does not offer the same legal protections as buying from a dealership. Lemon law for a private vehicle sale does not exist. For the most part, private vehicles sales have an unspoken “as is” agreement.

You can always ask the seller for your money back if the vehicle is defective. However, they are under no legal obligation to comply.

What if the Vehicle is Still Under Warranty?

In some cases, a private party might sell a vehicle that is still covered under the manufacturer’s warranty. However, the chances of getting a refund are still very slim. The law generally provides benefits to owners who purchased the vehicle at retail. As private sales are not retail, California lemon law for a private vehicle sale will not apply – even if it’s under warranty.

You’ll need a skilled lemon lawyer to argue that the vehicle did not need to be purchased at retail, which will be a tough sell. Some attorneys will not even take a case involving lemon law for a private vehicle sale.

How to Avoid Buying a Defective Car in a Private Sale

We strongly advise avoiding vehicles being sold “as is” – which includes private sales.

However, we understand that buying from a dealership isn’t always possible. The good news is there are several ways to avoid getting burned in a private car sale – under warranty or not.

1. Check the VIN

First, you’ll want to take a look at the vehicle’s history. Usually located on the inside of the driver’s door, enter the VIN into a tool like VINCheck.info. This will show you the work that’s been done on the vehicle and whether it has recurring problems.

2. Listen Carefully in the Test Drive

There are a handful of sounds that indicate problems with a vehicle. You don’t need to be a mechanic to understand the sounds – you just need to know what to listen for. As you drive the vehicle, keep your ears open to these sounds:

  • Pinging/knocking when accelerating (engine)
  • Whining when steering
  • Whining when shifting gears (transmission)
  • Squeaking or grinding when braking

3. Get a Pre-Purchase Inspection

This is THE most important thing to do when buying a vehicle from a private seller. Take the vehicle to a trusted mechanic for an examination. It may cost $100-$200, but this is a small price to pay to avoid ongoing issues.

Private sellers will not always agree to a pre-purchase inspection. If this is the case, do yourself a favor and move on.

Got More Questions?

Purchasing a used vehicle always comes with a degree of risk. Generally speaking, dealing with private vehicle lemon law is something you want to avoid at all costs. The chances of receiving benefits are extremely low.

If you are looking to purchase a used vehicle, the best thing you can do is arm yourself with information on the law. This can be instrumental in avoiding a money pit. For any questions about used car lemon law or lemon law in general, don’t hesitate to reach out to a California lemon law attorney at Cline APC.

We’re happy to answer your concerns and guide you in the right direction. Call our office at 888-982-6915, send an email to info@clineapc.com, or fill out a free case evaluation.

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