Does Lemon Law California for Used Cars Apply with No Warranty?

Lemon law – also known as the Moss-Magnuson Consumer Warranty Act – was enacted in 1975 to protect customers if they unknowingly purchased a defective vehicle. Lemon law differs from state to state – and only a few offer benefits for used vehicles. Fortunately, the lemon law California for used cars can be of great assistance for consumers.

In California, lemon law benefits are almost solely dependent on the terms of the manufacturer or dealer warranty. But what happens if there is no warranty in place?

Buying a vehicle with no warranty always comes with a certain degree of risk. But the good news is you might not be completely out of luck if the vehicle is defective. In this post, we want to explain what lemon law for used cars with no warranty entails – and what your options are.

Let’s get into it.

About Lemon Law California for Used Cars

If this is your first time reading one of our posts, here is a quick snapshot of the California lemon law qualifications:

  • The vehicle has one or more substantial defects that impair the use, value, or safety; and
  • The vehicle must be covered under the manufacturer or dealer warranty when the defect is reported; 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 repairs for 30 or more days; and
  • The defect was not caused by driver abuse.

Vehicles can be processed in the same way as new cars under lemon law California for used cars if the qualifications are met. The biggest difference comes down to the terms of the warranty.

Most new vehicles are sold with a manufacturer warranty that’s good for three years or before 36,000 miles accrue on the odometer, in some instances longer, for example, drivetrain warranties can be as long as 5 years or 100,000 miles. However, these numbers vary based on the brand. Used vehicle warranties in California can be good for only 30 days after purchase or before 1,000 miles accrue on the odometer.

Now, the lemon law California for used cars does not apply to all used vehicles.

Used car dealerships are required to display the terms of the warranty for each vehicle on the buyer’s guide. These terms should clearly indicate whether or not there is a warranty in place. If there is no warranty in place, the dealer must make it clear on the buyer’s guide that the vehicle is being sold “as is”.

“As is” no warranty lemon law means there is no coverage. The customer takes full responsibility for any issues after they drive off the lot.

California Lemon Law for Used Cars with No Warranty

Buying a used vehicle with no warranty is never advisable. Now, most – if not all – private car sales are “as is” agreements; unless the original warranty is still in effect. Buying a used vehicle “as is” from a dealership could potentially mean there are big enough issues the dealer cannot justify repairing. In other words, there’s a good chance you’re looking at a money pit.

But what happens if there is no indication whether the used vehicle is sold with a dealer warranty or “as is”?

Under lemon law California for used cars, if the buyer’s guide does not indicate a dealer warranty or an “as is” clause, the vehicle is sold with an implied warranty of merchantability.

As stated in California Civil Code (1791 – 1791.3: “implied warranty of merchantability” or “implied warranty that goods are merchantable” means that consumer goods meet the following criteria:

  • Pass without objection in the trade under the contract description.
  • Are fit for the ordinary purposes for which such goods are used.
  • Are adequately maintained, packaged, and labeled.
  • Conform to the promises or affirmations of fact made on the container or label.

Implied warranties are a gray area in California lemon law – as there is no written statement in the purchase order. Lemon law California for used cars states that implied warranties are good for no less than 60 days after purchase and no longer than one year. Moreover, implied warranties can be argued to cover only the essential components of a vehicle – engine, transmission, steering, electrical system, brakes, etc.

Be sure to keep a copy of the buyer’s guide after purchasing a used vehicle. If you can prove the dealer sold the vehicle with no indication of a warranty of “as is” agreement, you may be eligible for benefits under lemon law California for used cars.

How to Avoid Buying a Used Lemon

Whether it’s a private car sale or from a dealership, protecting yourself from a potential lemon is very important. This is both for your pocketbook and your sanity. Lemon law California for used cars is a process that manufacturers and used car dealerships can drag out.

The first line of defense against a potential lemon is research. If you’ve got a handful of car listings you are interested in, read up on the consumer reports for the model and how prone it is to issues. See which manufacturers are known for producing the most lemons. Now, not ALL models from a manufacturer are going to be a lemon. But it never hurts to be cautious based on past reports.

The next thing to do is examine the VIN for the car’s history. Most dealerships will provide this report to you. For private sales, and VINCheckPro make it super easy. If the vehicle has had many different owners and a slew of issues, it may have underlying defects.

Third, do some research on what to look for and what to listen for in the test drive. Hearing engine knocking, pinging, whining from the transmission, screeching from the steering, or grinding from the brakes may indicate trouble down the road. Be sure to examine under the hood for signs of corrosion, rust, or strange smells.

Last but not least, ALWAYS get a pre-purchase inspection on a used vehicle. Some used car dealerships will give you fake reports to make the vehicle look like it’s in better shape than it is. A mechanic will be able to confirm or deny this. The inspection might set you back a couple of hundred dollars, but it’s nothing compared to dealing with a lemon.

Have More Questions?

Lemon law California for used cars may sound straightforward on the surface, but the details can be complicated. The good news is you are not alone. The lemon law attorney in California you hire is on your side helping you earn justice from the dealership that sold you a faulty car.

If you have more questions about the lemon law in California for used cars, do not hesitate to reach out to Cline APC. Even if you’re not sure whether you’ve got a valid case, we’re always happy to guide you in the right direction. We know most consumers are facing the lemon law process for the first time – and we have no problem answering any concerns.

Call our office at 888-982-6915, send an email to, or fill out a free case evaluation.

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