Refund Laws for Private Sales: Can You Ask for a Refund from a Private Seller?

Auto refund laws for private sales can seem like a gray area. Unfortunately, these laws do not favor buyers in the same way lemon laws protect them in transactions directly from manufacturers and dealerships.

If there are problems with the vehicle, the buyer is always free to ask a private seller for their money back. The seller might give the buyer their money back out of the kindness of their heart, but this is rare. There are no lemon laws requiring the private seller to provide a refund. This is because private vehicles are usually sold “as is”.

Even though refund laws for private sales don’t technically exist under the lemon law, there is a tiny, tiny chance of earning a refund. In this post, we want to discuss the details of private party car sales in California, as well as your potential options.

What Does “As Is” Mean in Private Sale Lemon Law?

Lemon law – known as the Magnuson-Moss Consumer Warranty Act – was enacted to hold automakers responsible for selling defective vehicles per the warranty. In other words, buyers can only seek benefits under lemon law if the defect occurred within the terms of the warranty.

“As is” essentially means the vehicle is being sold without a warranty. The buyer takes full responsibility for any defects. Private car sales are almost always carried out with an unspoken “as is” agreement. If you purchase a used vehicle from a dealership in California, they are required to disclose the “as is” agreement on the buyer’s guide before the sale.

Unfortunately, California lemon law only covers vehicles sold with warranties at retail. As private sales are not retail sales, refund laws for private sales typically do not apply – even if the warranty is still in effect.

When Does Lemon Law Include Refund Laws for Private Sales?

We won’t sugarcoat it. The chances of earning a refund for a private car transaction are extremely slim. Some lemon law attorneys won’t even take cases that involve private sales.

There may be a way for refund laws for private sales that can potentially help you with a defective vehicle. The Magnuson Moss Warranty Act, i.e., the Federal Lemon Law.

In these cases it is arguable the consumer does not have to purchase the motor vehicle at retail. In the rare scenario, the private seller agrees to this, you’ve still got a long road ahead of you.

The first step in refund laws for private sales is to get in touch with the dealer or manufacturer to start the California lemon law process. Now, getting a refund is not as easy as calling up the manufacturer and having them cut you a check. The vehicle must meet the state’s lemon qualifications. In California, these are:

  • The vehicle was covered under the manufacturer or dealer warranty when the defect was reported; and 
  • The defect is substantial and impairs the vehicle’s safety, functionality, or value; 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.

If the vehicle meets these qualifications – you may seek a buyback.

How to Earn a Refund for a Vehicle Under Warranty

Earning a full refund for a private party car sale in California is super rare – but it’s possible if it meets the criteria.

Once the vehicle meets the state’s qualifications, contact a specialized California lemon law attorney. The lawyer will walk you through the process of refund laws for private sales. The most important thing you can do is collect and organize ALL the paperwork related to the vehicle. This includes:

  • All the repair invoices from the manufacturer/dealer
  • All payment documentation made on the vehicle
  • All official costs associated with the vehicle
  • All incidental costs incurred from the lemon (towing fees, cab fares, hotel stays, etc.)

Organizing this documentation will help your attorney maximize the refund. With everything in place, your lawyer will handle all the communication with the dealer or manufacturer. Most lemon law cases never go to trial. However, private sale lemon law claims are complicated – and yours may end up going to court. If this happens, the refund process may take longer.

Have Questions?

Refund laws for private sales are not easy by any means. To reiterate, some attorneys will not even bother with defective vehicles sold in private sales – even if a warranty is in place. The good news is earning a refund is not impossible.

If you have any questions about refund laws from private sales – or California lemon law as a whole – do not hesitate to reach out to Cline APC. Our experienced lemon law attorneys are happy to answer any questions you might have. Call our office at 888-982-6915, send an email to, or fill out a free case evaluation.

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