California’s lemon law may provide some protections if you buy a defective used car.
Your research and inspection of a used auto may highlight potential problems before you drive off the lot.
What research can you do?
Ask your seller for a free vehicle history report, or check the vehicle’s history in an online database. The history may alert you to odometer fraud or damage from an accident, flood or fire. You may search reliability records for the model you want to buy and look for automakers’ reports about problems with certain models.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration lists all auto recalls. If you find a recall, ask the seller for evidence of repair. Manufacturers must complete recall repairs at no charge.
Dealers must post a buyer’s guide in every used car. This may take the form of a window sticker warning that the auto is being sold “as is.” If you see this language, you may have no warranty protection for problems you find after you drive away.
What should your inspection cover?
As you inspect the vehicle’s exterior, look for damage like chipped paint, dents or mismatched parts. Do you see signs of repair like paint overspray on trim? Do the doors, hood and trunk all close and latch? Are all four tires worn evenly?
Inside the car, look for signs of wear and tear. You may notice dashboard cracks, missing handles, frayed seat belts, worn pedals, sagging seats or discolored carpeting. Is there a mildew smell? Do warning lights stay on?
As you test-drive, listen for noises and note if the vehicle handles well. Inspect under the hood before and after driving the car. Check the level and condition of fluids. Look for evidence of corrosion, leaks or worn belts or hoses.
Minimize the risk of a lemon by having an independent mechanic inspect the auto.