Does the Lemon Law Apply to Private Car Sales?

Private car sales

Dealerships aren’t the only place you might look to find a reasonably priced vehicle. If you’re in the market for a car, buying through a private party can sometimes get you a better deal. But when you purchase a vehicle from an individual rather than a dealership, it’s usually sold “as is.” In other words, there is no warranty with private car sales — and you may not know whether the car has any problems until days or weeks later.

If you’re thinking about buying a vehicle you saw on Craigslist or in a newspaper ad, you may be wondering what your legal rights are if it turns out to be a lemon. After all, a car is a significant purchase, and repairs can be costly. Please be aware that California’s Lemon Law does not apply to private car sales. In the case of Dagher v. Ford Motor Company, (2015) 238 Cal.App.4th 905, the California Court of Appeal held that the lemon law only applies to sales with retailers who are engaged in the business of selling consumer goods. The lemon law does not apply when the seller is a private party. Civil Code Section 1971(b) defines a “buyer” as someone who buys consumer goods from a person engaged in the business of manufacturing, distributing, or selling consumer goods at retail. In short, the lemon law only applies to vehicles purchased from car dealerships.

What Makes a Vehicle a Lemon?

Nothing can be as frustrating as driving a new car home only to learn that it has an issue. Whether your car has transmission problems, brake issues, faulty airbags, or another defect, California has strong laws in place as a safeguard for consumers who purchase vehicles from dealerships with a defect that can’t be repaired. But, in order for your vehicle to rise to the level of a lemon under the California Lemon Law, the following criteria must be met:

  • You must have purchased the vehicle in California
  • The defect must be one that substantially impairs the value or safety of the vehicle
  • The problem must be one that cannot be repaired after several reasonable attempts

Usually, four repair attempts are enough to show that you are eligible to assert your rights under the lemon law. In cases involving a defect that could pose a risk of harm or serious injury to the vehicle’s occupants and others on the road, only two repair attempts are necessary. You may also be able to apply the lemon law to obtain a refund or replacement vehicle if your car was in the repair shop for 30 days or more.

The vehicle must also be under the original manufacturer’s warranty for the lemon law to apply. This is also true in private car sales. If a problem arises outside the warranty period — or the car did not come with one — you may not be able to invoke your right to a remedy under the lemon law.

Private Car Sales are Usually Done “As Is”

Since they are sold “as is,” purchasing a vehicle from a private seller can come with a certain amount of risk. Critically, private sellers do not have the same legal responsibilities that are imposed upon dealerships and manufacturers. However, when dealerships sell vehicles “as is,” the law requires the information to be adequately disclosed, and a label must be prominently displayed on the vehicle. If a dealership fails to disclose a vehicle’s lemon history or a dangerous condition that could cause a safety issue, they could be held liable for fraud.

Sellers involved in private car sales aren’t required to provide a warranty or any guarantee about the vehicle they are selling, but they also cannot conceal facts about the vehicle if you ask specific questions about it. Unfortunately, it may be difficult to prove that the seller knowingly misrepresented the condition of the vehicle, unless you have your agreement in writing. In such cases, you may be able to bring a legal action against the private party to recover your losses.

In the event that you intend to purchase a vehicle from a private seller, it’s always a good idea to have a mechanic inspect it first. If the seller will not allow this, it is probably best to avoid purchasing that particular vehicle and consider other options.

Are Used Cars Sold by Dealerships Protected by the Lemon Law?

If you’re trying to find the best possible deal on a vehicle, purchasing a certified pre-owned car from a dealership might be a better choice than buying from a private seller — and there are more legal protections in place. Dealerships selling used vehicles must follow specific regulations and disclosure requirements by law that help to ensure consumers are protected.

Used car dealerships should also provide their own warranties. Typically, these can last anywhere from thirty days up to three months. Additionally, if a used vehicle is still covered by the original manufacturer’s warranty, any remaining time is generally transferred to the new owner.

It’s crucial to note that under California law, dealerships must meet stringent criteria to label a vehicle “certified.” If the vehicle was repurchased as a lemon law buyback, or it was damaged by a fire, flood, or collision, it cannot be “certified.” A vehicle also cannot acquire this label if it is being sold “as is.” If a dealership makes misrepresentations concerning the condition of a used car, liability may be imposed for such deceptive practices.

Importantly, when you purchase a certified pre-owned vehicle from a dealership, you might be entitled to the protections of the lemon law (as long as the car is still under warranty), as well as the California Consumers Legal Remedies Act.

Contact an Experienced Southern California Lemon Law Attorney

It’s vital to make sure you do your research on any vehicle you plan to purchase to avoid the hassle and headache that can come with having to deal with a lemon. However, if a defect surfaced in your car while it was still under warranty, you may be entitled to a refund or replacement vehicle under the lemon law. The skilled California Lemon Law attorneys at The Ledbetter Law Firm can help ensure you achieve a positive outcome for the inconvenience you have experienced.

The Ledbetter Law Firm assists clients throughout Southern California who have purchased lemons obtain the refund or replacement vehicle they deserve from the manufacturer. With offices conveniently located in Torrance and San Diego, California, telephone and video conferencing options are also available. Call (310) 878-0067 to schedule a consultation with a California Lemon Law attorney today.