Know Before You Buy: Is a Vehicle’s Lemon History Reported?

car history report on a laptop

When you’re shopping for a car, it’s important to do your diligence — especially if you’re purchasing a used vehicle. Pre-owned cars can offer tremendous value and may be a cost-effective alternative to buying a brand new vehicle. However, if you’re looking into investing in a used car, you should take some time to research the vehicle’s history to make sure you’re not about to purchase a lemon with significant defects that could cost you more than the car is worth in repairs.

What Does a “Lemon Car” Mean?

The Tanner Consumer Protection Act provision of California’s Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act — also known as the Lemon Law — protects consumers from the hassle, financial burden, and potential safety issues that can arise from purchasing a car within the state that doesn’t conform to its warranty. A “lemon” could be a new or used car with any type of defect that substantially impairs the vehicle’s value or safety. Defects in lemon cars might include:

  • Transmission problems
  • Engine stalling
  • Electrical issues
  • Defective brakes
  • Faulty steering wheel
  • Airbags that fail to deploy
  • Issues with the ignition
  • Tire defects

If a consumer purchases a lemon car that is still under warranty, a reasonable number of attempts to repair the defect must be made. If the car still cannot be repaired after several attempts — or it is in the repair shop for thirty days or more — a consumer may be able to invoke the lemon law for a refund or replacement vehicle.

What is a Lemon Buyback?

When a consumer is entitled to a refund or replacement vehicle under the California Lemon Law, the manufacturer generally buys back the lemon car. These “lemon buybacks” are then registered in the manufacturer’s name and resold to consumers — although this does not necessarily mean that the original defect is fully repaired. However, before reselling the lemon car, there are a few legal requirements that the manufacturer and the dealership must meet.

How Do I Know if There’s a Lemon History Reported?

Under the California Automotive Consumer Notification Act, consumers have the right to know whether their vehicle has a lemon history — lemon cars repurchased by the manufacturer must be clearly labeled as such. While it’s permissible for manufacturers to sell lemon buybacks, a decal must be placed on the vehicle indicating its lemon status. The manufacturer must also request that the DMV notate that the car is a lemon law buyback in the ownership certificate.

Additionally, a manufacturer or dealer is required to provide a disclosure statement to the purchaser that they must sign, notifying them that the vehicle was repurchased by the manufacturer due to a defect and has been permanently labeled a “Lemon Law Buyback.” The dealer must also inform the buyer about each nonconformity that was reported on the vehicle and any repairs made to correct them.

Should I Purchase a Vehicle With a Lemon History?

Lemon cars often have significantly reduced prices that might make them very appealing to consumers. But, there are a few things to consider if you’re thinking about buying a car with a lemon history reported.

While sometimes a manufacturer may be able to repair the nonconformities that made the car a lemon, other times they may not. If the vehicle’s defect was a minor one that was fixed, a lemon buyback car could provide tremendous value. For example, if the car was in the shop for more than thirty days for a small issue that was repaired, it might rise to lemon law status but be perfectly safe to drive.

If the defects were substantial or could cause safety issues, you might want to reconsider purchasing a car that has a lemon history report. Although it might be great for your budget upfront, buying a lemon could result in you spending thousands of dollars over the years in repairs, rental cars, and out of pocket costs — not to mention time wasted by continuously having to bring your car to the shop. Unless you can be assured that the problem was fixed, buying a vehicle that had brake, steering wheel, or engine issues might not be the best option.

Avoiding Car Dealership Fraud

By law, a dealer must disclose to you that the car you’re thinking about purchasing is a lemon law buyback. A dealership’s failure to disclose a car’s lemon status may constitute fraud. Even though the dealer is obligated to inform you that the car has a lemon history reported, you should still take all necessary steps to make sure that you’re making a wise purchase.

If a car dealership doesn’t properly disclose that the vehicle is a lemon buyback, the purchaser may have legal rights that can be asserted against the dealership.

Before buying a lemon car, it’s a good idea to review all the details of the vehicle’s lemon history report, including what the defects were and why the car was labeled a lemon. You should also take the car for a test drive to make sure it runs properly. If you decide to go ahead with the purchase, the dealership should provide you with a warranty of at least thirty days, even if the original manufacturer's warranty no longer covers the vehicle.

Contact a Southern California Lemon Law Attorney

Purchasing a lemon car can be an inconvenience, cause financial strain, and put the safety of the vehicle’s drivers and passengers at risk. If you've purchased a lemon vehicle, an experienced California Lemon Law attorney can advise you of your legal rights and help ensure you receive a replacement or refund if you meet the lemon law criteria. It's important to understand that you only have 4-years in California to commence a lemon law claim. The statute of limitations begins running from the date you found out about the defect.

The Ledbetter Law Firm helps people in Southern California who have experienced lemon law issues with their vehicles obtain a vehicle replacement or the refund that they deserve. With offices conveniently located in San Diego and Torrance, California, telephone and video conferencing options are also available. Call (619) 374-0252 to schedule a consultation with a California Lemon Law attorney today.