Are Used Cars Covered by California Lemon Law?

Man checking oil on used car in California
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For those who are having issues with a used car, it’s good to know that the California lemon law does cover used or pre-owned cars, as long as the cars still have an active warranty from the dealer or the manufacturer. However, when it comes to used cars, the laws aren’t as specific in guidelines as they are when it comes to newer vehicles.

Qualifying under California Lemon Law

In 2013, the laws were amended to require that used car dealers offer a 1,000-mile or 30-day warranty that covers any essential components of the car. However, some dealers do provide a better warranty, especially if the car is a certified pre-owned one. However, even with this warranty, the lemon laws do entitle you to compensation if you did buy a used car and there are some certain qualifications met. You have to buy the car from a retailer and not just a private individual. Any used cars through private sales aren’t covered under the law. There needs to be an active warranty on the car, whether it’s an extended warranty by the dealer or the original warranty from the manufacturer. The vehicle also needs to have a substantial defect and spend an excessive amount of time in the shop getting repairs done. Just like with new cars, there still needs to be a reasonable number of attempts to repair. If the car is still not fixed after these attempts and the problem persists then the car qualifies.

Types of Used Vehicles Covered 

Under the law, vehicles that are purchased for the primary use of a household or family or are personal vehicles are entitled to protection against faulty manufacturing. The law does in fact cover vehicles that are purchased for commercial use if the vehicle has a gross weight below 10,000 pounds and the business has five or fewer vehicles registered under the name. Vehicles include trucks, SUVs, RV trailers, cars, and watercraft. There does need to be an active warranty, either one that’s the original manufacturer’s warranty or the dealership’s warranty. Any lemon vehicles that have been repurchased by the manufacturer and then resold with new warranties can also qualify.

The Guidelines Are Less Specific for Used Cars

It’s important to note that under the law, the guidelines aren’t as specific for used cars. This means that any cases involving used cars can be more complicated. It can also be harder for a consumer to make a case. For example, if a manufacturer isn’t able to fix the problem after a reasonable number of repair attempts, the buyer is entitled to a replacement vehicle or a full refund minus the amount of use for the vehicle. In the case of a new vehicle, the law gives a formula to use. For used vehicles, there is no formula so it’s up to the different parties to negotiate the appropriate amount.

How Many Repair Attempts?

The law states that the car needs to be fixed with a reasonable number of repair attempts. However, what is considered reasonable can depend on the type of defect that the vehicle has. For a serious issue that can affect the safety of the vehicle owner and passengers, the manufacturer will only have one or two attempts to fix the car. This can include the steering system, transmission, engine, brakes, or another essential function in the car. If there is a possibility of severe bodily injury or death because of the defect then two repair attempts are considered reasonable. If the issues aren’t life-threatening and four or more repair attempts have been made then the standard has been met and compensation is generally required. Typically if the car has been in the shop for more than 30 days and the defect hasn’t been repaired then the standard has also been met.

What Happens if You Think You Have a Lemon?

If you think you have purchased a lemon car, even if it is used, it’s important to keep track of records every time you bring the vehicle in for repairs. Make sure you have the mechanic write down all the repairs that need to be made. You want to have records that include how many times the car was worked on, what defects were worked on, and the result of each of the repairs.

You then need to have a letter sent to the manufacturer in order to document your claim. This letter should be notarized and sent via certified mail. You will want a copy of this letter for your records. The letter needs to be drafted carefully. You want to avoid arbitration in most cases. The manufacturer may get you to agree to arbitration, but you don’t want to do it. The main advantage of arbitration is speed and efficiency and this is why a busy manufacturer may prefer this. Under arbitration, you will need to gather witness testimony and evidence and the arbitrator will determine whether the car qualifies and the amount of compensation you get. There are three reasons to avoid this. Arbitration has a reputation for not being best for the consumer and instead is better for the business. The arbitrators aren’t required to apply the law. The last reason is that even though you are allowed to appeal the decision in court, the manufacturer will use the defeat in the arbitration to argue that you should lose in court as well. Instead of agreeing to arbitration, you should contact a used car lemon law attorney in California to give yourself the best chance with your case. Since the law is not as specific for used vehicle purchases under California lemon law, working with an attorney can get you the compensation you deserve.

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