If I just bought a used car, will I be covered under lemon law?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 15, 2021

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Whether or not your used car will be covered under lemon law depends on where you live. Each state has its own set of lemon laws in place to protect the owner of a defective car. In addition, several criteria must be met in order for the law to apply. For example, your defective car may be covered under lemon law if (1) the car is covered by a warranty, (2) a substantial defect occurs within a certain period of time after the purchase, or (3) the defect cannot be corrected after multiple repair attempts.

It is important to keep in mind that some state lemon laws may only cover new cars, while others may cover both new and used cars. For example, Florida lemon law covers only new and “demo” vehicles. Lemon laws in states such as Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Oregon cover only new vehicles. Lemon laws in states such as Wisconsin, Virginia, and Louisiana cover both new and used vehicles. 

Used Car Buyer Protections

The laws that protect used car buyers vary greatly from state to state and may not provide the same robust protection as lemon laws for new car buyers. However, there are some federal laws that may help you if your used car turns out to be a lemon. The Uniform Commercial Code states that used cars automatically have an implied warranty declaring that the car is fit for operation, unless the car is being sold as is.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has a Used Car Rule that requires certain dealers to post information about their used cars, such as whether a car is being sold as is, whether the purchase comes with a warranty, and what percentage of repair costs the warranty will cover. Also, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, which is enforced by the FTC, protects consumers against warranties on products when the warranties are deceptive, fraudulent, or otherwise purposefully inadequate.

To learn more about specific lemon laws in your state, check with the with the Better Business Bureau for a simple summary of each states’ laws or you can click here for more information on lemon laws in various states.

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Buying and Maintaining a Used Car

Since protections for used car buyers are not as clearly defined as those for new car buyers, it’s a good idea to shop carefully for your used car and retain all records related to the purchase, maintenance and repair of the car. Consider keeping several copies of your records and receipts in the unfortunate event of a claim. Should you find yourself in a legal situation with a car manufacturer or dealer, your detailed repair records can be used as proof that your car is indeed a lemon.

You may want to run reports on the used car you’d like to buy in order to obtain information about prior accidents and other issues. Try a reputable service such as CarFax.com or AutoCheck.com, which is part of the trusted credit reporting service, Experian. Also, consider having the car independently inspected by a qualified mechanic for any damage or problems that you might not be able to spot yourself.

The laws designed to protect used car buyers can be complex. If your used car turns out to be a lemon, you may want to consider consulting a qualified lemon law attorney to determine whether you have a claim.

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