Are you in the market for a used car? If so, you’re not alone. As consumers emerge from the pandemic shutdown, the demand for used car sales is surging. According to auto dealership consulting firm PureCars, consumer searches for used cars have doubled what they were last year. A global shortage of semiconductor computer chips is slowing production of new cars, further driving the demand for used automobiles.
Many buyers turn to local car dealerships in their search for used cars. But the proliferation of websites and apps, such as AutoTrader and Facebook Marketplace, gives buyers and sellers an easy way to bypass dealerships to conduct private transactions of used automobiles. This opens up new opportunities for buyers and sellers. But, as they say, buyer beware. If the used car you purchase from a private party turns out to be a lemon, are you protected by the California Lemon Law?
Buying from a private owner vs. a dealer
When you purchase a used car from a dealer, you are covered by federal and state consumer protection statutes for certain claims. However, the private sale of a vehicle is considered sold “as is.” If there is an issue after the transaction, you can request your money back, but the seller is under no legal obligation to comply.
Generally speaking, consumers’ rights are limited when buying a used vehicle from a private party. In short, the California’s Lemon Law does not apply to vehicles purchased from a private seller.
Coverage with a manufacturer’s warranty?
Finding a used car from a private owner that is still under manufacturer’s warranty can seem very promising. The vehicle will still likely be covered by the warranty, although some manufacturers shorten the warranty for subsequent purchasers. Consult the warranty paperwork to verify the terms.
But, even if you experience a persistent mechanical issue with car purchased privately and follow the remediation steps outlined by the lemon law–taking the vehicle to a mechanic for repair a “reasonable” number of times—and the manufacturer’s dealer can’t or won’t repair it properly, you are still not covered under the California Lemon Law.
The law specifically provides that only automobile owners who buy warrantied vehicles from a dealer are protected. To be clear, the California Lemon Law does not apply to a used car purchased from a private seller, even if the vehicle was purchased while a manufacturer’s warranty was still in effect.
The risk of ending up with a lemon when buying directly from a seller and having no legal recourse, is a compelling reason for many to turn to car dealers for their purchase.
If you do decide to purchase a used car from a private seller, there are a few consumer protection measures you can follow: 1.) Do not accept as fact anything that a private vehicle seller tells you about the vehicle. 2.) Before you finalize a transaction, have a trusted mechanic inspect the vehicle thoroughly. 3.) If the seller won’t let your mechanic inspect the vehicle, walk away from the deal.