What comes to mind when you think of owning a lemon car? Most people think of instant buyer’s remorse. There you are, driving home from the car lot, when strange noises start coming from under the hood. You realize you have been “had” by the salesperson. Your brand new car is actually a clunker…

The truth is that lemon law claims can take much longer to develop. Defects may take months or years to become noticeable to the owner. The manufacturer then gets a reasonable opportunity to fix the problem. All of this takes time. The vehicle may not even be owned by the original purchaser when a claim becomes actionable.

Fortunately, California lemon law applies to used cars as well. Not all vehicles will qualify, though, and discerning when the law applies can be difficult. Review the facts provided here, and if you still have questions, please contact our office for a free case evaluation.

Three Used Car Warranties That Satisfy Lemon Law Requirements

Consumers who buy vehicles “as is” do just that – they take the vehicle without warranty or lemon law rights. The same goes for those who buy vehicles covered only by a dealer’s extended service agreement (legal remedies exist for breach of such agreements, but lemon law typically does not apply). Only defects covered by a factory warranty qualify under the lemon law.

There are three types of factory warranties for used cars:

1. Transferred New Car Warranty

New cars all come with a warranty from the manufacturer. When title changes hands during the warranty period, any remaining coverage transfers as well. But be advised that some manufacturers place limits on transferability. For example, according to Kia’s warranty terms, original owners receive an extended period of powertrain coverage unavailable to subsequent owners.

2. Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) Warranty

CPO warranties cover used cars that have been inspected, refurbished, and resold by the manufacturer. Warranty terms are usually less comprehensive than the original factory warranty, although buyers of CPO vehicles may be able to upgrade to similar coverage. Only authorized dealers can sell CPO vehicles, and the benefits of certification (including the warranty) are reflected in the purchase price.

3. Lemon Law Buyback Warranty

Successful lemon law claims can result in a vehicle buyback. To minimize losses in this situation, manufacturers eventually do what they should have done in the first place – repair the vehicle properly. Then, to resell it in California, the manufacturer must comply with certain requirements. Offering a 12-month/12,000-mile warranty covering the prior defect is one such requirement.

Beware of California’s “At Retail” Provision

As discussed above, the balance of a factory warranty usually transfers with the vehicle at the time of sale. Anyone who buys a used car with an unexpired warranty might therefore assume they are covered by the lemon law. Unfortunately, that may not be the case.

Our state’s lemon law applies only to vehicles purchased at retail. Vehicles purchased in a private party sale are specifically excluded. Thus, warranty transferability and lemon law rights can be summarized as follows:

For used vehicles purchased while under factory warranty…

 Dealership sale  Private party sale
 Warranty transfers?  Yes  Yes
 Lemon law rights?  Yes  No

If you entered into a private party sale of a used vehicle still under warranty, contact our office for advice. You may still have a remedy if the seller is willing to cooperate by executing an assignment of his or her lemon law rights.

Other Used Car Exclusions

An unexpired warranty obtained through a retail transaction is a prerequisite, but it does not guarantee that a lemon law claim will succeed. Manufacturers may try to defend the claim by saying the defect resulted from factors beyond their control, such as aftermarket modifications or collision damage. They may also argue that the prior owner failed to perform scheduled maintenance required by the warranty, thereby voiding it in its entirety. If you encounter these sorts of issues at a dealership anywhere in California, call one of our attorneys immediately. We may be able to help.

Recognizing the Signs of a Defective Used Car

Factory warranties remain in effect only for a given number of months or miles. This means lemon law cases are always time sensitive.

The deadline for filing the claim itself is usually not an issue. California has a four-year statute of limitations that does not begin to run until the basis for the claim is discovered. Timely submission of the vehicle for repair is more likely to be a problem, since it must occur within the warranty period, which may be close to expiration by the time a used car owner takes possession.

With that in mind, owners of covered vehicles should be on the lookout for common defects, such as:

  • Engine overheating
  • Faulty ignition or fuel delivery system
  • Transmission problems
  • Steering, suspension, or alignment issues
  • Fluid leaks (engine oil, brake fluid, transmission fluid, power steering fluid, coolant)
  • Noisy or leaking exhaust
  • Brake problems
  • Malfunctioning latches, locks, or windows
  • Seatbelts not working properly
  • Inaccurate/broken speedometer or gauges
  • Water seeping into interior or trunk
  • Electrical problems.

California’s lemon law covers any defect that “substantially impairs the use, value, or safety” of the vehicle. If you are unsure whether a specific defect meets this standard, ask us.

Getting Help with Your Used Lemon is as Easy as 1-2-3

California enacted one of the strongest lemon laws in the country in order to protect consumers like you. Used car owners who are experiencing a problem covered by warranty should take the following steps:

1 – Bring the vehicle in for repair at an authorized dealership.

2 – Obtain a copy of the work order (ask for a copy on the first visit, even if the dealer cannot attempt the repairs that day).

3 – Contact a lemon law attorney if repairs are not completed quickly and to your satisfaction.

You can reach the team at Neale and Fhima at (888) 995-0283. We accept lemon law cases arising anywhere in Northern or Southern California.